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Some Kind of Beautiful Signal

Still pounding out some pieces for the Publishing Perspectives Show Daily, so I’ll have to make this quick. (It’s way paranoid, but I have the feeling the Publishing Perspectives people will see this—hello Ed! hi Hannah! hey there Erin!—and wonder why the fuck I’m past my deadline for the pieces I owe them . . . )

But anyway, the new issue of Two Lines from the Center for the Art of Translation arrived, and is way too cool not to at least mention. Even the title—“Some Kind of Beautiful Signal”—is cool. Indie rock cool. Something off of “Painful” cool. Which is fitting considering that two of the coolest translation people in the country guest-edited this particular issue: Natasha Wimmer of Bolano translation fame worked on the prose side of things, and Jeffrey Yang, poet, editor at New Directions, selected the poetry. (Which includes a special folio dedicated to the poetry of the Uyghur ethnic minority in China. Again, super cool.)

Here’s Wimmer’s take on the issue’s title:

Some kind of beautiful signal: that’s what each of these stories sends us. When we read in translation, those signals may come from far away, but they are strong and insistent. Readers in this country have recently proved that they are willing to pick up on some foreign frequencies: the success of Roberto Bolano’s novels is a case in point. As one of Bolano’s translators, I’ve been in the fortunate position of witnessing how one writer can change global perceptions of the literature and culture of an entire region. Writers and translator—and readers—should remind themselves once again of the power of fiction in translation.

There are only about a billion reasons to pick up a copy of this anthology. (Which you’ll be able to do here. The issue featured there now—“Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed”—is also worth checking out, but isn’t the issue I’m writing about.) Including the fact that this is one of the greatest outlets for youngish translators. And for discovering new international writers. It’s an important component of the literary translation scene and supporting CAT helps support a wealth of great programs and opportunities. Heartfelt feelings and obligations aside, the content in this issue totally rocks with all the buzzing emotion of a post-rock epic . . . Anyway, here’s some of the issue’s highlights:

  • Three Poems by Danish writer Inger Christensen, who passed away last year, and whose playfully knotted novel Azorno is available from New Directions;
  • An excerpt from Lydia Davis’s new translation of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, thus linking Two Lines and Playboy (SFW—I promise);
  • Translations by Lucas Klein of a couple Xi Chuan poems;
  • Translations by Heather Cleary Wolfgang (who is translating a couple Sergio Chejfec books for us) of poems by avant-garde writer Oliverio Girondo;
  • An excerpt by Natalka Sniadanko whose title—“Why You Ought Not to Subscribe to the Newspaper”—I find pretty intriguing, and which opens, “Milia, our mail carrier, does not enjoy her job.”;
  • “A Thin Line Between Love and Hate” by Adolfo Bioy Casares (everyone should read The Invention of Morel) and Silvina Ocampo, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine (a trifecta of literary awesomeness);
  • “In promptu,” which is a piece by Peruvian writer Martin Adan that is translated by Rick London and Katherine Silver;
  • A story by Mikhail Shishkin (whose Maidenhair is forthcoming from Open Letter) translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz;
  • A piece by Roberto Bolano translated by Natasha Wimmer that’s perfect for this blog. (Even if it is a bit mean to translators.) It’s called “Translation Is a Testing Ground,” and, as Wimmer points out, ends with an absolutely brilliant passage about “how to recognize a work of art.”;1
  • A focus on Uyghur poetry, and much, much more.

Another solid issue from a wonderful organization.

1 I maybe shouldn’t excerpt this whole paragraph, but well, whatever. It’s too good to resist:

How to recognize a work of art? How to separate it, even if just for a moment, from its critical apparatus, its exegetes, its tireless plagiarizers, its belittlers, its final lonely fate? Easy. Let it be translated. Let its translator be far from brilliant. Rip pages from it at random. Leave it lying in an attic. If after all of this a kid comes along and reads it, and after reading it makes it his own, and is faithful to it (or unfaithful, whichever) and reinterprets it and accompanies it on its voyage to the edge, and both are enriched and the kid adds an ounce of value to its original value, then we have something before us, a machine or a book, capable of speaking to all human beings: not a plowed field but a mountain, not the image of a dark forest but the dark forest, not a flock of birds but the Nightingale.



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