Posts featuring Sayuri Okamoto

Spring 2011: Out of the Void

The curse of forgetting is our blessing and from whence our greatness springs. Out of the void, we create.

Not only is translation front and center of what we publish as a journal, it also takes place behind the scenes. In February 2011, after the excitement of putting out an issue (and hearing from readers like Eliot Weinberger) subsided, we got to work on the Spring edition. Among our first tasks: launch a search for our next guest artist. The Japanese illustrator Kazunari Negishi submitted a cover on 10 Mar 2011. One day later, tsunami struck Mr. Negishi’s homeland. We had to make the decision as to whether Mr. Negishi would be the one to provide 14 illustrations in three weeks. There was another front-runner, with a good cover submission, ready and willing, who had English to boot. Mr. Negishi didn’t read English; Sayuri, our contributing editor, would have to translate the texts. “Work is good though, in times like these,” she offered. I hesitated one day before saying yes. In the end, under what must have been very difficult conditions for both Ms. Okamoto and Mr. Negishi, 14 stunning illustrations were produced that would make any magazine proud. Many well wishes poured in when our Spring 2011 issue went live, and not a few of them mentioned how much they love the artwork. Here to introduce the Spring 2011 edition (as well as the dispatch from post-3.11 Japan that Sayuri especially undertook to write) is Assistant Editor P.T. Smith.

The editor’s notes for Asymptote issues always point the reader in a direction, and for the Spring 2011 issue it was one of current events and counterpoints. Without research, the current events of that period can be hard to place. The connection between Sayuri Okamoto’s letters and the 2011 tsunami is called out directly, so that’s easy. After that it gets harder, but that’s only appropriate because, as is often the case, other links and other ways to read the issue as a whole develop. With this one, it’s memory, both its recovery and its absences. In Anthony Luebbert’s essay on A. R. Luria, he writes, “The curse of forgetting is our blessing and from whence our greatness springs. Out of the void, we create.” That creative act lives throughout the pieces in this issue, which play off each other and allow me come to my own thoughts on memory.

Asymptote came to life in the early days of my own entry into the world of translated literature. My first job after college was in an office where there was a rather light workload or maybe just lenient supervision. I have fond memories of printing off pieces from Words Without Borders, folding them up, putting them in my pocket, and heading off to the bathroom to get in some reading. In my memory, I did the same with Asymptote. But that can’t be the case: I’d already left the job by the time the journal launched. I enjoy this vaguery, this impossible overlap. READ MORE…

Revisiting the Winter 2011 Issue: Asymptote’s Origin Story

On the occasion of our milestone 30th edition, some reflections on form—#30issues30days

“Congratulations on taking on the formidable task of launching a journal dedicated to translation. You’re a brave man!” said the translator of Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera to me in December 2010. So I can’t say I wasn’t forewarned.

The idea for Asymptote had come out of a meeting at Singapore’s National Arts Council in June 2010. How to turn Singapore into a hub for literary translation? was the topic du jour. I mooted the idea of a platform that would identify and showcase talent in translation. Several seemed enthusiastic, but in the end, no one lifted a finger. Supposedly the go-to person for literary translation in Singapore, D., who was one of ten people at the meeting, did not deign to reply to the two emails I sent him.

The original team I assembled around July 2010 was lackluster, lackadaisical. Admittedly, I didn’t know these Singaporean team members very well, nor it seemed they me. Having just returned from eight years of overseas study (I owe much to my teachers Robert Coover, Mary Gaitskill, Dale Peck, and Michael Hofmann, but it was the lovely Sidney Wade who turned me on to literary translation), I was trying to connect with the local literary scene. Although the dispatches written by our current Singaporean editor-at-large might suggest otherwise, there really was not much of a scene back then, around a decade ago. The main players were aloof. Although I contributed to nine consecutive issues of the Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore—Singapore’s only literary journal back then—no one seemed to have read my work.