Posts featuring Lydia Davis

Spring 2012: Why Asymptote Matters

I say this from experience, because Asymptote has helped to get a number of the authors I translate into print.

Asymptote is featured in the January/February 2012 issue of Poets & Writers and mentioned for the first time at The Millions—we are given the fond nickname, “The Audible Antipodal,” I suppose, in a nod to our multimedia offerings? (Said multimedia offerings recently expanded to include full-screen immersive slideshows in all Visual articles at a whopping cost of USD1,100, out of pocket.) Dalkey Archive approaches me with an offer to edit the inaugural Best Asian Fiction Anthology, modeled after their Best European Fiction Anthology. But there’s a catch: I have to find a sponsor for the series (who would be willing to part with $85,000 per annum), and I would only get $5,000 for the editing gig. Given how hopeless I am at fundraising, then, this is not going to happen. One detail from our discussion sticks, however. Given the state of China-Taiwan relations, Dalkey Archive thinks Taiwan will be “tricky,” just as Macedonia was eventually dropped because Cypress did not want to be included in the same lineup as Macedonia (with its current name) in the European counterpart. Ah, politics. Here to introduce the Spring 2012 issue is contributing editor Adrian Nathan West.

Even a casual reader who spends time overseas will notice something odd about English-language publishing. Just recently, at my favorite bookstore, La Central in Barcelona’s Raval, I saw, set out on shelf displays or on tables, books by Virginie Despentes, Mircea Cartarescu, and Han Kang—all available in Spanish and Catalan translation. In the US and UK, in places where bookstores still exist, translation is treated, at best, as a genre—though many talented independent bookstores are trying to change this. The figure 3% is often bandied about as the proportion of translated books published in English; this is bad enough, but the figure may well be optimistic (the figures for poetry and fiction are available at the translation database at Three Percent). Those masochistic enough to read reviews at Amazon or goodreads will see the same absurd prejudices against translated literature crop up over and over again; while professional translators cannot help but be dismayed at the inveterate willingness of large publishers to fork over lavish advances to plodding has-beens while keeping at arm’s length writers of undeniable stature from other countries. The stereotype persists—translated literature doesn’t sell—and neither Knausgaard nor Ferrante have done much to change it.

Nor do journals and magazines provide much of a haven for readers who want to know what is happening elsewhere. While a cornucopia of poorly funded, university-based journals offers prospective writers and translators next-to-no visibility, more famous outlets, many of which state in their masthead a willingness to publish the new, the daring, and the uncategorizable, go on cranking out one mind-numbing workshop story after another. Then, up in the ether, are the Atlantic, the New Yorker, the Paris Review, and their ilk, at the gates of which the translator lingers like poor K. before the portal of Kafka’s castle.     READ MORE…

The Asymptote Book Club: An Update!

Our Editor-in-Chief takes some questions about the Book Club!

What an overwhelming ten days since the launch of the Asymptote Book Club! We received queries from as far afield as Australia and Canada—so much interest from Canada, in fact, that we decided to open our book club to Canadians four days ago. But why a book club in the first place? some asked. Well, in a nutshell: the idea was to take the important work we have done with our award-winning, free online journal and our Translation Tuesday showcases at the Guardian—that is to say, showcasing the best new writing from around the world, and giving it a physical presence outside of the virtual arena. We also wanted to celebrate (as well as support) the independent publishers who work hard behind the scenes to make world literature possible.

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What sets your book club apart from others?

Curation is a big part of what makes the book club special. We have a large team of editors based in six continents to research and pick the best titles available from a wide variety of publishers. Subscribers will receive a brand-new (just published or, in many cases, not even in the bookshops yet), surprise work of fiction delivered to their door each month. This is another thing that distinguishes us from a few other book clubs before us: we choose from new releases only—nothing from a backlist that readers may already have on their bookshelves.

Subscriptions are for three or 12 months (for as little as USD15 a month, shipping included!) and, depending on the package the subscriber picks, they may receive additional perks in the form of Asymptote merchandise and ebooks (see below), but the real focus here is on creating a serious book club for a dedicated reading public. Many subscription services focus as much on the gifts as the books themselves, but we do not see ourselves as experts in tea or socks, so we’re concentrating rather on ensuring our readers get their hands on the most amazing literature we can source, applying the same curatorial instincts that won us a London Book Fair Award in 2015. READ MORE…

In Conversation: Natasha Wimmer on Teaching Translation

Teaching translation feels like I’ve been lifting weights, and then I go to my own translation and it's like, whoa, these weights are so light!

What does it mean to teach translation? Many translators are self-taught, having honed their skills in careers as writers or editors, academics or language experts. But some universities in the United States also offer seminars in the craft of translation. The teacher-translator, then, takes on the unique challenge of developing new pedagogy for a field in flux, one that exists at the intersection of language study, theory, and the instructor’s own experiences in the creative practice of translation.

Today, translator Natasha Wimmer sits down with her former student and Asymptote Editor-at-Large in Brazil, Lara Norgaard, to discuss her approach to teaching translation. 

Lara Norgaard (LN): How did you begin teaching translation? What made you interested in education?

Natasha Wimmer (NW): Princeton approached me, actually. I had never taught a class. Not only that, but I also only have an undergraduate degree, so I had never even taken a graduate class. I was a little bit nervous about taking the job. A few years later I started at Columbia. In that case, I did a panel discussion with the other Bolaño translator, Chris Andrews, and the department heads enjoyed the discussion, so they asked me to teach.

LN: Was there a particular class you took or text you read that influenced the way you approached teaching for the first time?

NW: I actually imagined the course as the class I wish I’d taken before I became a translator. I had no formal education in translation at all. I had never taken a translation class and, in fact, I hadn’t even read anything about translation until about eight years into my translation career. When I was asked to give a talk about translation, I realized I had avoided reading about translation because I was afraid that I would discover that I had been doing it wrong, or that maybe I would mess with the instinctive approach that had somehow been successful so far. But then I found reading about translation really stimulating. I discovered that, not surprisingly, there was a conversation about the questions I had and about the things that I hadn’t articulated but had been working through as a translator.

I worked really hard the first year I taught the Princeton class. I spent a few months just reading translation theory and translation essays for material that I thought was interesting and put together a reading list. The first semester I taught at Princeton was very experimental. In retrospect, I’m surprised I survived. The format of the class changed a lot from the first year to the second.

READ MORE…

Translator Profile: Lydia Davis

I began to see that I enjoyed [translation] and also that it was a form of writing I could do without the problem of having to be "inspired."

Lydia Davis is the author of one novel and seven story collections, the most recent of which is Can’t and Won’t (2014). Her Collected Stories was published in 2009. She is also the translator, from the French, of Swann’s Way (2003) and Madame Bovary (2010) and has been appointed, this year, the French-American Foundation’s inaugural Laureate in Translation. A bi-lingual edition of her translations from the Dutch, of the very short stories of A.L. Snijders, first presented in our Fall 2011 issue, will be published in Amsterdam by AFdH in September.

Who are you and what do you translate?

I’m Lydia Davis, both fiction writer and translator. I’ve been both for as long as I can remember, and they complement each other nicely. I spent decades translating from French and then, about ten years ago, started widening my scope of languages—first with Spanish, then with Dutch and German. I’ve also—just for the challenge—translated one story from the Portuguese and a few from the two principal Norwegian languages.

I should add, since you asked what I translate, not from which languages, that my most recent major translations from French were Proust’s Swann’s Way and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. After those two projects, which occupied several years each, I vowed to translate only very short stories. I have mainly stuck to that vow. READ MORE…

My 2015

The off-white of the page and the off-white of the walls. The world outside the door. And you reading.

What is the memory of reading? How do you remember reading? For me, I cannot simply recall the book in question, but also when I read it, why I had chosen to read it if there was a choice involved, or how I chanced upon it, and most significantly, where I read it: in which rooms and in which seats. I have moved around a lot this year, both travelling and relocating, but at the same time, my memories of reading certain books invoke stillness, the kind where you notice the slightest movement of daylight changing the hours. The off-white of the page and the off-white of the walls. The world outside the door. And you reading. And then there are some books that do not ask for a stupor, but an attention where you want to see or imagine it being made, you want to know what it looked like in its first stages and what conversations transformed it into its finished present state. Well-arranged poetry anthologies have this effect on me. When I heard Robert Chandler speak about The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry at the Place for Poetry conference, at Goldsmiths in London earlier this year, I knew I had to spend time looking at the way he had organized the contents and think back to what he had said about editorial choices, about being both editor and translator, and working with co-editors. How does one take on the challenge of representing 200 years of Russian poetry to be published in 2015 and under the banner of a Penguin Classic? The key, Chandler said was in striking a balance between what is available and what should ideally be available. So he had to go beyond the ‘seductive neatness’ of the four that most representation of Russian poetry is over-fixated on (Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetaeva), and include a few non-Russian poets, and have over fifty contemporary translators work on the anthology. READ MORE…