Jan 18, 2016

ASYMPTOTE Fortnightly Air Mail feat. MARGENTO--"New Year, New Resolutions"

A Happy New Year to all our readers! To the 56 of you who've contributed $5,035 to our mini-Indiegogo campaign, THANK YOU for giving our New Year an auspicious start. We'll be able to celebrate our milestone fifth anniversary in at least ten global citiesmaybe even a city in which you live. Stay tuned for the event announcements!

Your Itinerary Today

1. TAKE OFF: Listen to our new podcast episode!
2. SKYWRITING: New Year's Reading Resolutions from the team
3. PASSAGES: Spotlight on Dominique Eddé's Kite
4. TOUCHDOWN: Last reminder about our $4,500 Translation Contest (Deadline: 1 Feb 2016)!

New Year, new podcast episode! This month, we examine a character who has been influencing the minds of authors for thousands of years: the Devil. We'll be taking a look at that fiery hell-demon we all know and love to hate (or fear), but we'll also discuss how other cultures view this figure. We first consider Maximon, a Guatemalan saint not recognized by the Catholic Churcha fusion of Satan, Judas, Cortes, and the Mayan trickster god Mam. Then we'll move on to Russia, where we will look at how the Devil influenced two hundred years of their literature. We'll end with an exploration of the Voodoo religion, which isn't as devilish as you may think. Download the podcast here.

After the recently concluded blog series in which we looked back on 2015's literary discoveries, it seemed only natural to follow up with New Year's resolutions. Let's hear it now from the following staff members who've volunteered to go public with their reading resolutions.

MARGENTO, Romania & Moldova Editor-at-Large:

My resolution for 2016 is to read ALL the thousands of poetry collections launched in the upcoming year in North America. Critic and literary theorist Steve McCaffery once did the math and realized that if one read a collection every day it would take them 10 years to read all the poetry collections published in the US in one year. Nobody actually does that—let alone cover the ones published in Canada as well, plus the ones translated from various languages and literatures into English and published in North America.  It is a huge market, and the supply has actually gone up since McCaffery’s alarming assessment. How am I—together with Professor Diana Inkpen and our team at uOttawa—going to do that? Computationally, as part of the Graph Poem project, getting the machine to read and analyze hundreds of thousands of pages of poetry and organize them into network graphs that showcase their subject/themes, formal features, diction-related specificity, stylistic trademarks, and so on, while identifying (often unsuspected) commonalities or contrasts across oeuvres, corpora, schools, periods, regions, and (trans)national and/or virtual communities. We are actually also going to toss into that huge reservoir the over 600 (print and online) North American literary periodicals specializing and/or featuring poetry in English or in English translation, as well as the available archives and databases, in a first-time-ever Big Data and data intensive approach to poetry jazzed up with “distant reading” and “cultural analytics.” 
P.T. Smith, Assistant Editor:

Two years ago, creating a list of five, just five, books to reread was my private reading resolution. It failed utterly. Now, I’m hoping that making a resolution public will help it stick. And this time it will be two-fold: reread some books without a list of defined ambitions; and read books first published some years ago and that I already own. For the first, even without making a certain list, I have to return to that old, failed resolution. Returning to failure seems to me a fitting tone for a reading-related resolution.
This year, I have more encouragement for one of those old names. Max Frisch is a writer I don’t hesitate to call one of my favorites, yet I struggle to recall specifics of his books, of what I loved so much; instead, I remember only a sensation that those books fit me, fit my reading desires and identity. As part of their dedication to collecting literature lovers to write about a specific author, an underappreciated subject, The Scofield selected “Frisch & Identity” for their spring issue. How could I not want to reread at last one of his books so that I can appreciate the contributions to that publication all the more?
Another failure of that lost resolution is Kōbō Abe, another I easily call one of my favorite writers, though unlike Frisch, I can say why. Abe’s protagonists are rejected by the world, and reject it. Out of that rejection, a new space is created, whether it be the dunes, secret levels underneath a hospital, a trip to the underworld, or an ark full of other rejects, hiding from nuclear apocalypse. Normal life, which hasn’t been comprehended clearly anyway, has been replaced by another life, odder, full of dread. Or at least this is how I think about his varied oeuvre years after reading it. A reread will put my thoughts to the test, and could happily see them destroyed, replaced by a new interpretation.
As for the other half of my reading resolution, to read books that are not recent publications: this could manifest as so many different authors, different books, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least commit to a few. Why not start with a confession, admitting an embarrassing gap in my reading? It’s time I read Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch (trans. Gregory Rabassa). Intimidated by its length and the near-demand to love it, I’ve stayed away. Knut Hamsun’s Mysteries (trans. Sverre Lyngstad), one of my top found-on-the-berm books is another on this not-list, my step beyond Hunger. I want to return to travel books, so should pull Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts off my shelf. Not so much a traditional travel book as an inventive satire of the genre, how about A Journey Around My Room by Xavier de Maistre (trans. Andrew Brown)? Keeping with the French, moving forward in time, to a writer whom, like Hamsun, I need to encounter more of, this year would be a good time for Julien Gracq’s Balcony in the Forest (trans. Richard Howard). I only know him as an essayist, with Narrow Waters, and want to see that mind and aesthetic at play in fiction. My final non-resolute detail of a resolution leaves translation. I’ll return to another writer I refer to as one of my favorites: Herman Melville. Only because of his books that I haven’t read, it’s the one sitting on my shelf, this year I should read Israel Potter.
Honestly, even if all the names change, even if I only read a couple of books fitting these descriptions, I’ll be happy. It’ll be a reason to pause in the reading, to take extra pleasure in patience, because I knew it was something I needed, and I broke off from momentum and habit of years of reading for a different, refreshing, direction.
Matt Phipps, Communications Manager:

One of my reading resolutions for 2016 is to focus principally (if not exclusively) on reading titles by South American authors. To that end, and relying on recommendations from some of my most trusted sources, I plan to start my year with a focus on strong voices and stories from below the Equator.
Chico Buarque is a beloved elder statesman of twentieth-century Brazilian folk and protest music, frequently mentioned alongside other notables such as Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, and in recent years the singer/songwriter has dedicated himself to writing fiction. 2012’s Spilt Milk (Grove Atlantic), his fourth novel, is told from the occasionally confused perspective of an aging patriarch on his deathbed, and provides the account of nearly one hundred years in the narrator’s life, and by extension, the turbulent history of the country at large. I’m told the voice is unforgettable, and this interview with translator Alison Entrekin only sharpens my interest!
Next on my list is The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra (New Vessel Press), a slim mystery novel by Argentine writer Pedro Mairal that explores the legacy of a troubled, prolific painter—mute since the age of nine—and the disappearance of a series of canvases that may shed light on certain unresolved family intrigues. Longlisted for the 2014 Best Translated Book Award and translated by two-time Valle-Inclán prizewinner Nick Caistor, this one has been sitting next to my bed for a while now, and I simply can’t wait to dig in.­

Selina Aragon, Spanish Social Media Manager:

A few Christmases ago, I gave Jorge Luis Borges’ Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings (1962) as a gift. I was buying a book by Borges anyway—I’d heard his books translated nicely into English due to the influence of the latter in the syntax of his writings. Labyrinths caught my attention in an Edinburgh bookshop, and I ended up getting it mainly because I had never heard of it in Spanish. When I opened the book, I realised I had read all the short stories in it. He translated from English from a very young age before becoming a published writer, so his use of Spanish is quite different to that of, say, Cortázar.
Labyrinths is a collection that was put together and edited by Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby for Penguin Books. It’s not a translation from any of the original books in Spanish; however, it contains most of the short stories from Ficciones (1944) and El Aleph (1949)—and a selection of Borges’ essays and parables. Seeing this collection made me think I’ve only read a handful of literature in Spanish in translation—some short stories and poetry by Silvina Ocampo and Poet in New York by García Lorca. Growing up in Mexico, I’ve experienced the opposite when reading Spanish translations of literature in English, long before I could read and understand the language.
In the spirit of finding out how people in the English-speaking world have read and perceived Spanish and Latin American literature in translation, my reading resolution for 2016 is to read English translations of major Latin American authors. I have in mind Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, Julio Cortázar, Rosario Castellanos, Borges of course, amongst others that will surely become relevant in this quest. Right now, I can only say I have the feeling next year will change my view of Literature in Spanish and open new doors for exploring literature in translation!  
Dominique Eddé's, Kite, translated from the French by Ros Schwartz and excerpted in our July 2012 issue, is significant for being the first piece that we arranged to be published in our network of partner journals(From Schwartz's English version, we commissioned a new Chinese translation from Golden Melody Award-winning lyricist Li Zhuoxiong, which ran in the September 2012 print edition of Unitas, introducing Eddé to Chinese readers for the first time.) Although the following breathtaking passage is taken from a novel, it works wonderfully as a self-contained piece, and, as a novel within a novel, perfectly illustrates my favorite literary devicethe mise en abyme.
—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

'What is a novel?' Mali asked her students.

It was October 1968, shortly after she and Farid had broken up for the first time. She was teaching French that year at a government school in Beirut. She had been given a class of sixteen-year-olds, about sixty boys, most of whom were behind in their studies and had only a smattering of French since they were sitting their baccalaureate in Arabic. Their replies, hesitant at first, came thick and fast. Mali jotted them down. Running on from each other, they read as follows: the novel's a story that's long and wide; it's life but in a book; it's like my uncle who married my aunt without asking for permission; if you observe life carefully, the novel is all around us; it's a story that has a beginning and no end; it's an Arabian Nights; it's when love is a river that meets a dam; I've got a novel, Miss, it begins with some Russians; the novel is full of things that happen at the same time and we don't know why; a novel is so sad it makes you laugh; well, my father says that our defence minister is a novel all by himself; if a novel begins, there's no more rest, that's it; what happened between Abdo and Mohammed the day before yesterday's a novel; the novel's for the French, we Arabs have poetry; Miss, is my sister's death a novel? everyone has novels, there's no need to die; only Allah writes novels; I want to write a novel about Palestine, so that it stays somewhere.

One boy sitting at the back of the class had said nothing. Gazing out of the window, his arms folded, he looked not so much absent as irritated. Yet he was the only one who spoke French. Mali addressed him. 'Ali, I haven't heard anything from you. What is a novel?' He resisted. She insisted. 'It's a story someone tells,' he replied eventually, 'that's all.' 'Give us an example,' she answered, expecting him to give a book title and the name of an author, but that was not how he understood the question. This is what he replied:

It was a winter's day. The sun came and went. The clouds grew bigger. The whole sky was like a stormy sea. Abu Sami pushed his orange cart shouting,'Ten piastres a kilo!' The street was empty, no one could hear him but he paid no attention. He shouted, 'Ten piastres a kilo!' and dreamt of a woman he loved. The hands on the clock were turning, daylight was fading and the clouds were growing darker and darker still. The rain began to fall, the dust turned to mud and Abu Sami's dream came and went, like the sun, its light vanished, he could hardly see the face of the lady he loved. Abu Sami no longer had the strength to shout,'Ten piastres a kilo!' He trundled behind his orange cart in silence. Several oranges rolled off but he didn't pick them up. Just then, an American car pulled up beside him and a lady sitting in the back wound down her window to buy five kilos of oranges. He put the fifty piastres in his pocket and went home with his oranges. A neighbour was waiting for him on his doorstep. He said, 'I have bad news for you, Abu Sami, the dancer is dead.' The dancer was the woman who had been going round and round in his head while he walked. Her name was Camelia. He'd seen her once at Ain el Mraisseh in a cabaret called Chéri. Only once but he loved her.

'There, that's a novel,' grunted Sami, shrugging his shoulders. And as Mali, smiling, wrote down the closing sentences in a notebook, he added in a more conscious, even solemn, tone, 'Once is enough to kindle a dream and a cloud is enough to snuff it out but, for the person telling the story, the dream and the cloud can last a thousand years. The novel doesn't move like an ordinary watch, its hands can stop for an hour on a minute and for a second on twenty years. It's a machine that can gobble a life in two pages.'

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We hope you've enjoyed this New Year's edition of our Fortnightly Airmail. Just a quick reminder to those of you who are translators: our $4,500 translation contest closes exactly one month from now! For those of you who speak Spanish, consider joining us on our Asymptote en español Facebook page; we're almost at 1,000 followers! On the other hand, we're now at 23, 346 on Facebook and 6,656 on Twitter—not too bad for a literary journal about to turn five! Help us celebrate our fifth anniversary (and connect our authors to even more readers) by inviting your friends to join us on social media—we'd really appreciate it!

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