Posts featuring Jorge Luis Borges

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week we report from Mexico, Guatemala, and the UK.

We’re still elated over the launch of our Spring 2018 issue, but that doesn’t mean the work of compiling literary news ever stops. Our weekly roundup brings us to Mexico, Guatemala, and the United Kingdom.

Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Editors at Large, reporting from Mexico

April has been an exciting month for the Tsotsil Maya poetry collective Snichimal Vayuchil. First, on April 12 the collective participated in a transnational indigenous poetry reading with Kimberly L. Becker, a poet of mixed Cherokee, Celtic, and Teutonic descent. Poems were read in English, Spanish, and Tsotsil, with collective coordinator Xun Betán translating several of Becker’s works into Tsotsil. The event was sponsored by Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, United States, and Abuelita Books in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.

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My 2017: Sam Carter

As he puts it in an Asymptote-appropriate formulation, “Why not accept all possible countries and cultures? Why not spread out to be cosmopolitan?”

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it! This week, our staff continue to take turns looking back on 2017 through the lens of literature. Next up, Assistant Managing Editor Sam Carter.

One of the highlights of my reading year was the entirely unplanned—and unexpectedly delightful—move between translations and originals within a series not once but twice. Early in the summer, I had the chance to review the third volume of conversations between Jorge Luis Borges and Osvaldo Ferrari that Seagull Books brought out in July. Some years ago I had read in the original Spanish much of what constitutes the first two volumes in English translation, yet, for reasons I don’t quite recall, I never made it to these discussions that display a Borges who, despite being 85 years old at the time, remains a consummate conversationalist with a voracious intellectual appetite. He moves effortlessly from an unabashed Anglophilia—Joyce, Whitman, and Wilde are just some of the figures he enjoys reflecting on—to a more global concern. As he puts it in an Asymptote-appropriate formulation, “Why not accept all possible countries and cultures? Why not spread out to be cosmopolitan?”

It was with another Argentine author—cosmopolitan in his own right—that I ended up moving in the opposite direction: from translation to original. A few months before Restless Books was set to publish it in November, a friend handed me a galley of The Diaries of Emilio Renzi: Formative Years. Unwilling to wait to get my hands on a Spanish copy, I devoured it in the course of a few hours. (You can find an excerpt of this title, which was released in November, in our October 2017 issue.) There are two more volumes of these diaries, the last of which was released in Spanish in September, and I was thrilled to finish this masterful trilogy that traces the vicissitudes of the writing life with a unique intelligence and unmatched willingness to reflect on what different forms might offer. In Piglia’s view, for instance, a diary is a place where “you should ultimately write about the limits or the frontiers that make certain words or actions impossible.” He elegantly explores those limits in this record of how a great reader struggles to become a great writer by drafting versions of a novel that will only appear decades later, defining himself both with and against dominant influences, and spending what little money he has on books. The first volume is also, somewhat miraculously, both a great starting point for anyone who has yet to read any Piglia and a welcome addition to those who already familiar with much of his work.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your weekly report on the latest in the world of literature.

We’re back for another exciting week of prizes, festivals and news about authors and events happening in the world of literature. Editors-at-Large on the ground in Nicaragua, Brazil and Egypt give us a run-down of the most important literary announcements from their regions. Watch this space for more news every Friday! 

José García Escobar, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Nicaragua:

Nicaragua hasn’t stopped celebrating its writers this week.

In perhaps the most important literary news from around the world, Nicaraguan writer, journalist, and politician Sergio Ramirez was announced as the latest recipient of the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, awarded annually to honor the lifetime achievement of a writer in the Spanish language. Awarded since 1976, previous recipients include Alejo Carpentier, Jorge Luis Borges, María Zambrano, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Elena Poniatowska. Sergio became the first Central American writer to receive this distinction.

While the Cervantes Prize was still yet to be announced, the Nicaraguan poet Claribel Alegría got the prestigious Reina Sofía Prize for Iberoamerican Poetry. During the ceremony, Claribel received $49,000 and the publication of an anthology of her life’s work entitled Aunque dure un instante. 93-year old Claribel follows Sophia de Mello Breyner, Nicanor Parra, Antonio Gamoneda, and Ernesto Cardenal.

In Guatemala, F&G Editores just reissued and presented one of the most important poetry books in Guatemalan history, Vamos patria a caminar by the revolutionary poet Otto René Castillo. The book was originally published in 1965. One year later, in the early years of the Guatemalan armed conflict, Otto René returned to Guatemala after years of exile to join the guerrilla forces. In 1967 Otto René was captured, interrogated, tortured, and burned alive. To this day, Otto René Castillo remains one of the most important poets of Guatemala. His work has been praised by Luis Cardoza y Aragón, Roque Dalton, up to the newest generations of Central American poets. You can read some of his poems here.

On a final note, the Guatemalan children’s book publishing house Amanuense has released its new website after completing their move to South America. Amanuense is also finalizing the details of their participation in this year’s FIL (the Guadalajara International Book Fair), and they are days away from releasing Balam, Lluvia y la casa, the latest book of one of their champion writers, Julio Serrano Echeverría.

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Blog Editors’ Highlights: Fall 2017

Our blog editors pick their favorite pieces from the Fall 2017 issue!

Each issue, our blog editors choose some of their favorite pieces to showcase. The Fall 2017 issue is extra special for us, since we get to introduce two new assistant blog editors: Sarah Booker, who translates from Spanish, and David Smith, who works with Norwegian. Together with Stefan Kielbasiewicz, they make up the Asymptote blog team. Enjoy these highlights! 

Ricardo Piglia’s piece, “On the Threshold,” is a philosophical, melancholic meditation on the art of reading and the construction of the autobiography. Composed of a series of diary entries in which the narrator muses on his grandfather’s life and on the practice of writing, this text poses fundamental questions about the practice of writing: How do you write an autobiography? What moments really matter when considering a lifetime of memories? How do you begin to write? The realization that experience “is a microscopic profusion of events that repeat and expand, disjointed, disparate, in flight” is what finally allows the narrative to unfold and the pieces of these two men’s lives to come together.

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Translation Tuesday: “Blind Spot” from Brief Cartography for Places of No Interest by Marcílio França Castro

"We banished from cartography all lions, mermaids, pygmies, and dragons. The sterilization of maps only confirms the disdain we have for nature."

When I first met Marcílio França Castro at a coffee shop in Brazil during the winter of 2016, he showed up toting a bag full of presents for me. When he dumped the bag onto the table, out came books, like he was some sort of combination of Jorge Luis Borges and Santa Claus. What most impressed me was his eagerness to promote Brazilian literature in general; several of the books were from his peers and not just ones he had authored. And perhaps Borges is a good comparison for Marcílio; indeed, his writing is in line with the likes of Borges, Calvino, and Cortázar. Yet he does not simply imagine other worlds, he perceives with brilliance unsuspected oddities in places of absolutely no interest. In his short stories, which range from traditional length to flash fiction, and with a prose that is at once economic and yet never lacking in precision, Marcílio França Castro transforms his culture’s most unsuspecting spaces into fantastic reading. The author and I have worked together in producing translations for many of his stories, overcoming differences in idioms, metaphor, sentence structure and other obstacles found in the passage from Portuguese to English. Most importantly, this project kept the translator sane during the subsequent North Dakotan winter of 2017. 

—Heath Wing. 

The manuals say such devices are made to take anything. Bumps, turbulence, high winds, lightning. Even crashes and hurricanes. It’s said they come out unscathed from the most intemperate of weather. You know the protocols. For every inconvenience there is a plan, an automatic fix. An aircraft like this one, with all its resources, ought to be, according to the manuals, practically uncrashable. That’s why, if it were up to manuals and manufacturers, our role would be merely to maintain course and keep her steady, taking advantage of the dignity of flight and the charm of our profession. And that’s really what we do here, before this gorgeous instrument panel, full of buttons and colorful lights: with the prudence it conveys, we relax and commend our fate and everyone else’s to the invisible wisdom of the display.

Look ahead. The sky’s magnificent, full of stars; someone might say it’s a painting commissioned to decorate the cockpit. A captain, from the moment of departure, always has his beard well-groomed, his uniform impeccable; he pilots the plane with swan-like indifference. That’s how the passengers see you. We fly calmly. The seats are anatomic and dinner well-balanced. An almost anesthetic experience. The Pacific is nothing more than an enormous tapestry of black silk that clips the horizon. We think and act as if the world outside no longer existed, as though the clouds and the ocean below us were but unfailing radar bleeps or a set of geographical coordinates. In truth, as we fly we simply ignore the substance found in Earth’s elements. Try this coffee, it’s wonderful.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Probably the best source of global literary news available.

It’s the official start of Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere and Spring in the South―the beginning of a new season where minor plans and promises are made that we desperately try to be faithful to. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just the temperature that changes. Nonetheless, here at Asymptote we’ll always fulfill our promise of bringing you the latest news from around the globe, just in time for the weekend, with this week’s reports from Argentina, Romania and Moldova, and Taiwan. 

Lara Norgaard, Editor-at-Large, brings us the news from Argentina:

August in Argentina was a month for reading. Buenos Aires celebrated Jorge Luis Borges’ birthday on August 24 by organizing a walking tour tracing Borges’ most notable haunts. The 24th is also the country’s annual Día del Lector, commemorating the renowned writer.

On August 23, the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires (MALBA) hosted a conversation between North American policy analyst David Rieff, and Argentine novelist Luisa Valenzuela on the topic of collective memory. Valenzuela is known for her novels that recall state violence, written during and after Argentina’s brutal last military dictatorship. The topic of historical memory is especially relevant right now as the Argentine public protests the alleged disappearance of indigenous rights activist Santiago Maldonado, who went missing at a protest in Patagonia on August 1.

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In Review: Conversations (Volume 3) by Jorge Luis Borges and Osvaldo Ferrari

“Ferrari and I tried to let our words flow through us, perhaps despite ourselves" - Jorge Luis Borges

“What else remains for an 85-year-old to do but repeat himself?” asks Jorge Luis Borges in the first volume of these conversations between the author of Ficciones and the poet and essayist Osvaldo Ferrari. Still playful a mere year before his death in 1986, Borges then offers a sly nod to the listener of these radio dialogues that can now reach English readers: “Or try variations, which comes to the same thing.” Such a remark recalls a classic Borges piece like “The Library of Babel,” with its intricately intertwined ideas of repetition and variation, and in his preface Ferrari even alludes to Borges’ “zenithal perception of everything,” suggesting that the author of  “The Aleph” or “The Zahir” might resemble his own creations. Detecting such subtle intersections between page and personality can certainly serve as one entertaining way into this newly released—and both occasionally and charmingly repetitive—third volume of radio conversations published by Seagull Books. But these pages become truly fascinating as we encounter not one Borges but many: the poet, the critic, the writer of fictions that tend toward the philosophical, and, perhaps most importantly, the attentive reader capable of discovering some delight or insight on every page.

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Borges, the Quixote, and Two Street Markets

The author of "The Antiquarian" tackles Borges, contextual understanding… and the singular joys of book shopping

The first time I read “Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote,” I was seventeen and in my freshman year in college in Lima. As anyone who reads Borges for the first time, I was dazzled by the story of a fictional French writer who, at the beginning of the twentieth century, wants to write once again, without plagiarizing or recovering it from memory, Cervantes’s Don Quixote. The most memorable passage of the story comes when the narrator, a friend of Menard’s, and very likely a French fascist, analyzes one paragraph from the novel in two different ways. First, assuming that Cervantes is the author, he concludes that the paragraph is rhetorical and verbose, when written by a seventeenth-century Spaniard. Later, assuming the author is Pierre Menard, a contemporary right-wing surrealist poet, he finds that the same words are fantastically counterintuitive and herald a new form of understanding the world. Since the narrator is a fascist, one suspects that his interpretation is an overinterpretation, the grotesque imposition of ideas that were not there in the original text.

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The Joys and Dangers of Translating Asian Dictionaries: Part II.

"An encyclopedia already performs one dangerous act of translation: it translates the language of things into that of man."

When last we left off (read part I here!), I was discussing an imagined translation of an ordering system devised by a (fictitious) king of Siam in the mind of the (very real) W. Somerset Maugham. This time, I will jump to a different author.

Jorge Luis Borges, like Maugham, takes us once again to a land East of Eden, more precisely, somewhere East of Suez (where the best is like the worst, where there aren’t no Ten Commandments). In his essay “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins,” Borges introduces us to “a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled ‘Celestial Empire of Benevolent Knowledge’” that was discussed by one “doctor Franz Kuhn.” Borges writes:

In its remote pages it is written that the animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.

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