Testimony of Circumstances by Rodrigo Lira, translated from the Spanish by Thomas Rothe and Rodrigo Olavarría, Cardboard House Press
Latin America gave the second half of the twentieth century some of its most destructive and incendiary poetry. In Bogotá, in the 1960s, the Nadaistas threw copies of Cervantes into a bonfire and shouted from rooftops of an imminent socio-poetic revolution, and anyone who knows the name Bolaño has likely heard how Mexico’s Infrarealistas heckled the hell out of Octavio Paz. This was the period of poesía rebelde, rebel poetry, in which agitation played a big role on the street and the page. One particularly volatile poet from this milieu was Rodrigo Lira, who stuck out even at a time when this sort of counter-cultural militancy wasn’t unheard of. Testimony of Circumstances, translated into English by Rodrigo Olavarría and Thomas Rothe, secures his position as a true outsider in a world full of pretenders.
Born in 1949 into an upper middle-class family, Rodrigo Lira received a good education and spent his first fifteen years in close proximity to Chile’s elite, but as a teenager he began to veer far from bourgeois respectability. He ingested substantial amounts of weed. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and had electroshock therapy at his family’s insistence. He rallied behind Salvador Allende’s socialist government until Augusto Pinochet’s U.S.-backed coup turned Chile into a nationalist, ultra-capitalist nightmare. Anyone with left-wing sympathies risked persecution, and the new regime kidnapped and executed thousands of its own citizens on that very charge. Although Lira grew quiet on political matters, he was hardly mute.
In the midst of sunny summertime beach reading in the north and cozy fireside reading in the south, intense world cup viewing, and political activism, the Asymptote team has been as creative as always! Below are some recent updates from the crew as well as exciting information for all you emerging translators!
Criticism Editor Ellen Jones contributed an article on Junot Díaz to Hispanic Research Journal. Her translation of Juan Pablo Roncone’s short story “Children” was published in the Bogotá39 anthology (Oneworld, June 2018). She also participated in a translation slam with Rosalind Harvey at Oxford Translation Day, where the two of them discussed their different versions of Chilean writer Nicanor Parra’s poem “Manchas en la pared.”
Blog Editor Sarah Booker contributed a translation of Cristina Rivera Garza’s “Simple Pleasure. Pure Pleasure” to The Paris Review.
Australia Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao’s new novel Under Your Wings was published on July 2 by Viking Australia, and has been reviewed at Readings.
Singapore Editor-at-Large Theophilus Kwek presented his paper “(Trans)National Service: Conscripting Second-Generation Migrants in Neoliberal Singapore” at the biennial conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia. In addition, his undergraduate dissertation discussing race in Singapore’s history textbooks will become a chapter in the forthcoming book Southeast Asian Education in Modern History (ed. Pia Maria Jolliffe, Thomas Richard Bruce) from Routledge.
We’re back this week with important news and exciting new developments from the world of literature. Our Editors-at-Large in Mexico and Tunisia share the latest prizes, events and details relating to writers based within these regions. Tune in for more global updates next week!
Sergio Sarano, Spanish Social Media Manager, reporting from Mexico:
Jorge Volpi, one of Mexico’s most well-known authors, has won the very prestigious Alfagura Novel Prize for 2018. Alfagura is one of the most renowned publishing houses in the Spanish-speaking world, and the prize has previously gone to writers such as Elena Poniatowska (also the recipient of a Cervantes Prize), Laura Restrepo, and Andrés Neuman. The award consists of the publication of the novel and a very hefty sum of money: US$175,000, making it one of the richest prizes for fiction in the world. Una novela criminal (A Criminal Novel) is a non-fiction novel in the vein of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood; it takes up the notorious case of Israel Vallarta and Florence Cassez, a Mexican man and French woman accused of belonging to a kidnapping gang. The media eagerly covered the case, and it strained Mexican-French relations. Everyone in Mexico knows how the trial ended, but I’m sure the novel will be quickly translated into English—readers will be able to dig into this sordid story that weaves corruption, scandal, and diplomacy.
The Mexican literary community deeply mourned the death of Nicanor Parra, the Chilean antipoet. Numerous writers and poets voiced their debt to Parra and remembered his visits to Mexico in several media outlets. Honestly, very few Latin American writers can claim to have read his 1954 classic Poems and Antipoems and not wanting to become an antipoet. One of them was especially legendary: the time he went to Guadalajara to receive the first Juan Rulfo Prize (now called FIL Prize) back in 1991. There, Parra delivered his famous “Mai Mai Peñi” speech, in which he honored Juan Rulfo but at the same time ridiculed literary awards. One of its famous stanzas says: “The ideal speech / Is the one that doesn’t say a thing / Even though it seems like it says it all.” You can find “Mai Mai Peñi” and other classic mock-speeches in After-Dinner Declarations, translated by Dave Oliphant.
Following on the heels of exciting news about our recently-launched Book Club and amidst end-of-year lists highlighting the best of 2017, we are back with another round of literary news from around the world! First up, Sarah Moses brings us the latest on literary festivals and awards as well as updates on children’s literature. Sergio Sarano is up next with a preview of the Guadalajara International Book Fair.
Sarah Moses, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Argentina and Uruguay:
In early November, Argentinian author, essayist and literary critic, Silvia Molloy, returned to her native Buenos Aires for a series of talks and workshops around the topic of language and translation, held at the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires (MALBA), and then at the Goethe-Institut, where she was interviewed during the Buenos Aires Literary Translator Club’s final get-together of the year. At the latter, Molloy discussed her recent book, Vivir entre lenguas (Eterna Cadencia, 2016), which weaves together anecdotes, memories and stories on multilingualism.
The Asymptote world tour this time begins in Pakistan, with an update on the Punjabi literary scene from Janani Ganesan, Assistant Managing Editor. Then, we fly north, where Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large in Slovakia, shares the latest publications and literary events in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Our last stop takes us southwest to Argentina, where Assistant Editor Alexis Almeida talks poetry festivals, feminism, and politics. Welcome aboard, and enjoy the ride.
Janani Ganesan, Assistant Managing Editor, with news from Pakistan:
It’s been 250 years since one of the most famous renderings of the Punjabi tragic romance came into being—Heer by Waris Shah, which remains an influence on Punjabi literature and folk traditions. But Punjabi has suffered as a consequence of marginalization during the colonial rule (when Urdu was patronized) as well as the 1947 Partition between India and Pakistan, when (Punjabi-speaking) Sikhs were forced to leave their homeland in Pakistani Punjab (while Urdu and Muslims were expunged from India).
Amidst a growing Punjabi literary movement to correct this historical wrong, Asymptote encountered a reading club in Lahore dedicated to and named after this legendary text—the Heer Study Circle.
Ghulam Ali Sher, co-founder of the group, shares its purpose with Asymptote: “to inculcate an interest for Punjabi reading among university youth; to do away with the religiously-oriented sufistic reading of such Punjabi folktales for a more pluralistic and people-oriented interpretation; and to trace the socio-economic patterns of pre-colonial Punjab through popular historical sources, like this folktale, against the biases of mainstream historiography.”