Editor's Note

Momentous day. A project seven months in its making launches. But not just any project: I have not seen a single member of my team during this collaboration, corollary of the fact that we are some of us in Asia, some of us in Europe and then some in the U.S. Everything was conducted via email including hand-wringing about permissions. Discussions about which pieces to take. What kind of totebag would fit the profile of an Asymptote reader. What kind of Tumblr blog for that matter. What Special Feature to host for our next ish. Which Michel Leiris translator to read. The fact that it came together as it did—and I don't mind letting on that on the very day of the launch itself, I was receiving new material for the website, completed for us just the day before ("Oh, we're definitely at the forefront of Literature", I joked to my poetry editor)—is nothing short of a feat. And I have my wonderful team to thank for this.

But that's not where the amazement ends. Look at the lineup. A knockout Mary Gaitskill essay introducing the Japanese crime writer Natsuo Kirino, a thrilling essay comparing Literature and Mathematics by Masahiko Fujiwara, and a daring recreation of one day in the life of Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu by Boey Kim Cheng. Although all the rest of it is hitherto unpublished, we just had to feature a 2010 Thomas Bernhard translation and a 2010 reprint of Gozo Yoshimasu's Naked Memo: a draft of his lecture on Emily Dickinson to the Emily Dickinson Society of Japan. Yoshimasu san was also generous enough to do a short Q&A which I hope makes up for the full-length interview coming in late. Check back at the end of the first week of February: 2010 World Cup Songwriter Francis Li Zhuoxiong's insights into the world of song lyrics will be just the thing to usher in the Chinese New Year.

Also to put us in the right mood is Liu Zhenyun, a big name in China that nobody has heard of in the West, but thanks to Howard Goldblatt, Asymptote will be Liu's first point of contact for most Western readers. I am also excited to introduce the exuberant prose of Ludwik Sztyrmer—one of the first pieces I accepted as Fiction editor. In his Special Feature essay, Sztyrmer's translator Soren Gauger wryly points out that every 50 years someone will try to stage a Sztyrmer revival. Solar Throat Slashed, the result of a collaboration between translation heavyweights A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman, also hopes to "spark a general reassessment of Césaire as a major voice in twentieth century poetry", the case for that surely undergirded by the muscular translations presented here. Césaire is only one of the 20 poets we have in our strong showing of poets this issue; the rest of the cast features: Ko Un, Pura López-Colomé, Tan Chee Lay, Gleb Shulpyakov, Fabio Pusterla and Mihail Gălăţanu, on top of a Swedish Poetry Feature with unforgettable work by Elisabeth Rynell and Fredrik Nyberg, among others. In our drama section, I am thrilled to give you Aya Ogawa's nimble translation, noteworthy for her rendering of colloquial speech.

We'd like to be the sort of magazine where literary translation is not only presented but also discussed, so that the envelope is pushed and no, we'll say up front now that we're not afraid of theory. Our vision of the criticism section includes academic (but mind you, this is no excuse to bore) essays of up to 10,000 words, but we'd also like the occasional casual review, written, as my Criticism editor put it, while drinking coffee. To show the way, we have the very caffeinated Brandon Holmquest bringing us up to date on the latest crop of translations via the Asymptote Jan 2011 Book Reviews.

We had a great time with our last Special Feature call for submissions requiring one writer to introduce another—with the caveat that that other writer must be working in a language other than English—so we've decided to make it a permanent offering, also as a way of providing an entrypoint into the magazine for the writers among us who are not translators. For detailed guidelines on this and on our other Special Feature, especially if you'd like to be published alongside acclaimed translator Edith Grossman, who has already consented to an interview, check out our Submit page.

And while you're at it, walk around our site a little, get to know us better as we also get to know you better: drop us a note on our Tumblr or just go there to check out the terrific stuff that we have been posting up. (If you're more the Facebook or twitter sort, that's fine!) Finally, show us some love if you like what we're doing so that we can really be at the forefront of Literature.

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Editorial Team for Issue Jan 2011
Founding Editor:
Lee Yew Leong (Singapore/Taiwan)

Section Editors:
Lee Yew Leong (Singapore/Taiwan)
Brandon Holmquest (USA)
Anthony Luebbert (USA)
Wong Chee Meng (Singapore/Germany)

Contributing Editors:
Aditi Machado (India/USA) and Sayuri Okamoto (Japan)

Incoming Editor:
Nathalie Handal (Palestine/France/USA)

Masthead for Issue Jan 2011
Fiction/Nonfiction/Drama/Visual: Lee Yew Leong
Poetry/Criticism: Brandon Holmquest
Special Feature: Anthony Luebbert
Interview: Wong Chee Meng
Photo Illustrations and Cover: Kevin Kunstadt
Design: Lee Yew Leong and fFurious
Legal Counsel: Lindy Poh

Asymptote would like to acknowledge the support and/or contributions of: Balkenende Chew & Chia (Advocates & Solicitors), Choo Lip Sin, Karel Caals, Michael Lee, Quek Hiong Jin, Il (Memming) Park, Huang Yin-Nan, David Chew, Alvin Pang, Ng Yi-Sheng, Nicholas Liu and Yeow Kai Chai.



Liu Zhenyun, from Cell Phone

Translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt

I used to find intellectuals insufferable for their lack of an independent spirit. But the way I see it now, the only person here worthy of emulation is Fei Lao.

Thomas Bernhard, Is it a Comedy? Is it a Tragedy?

Translated from the German by Martin Chalmers

'Admittedly, one would have to know what's on today,' he said, 'but don't you tell me what's on today. For me it's extremely interesting, for once, not to know what's on. Is it a comedy? Is it a tragedy?' he asked and immediately said: 'No no, don't say, what it is. Don't say it!'

Yoram Kaniuk, from Life on Sandpaper

Translated from the Hebrew by Anthony Berris

At night, in the silence of the night, on the couch at the entrance to the restaurant that was all they had, America was no longer a branch of Chase Manhattan and Israel wasn't the world's enemy and what saved Zionism was Sonia's borscht which she only ever made on the condition that Alex left the kitchen because otherwise he'd steal her recipe.

Ludwik Sztyrmer, from Phrenophagos and Phrenolestes

Translated from the Polish by Soren Gauger

One day old Phrenophagos went on a tour of his larders and fell into a fury—it was stocked with nothing but poets' brains. 'Brrr! I'm sick to death of that cold gelatin!' cried Phrenophagos, tearing his hair out and breeding a host of Phrenolesteses, which flew from his head.


Kiwao Nomura, On Prose

Translated from the Japanese by Forrest Gander and Kyoko Yoshida

Ko Un, Himalaya Poems

Translated from the Korean by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Lee Sang-Wha

Gleb Shulpyakov, from Moscow! A Fireproof Box

Translated from the Russian by Christopher Mattison

Fabio Pusterla, Stellar Body

Translated from the Italian by Damiano Abeni and Moira Egan

Pura López-Colomé, Maybe Borneo

Translated from the Spanish by Forrest Gander

Melih Cevdet Anday, from A Poem in the Manner of Karacaoglan

Translated from the Turkish by Sidney Wade and Efe Murad

Hakan Savlı, from Only for Music

Translated from the Turkish by Abbas Karakaya and Elizabeth Raible

Archilochus and Anacreon, from Rough Trade

Translated from the Ancient Greek by George Economou

Habib Tengour, from Exile is my Trade: A Habib Tengour Reader

Translated from the French by Pierre Joris

Tan Chee Lay, Views and Testimony of a Sheep

Translated from the Chinese by Teng Qian Xi

José Antonio Mazzotti, from Sakra Boccata

Translated from the Spanish by Clayton Eshleman

Yosano Akiko, Five Poems

Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Cahaly

Mihail Gălăţanu, Deceiver's World

Translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin and Petru Iamandi

Aimé Césaire, from Solar Throat Slashed

Translated from the French by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman


Aimé Césaire: A Poetics of Space

A review by Amy Wright

The Mechanics of Semiotics in Francis Ponge's Poetry

A review by Christian Bancroft

Ponge uses the circumflex in the word l'huître to graphically demonstrate the shelter that an oyster has with its shell.

Tan Chee Lay's "Views and Testimony of a Sheep"

Translated from the Chinese by Teng Qian Xi

An essay by the translator

The Jan 2011 Asymptote Book Review

A review by Brandon Holmquest

Our poetry and criticism editor gives his take on Ayane Kawata's Time of Sky and Castles in the Air, Guillevic's Geometries, Yu Jian's Flash Cards and Hai Zi's Over Autumn Rooftops.


Pablo Martín Ruiz, Epiphanies on the Danube

Translated from the Spanish by Daniella Gitlin

Argentina, I said.  Babushka babushka.  Ismael.  I uttered the first word while pointing to myself, repeated the second (about the only Russian word I knew) while moving my index finger in a circular motion above my head, and said the third while gesturing to the floor.  He understood immediately and let me in.

Benudhar Sharma, Meeting in Deodhai Village

Translated from the Assamese by Uddipana Goswami

We waited for a while as we warmed our hands and feet by the fires; our bodies soaked up the heat. Suddenly an old man shot a question at us: "So then, why are you people here? Tell us, let's hear."

Masahiko Fujiwara, Literature and Mathematics

Translated from the Japanese by Sayuri Okamoto

I wish that I were a fast-moving ninja rather than the awkward sheep I am, lingering on the bridge between mathematics and literature.


Toshiki Okada, Enjoy

Translated from the Japanese by Aya Ogawa

...once they cross that age boundary, they focus their laser beams on us, which is total pressure, the laser beam emitted from a girl who's at that stage is like wow, I mean totally get off of me!...Ogawa is YOUNG!  22 years old!  which is eight years younger, eight years til 30, like, you can enjoy the World Cup two more times before she starts emitting that beam...

Quah Sy Ren and Tan Ing How, The Assassin, the Medium and the Massage Girl

Translated from the Chinese by Jeremy Tiang

It was in the Qing Dynasty. There was a young fellow called Wu Yue. Seventeen or eighteen, a big chap. He didn't have a father or mother. Who knows how he grew up—he ate whatever he could get, a mouse if he was lucky, a stone if he wasn't.


Gozo Yoshimasu, Naked Memos

Translated from the Japanese by Sayuri Okamoto

followed by a Q&A with the author, a prominent figure in contemporary Japanese literature and art.

Special Feature

Mary Gaitskill on Natsuo Kirino

An essay followed by a translation into the Japanese by Sayuri Okamoto

...although Kirino is near-pitiless in her depiction of her characters, especially the weakest and dumbest one whom she baths in contempt before sadistically killing off, the book is saturated with a profound and anguished pity, a sorrow that makes the American literary ideal of "compassion" look as cheap as it usually is.

Soren Gauger on Ludwik Sztyrmer

An essay followed by a translation into the Polish by Pawel Rogala

Most would prefer their authors, particularly the Central European ones, to be wan, sickly, moribund creatures, pale little bankers or bureaucrats who write fantastical daydreams on the sly. It rankles the reader when a Central European author turns out to have been an enthusiastic bodybuilder (Robert Musil) or—as is presently the case with Ludwik Sztyrmer (1809-1886)—an able soldier and a general in the Czar's army.

Molly Gaudry on Mirja Unge

I've never read a more stylistic story. The language bumps off the page and skids and slides in stops and starts. Not only does Unge pull off these flourishes but she nails teenage angst. 

Alain de Botton on La Rochefoucauld

What La Rochefoucauld hates above all is sentimentality, and there are perhaps few more sentimental periods than our own.

Claude Smith on Yuri Vaella

Today our oral languages, which have only recently been put into writing, can introduce to humanity fresh poetic images, a fresh poetic worldview, the new poetic Word.

Boey Kim Cheng on Du Fu

Indeed, he has never been so productive, and will have added four hundred poems to his name when they leave Kuizhou. Four hundred poems in three years. Not bad for an old sickly poet.

Swedish Poetry Feature

Kristina Lugn, from Seeking Older, Well-Educated Gentleman

Translated from the Swedish by Elizabeth Clark Wessel

Fredrik Nyberg, from A Clockwork of Flowers

Translated from the Swedish by Jennifer Hayashida

Elisabeth Rynell, from Nocturnal Conversations

Translated from the Swedish by Rika Lesser

Claes Andersson, from The Clarity of Darkness

Translated from the Finland-Swedish by Rika Lesser


An interview with Francis Li Zhuoxiong

Golden Melody Award-winning lyricist and Mandarin translator of the 2010 World Cup Song