This entry in the Why This Book Should Win series is by Hal Hlavinka, bookseller at Community Bookstore. We will be running two (or more!) of these posts every business day leading up to the announcement of the finalists.
The Sleep of the Righteous by Wolfgang Hilbig, translated from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole (Germany, Two Lines Press)
Wolfgang Hilbig made his English-language debut last year with the publications of I (Seagull Books) and The Sleep of the Righteous (Two Lines Press). Isabel Fargo Cole, the translator for both titles, brilliantly renders the bizarre beauty and breathlessness of Hilbig’s German, its lyricism, its repetitions, its many shades and shadows. Of course, to call Hilbig’s prose beautiful or breathless is to fear a misreading, for it’s a beauty bloomed in ruin, a breathlessness bound to suffocation. Landing on the BTBA’s longlist, The Sleep of the Righteous should win for its seven visions of an East Germany gone mad, back when the wall was not yet a relic, Stasi roamed wolflike through the streets, and a longing for escape blurred against the feeling of abandonment.
Hilbig finds poetry in paranoia, and his stories are strewn with wreckage and warning. Writing for the Boston Review, Tyler Curtis carefully locates Hilbig’s unease as a product of the East German surveillance apparatus: “[The] very fabric of The Sleep of the Righteous is an instantiation of this anxiety, an exercise in memory, and a meditation on the struggle between concealment and excavation.” Indeed, paranoia, particularly in its political guise, tends towards multivocality, collapsing distinctions between past and present, presence and absence, self and other—sometimes all at once. At their very best, Hilbig’s sentences are many-headed with these horrors. The harrowing story “The Afternoon” features a writer (always a writer, with Hilbig) who seeks to describe the arc of a Stasi arrest which happened long ago, but feels as if its happening outside his door right now. Between sitting down to compose and lingering on the arrest, the writer falters:
“How can you sit at a table and write, I said to myself, and set down the impression of a completely inert town, when you’re constantly tormented by the knowledge that someone out there in the dark is being hunted, and may this very moment be running for his life?”
The scene is scattered: table, town, hunt, all held haphazardly together by the writing act. The tension between representation and reality seeks an ethical answer; the writer’s present chronicle might stand in as a savior, called forth from the shadows of a man’s memories of his town to bear witness, but the writing act is overwhelmed, finally, by the past’s political terror, and off the story goes into the arrest. It’s a question asked of the present and the past at once, and left unanswered by both. Witness, for Hilbig, isn’t enough, even when it’s the only thing we have, and the only thing his writing can offer. But the writer must conjure these images, tormenting as they may be, or else we’d have no narrative to contend with.
The Sleep of the Righteous arrived to several comparisons (from Two Lines’s jacket copy, from the LARB) to the work of Edgar Allan Poe, and, surprisingly enough, the comparison stands. Not that a riff on Poe is altogether unheard of—Bolaño sneaks more than a few into his stories—but it’s rare to encounter a mimic done well. In particular, the story “The Bottles in the Cellar” reads like pulp horror from the Eastern Bloc, uncanny enough to renew Poe’s same sense of panic, at least in this reader. The young man in the story, drunk off his family’s cider, finds himself increasingly unable to conceal his theft by refilling pilfered bottles. Humorous enough in its excess—“I had not filled them, the bottles, I had not yet disposed of them; on the contrary, I had bolstered their superior might with more and more fringe groups”—the story soon sobers, so to speak, against the threat of alcoholism: “[In] my body there was a curse like the very being of the bottles: for a fullness in me did not lead to satiety, but flung open ever greedier maws within.” Of course, it all ends where you’d expect—in vomit:
“It was something else I wanted to vomit, something imaginary: perhaps it was an ocean, frozen to glass to the very bottom, perhaps it was an Earth, plummeting through the night like an overripe apple.”
Vomit transforms into an image of the void. Hilbig’s horrors have the ability, like Poe’s, to explode the mundane (vomit from drink) into the cosmic (“an ocean, frozen”; “an Earth, plummeting”). But unlike Poe, whose stories hinge on allegory and metaphor to engage with the American republic, Hilbig refers again and again to the malaise and suffocation of life in East Germany, as set up in the story’s opening lines: “The old contraptions, survivors of two wars, held and held…no one generation gained the upper hand, and finally I accepted the fact that I didn’t belong to them.” The postwar generation under Communism cannot make their lives inside the glories and terrors of the past, but instead must suffice with drink and other petty pleasures that they find beneath the boot.
“The Dark Man,” the final story in the collection, twists the struggle for survival against the state back onto the state itself, or what’s left of it after the fall. The narrator, another writer, makes a trip back east to visit his mother, and begins receiving mysterious phone calls from an unknown man who demands they meet. Eventually, the story reveals that the unknown man is a former Stasi agent who was once tasked with reviewing the writer’s mail, from which he discovered an affair. At their first meeting, he describes the impenetrability of the writer’s style, even in correspondence: “A haze of writing . . . and can you even still see the life behind it? Is there actually still flesh behind the writing? Or just more writing?” As fitting a formulation of Hilbig’s style as any I’ve set down, the agent’s description cuts to the bone of the East German’s moody methodology. Living under surveillance amounts to hiding, encoding, encrypting, and who better to house the heart away from harm than a writer and his words. And though he labors hard through these seven stories to admonish the role of the writer, Hilbig always returns to the centrality of writing to resistance. Put another way: our words are the thoughts and things in our heads, graver than a gun which can be wrenched from our grasp, and their preservation is synonymous with survival—because what good our words without our heads, or our heads without our words?
Best I think to leave the last to the author of the introduction, perennial BTBA-winner László Krasznahorkai: “Wolfgang Hilbig is an artist of immense stature. He discovered a wondrous language to describe a horrific world. I admit this is sick illumination. Nonetheless, it is illumination. Unforgettable.”
Today’s Best Translated Book Award post is by Mark Haber of Brazos Bookstore. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.
The front cover of Wolfgang Hilbig’s The Sleep of the Righteous boasts an enormous column of black smoke rising into the sky. This cover is not only fitting, it’s ideal. Ash, smoke, dust, fog, everything a reader might expect to find from an author plumbing the depths of life in communist East Germany abounds in these mesmerizing tales.
For readers of Thomas Bernhard or Laszlo Kraznhorkai, or even Kafka, the settings are familiar; dark, ashen, bleak landscapes. Blocks of dimly-lit apartment houses line the streets; unemployment, illness and futility flourish. It’s a world where the only occupations which exist are seemingly set in boiler rooms and factories, day-long shifts carting ash to large simmering pits on the outskirts of town.
Describing the neighborhood of his childhood, a character writes:
Between the sidewalks was but a straight track of sand, perhaps once light, now since times unknown black-gray, as though in proof that a mix of many colors ultimately yields darkness. Coal dust and ash had blackened it to the pith, and then had come the reddish mass of crushed brick, the rubble from bombed-out houses that was used to even the surface. After each rain you gazed into a bed of murky, vicious mud; in the dry spells of summer the street was an endless reservoir of dust that advanced all the way into stairwells and seemed to glow in the midday sun; it covered barefoot boy’s skin up to the thighs with the black bloom of inviolability.
Happiness and peace are not options for these characters; paranoia and sickness are guaranteed and little else. Yet for all the gloom and despair the glow of Hilbig’s writing illuminates the hidden shadows and obscured corners of this bleak existence. A stunning translation by Isabel Fargo Cole only confirms the immense talent and depth of Hilbig, one of the most awarded German writers of his time.
Born in 1941, Hilbig’s generation lived divided lives: growing up in the world of communism for the first half and the liberated freedom of the West for the second. Hilbig was always a thorn in the sides of the authorities however, writing exactly what he saw with his own eyes and consequently he was able to move (exiled perhaps) to West Germany years before the wall came down. English-language readers now have the good fortune to read this brilliant author whose stories range from seeing an East-German village through childhood recollections to the day-to-day drudgery of a boiler room. Darkness thrives in these stories no doubt, however there is an affectionate, almost mythic quality to these locations; one sees it’s not so much a place Hilbig is describing as a time—ineffable, inscrutable childhood. Like East Germany, it is the place one can never return to.
The final story, “The Dark Man,” swells with paranoia and dark humor. It begins with a disembodied voice seemingly prank-calling the narrator, who insists that they meet, Only as the story progresses—criss-crossing between Mannheim, Leipzig, Frankfurt, amidst insomnia, sickness and sleeping pills—does the narrator realize the caller is an ex-Stasi official who years earlier had spied on him. A dark comedy, a snapshot of an unhappy marriage and an indictment of the German secret service follows. In other hands this may have been messy or imprecise, but the story is rigorous and focused, thanks in large part to the strength of the translation. Isabel Fargo Cole’s translation is so compelling in fact that the title story reads almost like a prose-poem:
The dark divests us of our qualities. Though we breath more greedily, struggling for life, for some fleeting web of substance from the darkness . . . it is the darkness that forms a mute block above us: intangible matter our breathes cannot lighten . . .
One reads these stories and realizes they’re in the hands of an immense talent. There’s a reason Laszlo Kraznhorkai wrote the introduction to this incredible collection, a reason Hilbig is considered the greatest prose writer to emerge from the former East Germany. I’ve mentioned other authors to give a sense of context and aesthetics, however the reader uninitiated to the likes of Thomas Bernhard or Bohumil Hrabal will enjoy the power of these stories on the strength of the writing alone.
It might be generational or simply coincidence, but three of the books I’ve read on this year’s BTBA list have been story collections authored by writer’s whose lives were ostensibly split in half by history. Brief Loves that Live Forever by Andreï Makine and Calligraphy Lesson by Mikhail Shishkin were writers that both grew up with Soviet communism and witnessed its collapse. Like Hilbig, all three saw the systems they were indoctrinated into fall apart. Similarly, all three collections are tinged by nostalgia and regret, awash with meditations on worlds gone by. Having read these books in a short period of time has only reminded me that our fates and destinies are tied inexorably to forces larger than ourselves. Read as autobiography or fiction, The Sleep of the Righteous will linger in the reader’s mind for a long time to come. It is literature of the first order.
A few months ago, Jeremiah Chamberlain invited me to participate in an indie-press roundtable on publishing translations with Barbara Epler from New Directions, Michael Reynolds of Europa Editions, Jill Schoolman of Archipelago Press, and CJ Evans of Two Lines. This ended up being a long, sprawling email conversation, that just was included in the most recent issue of Poets & Writers.
It’s a really long piece, I know, I know, but one that’s loaded with great information from the other people on the panel. Here are a few samples:
What issues do you feel are most pressing for independent publishers in general and those working with literature in translation in particular?
Michael Reynolds (Europa): In my mind, the No. 1 issue concerning the publication of work in translation is that of discoverability and promotion. I’m not entirely convinced that we have to dramatically increase the number of books in translation published here at all costs, but I definitely think that we need to grow the audience for those books that are published. Over the past ten to twenty years it seems to me that the focus has been on printing as many titles in translation as possible. But printing is not the same as publishing. I would like to see us all work more, and together, on innovative and effective ways of getting our books into the hands of a larger number of readers. [. . .]
Barbara Epler (New Directions): I agree, and also, I think the main concern is finding readers for amazing books. Not necessarily flooding the market with more and more translations—as if that vision of emulating the flood of new English-language titles will get anyone anywhere. Say we wanted to have the German ratio of translated titles. Really? If we approach 40 or 50 percent, then we would have, say, 100,000 new translated titles annually. That also seems crackers.
Jill Schoolman (Archipelago): I’d say the most mysterious [issue] is how to survive. Someone should write a how-to book on the subject. How to keep our authors and translators writing, and how to stay afloat as a press when what trickles in doesn’t always amount to what’s flowing out in various directions. Because the dimensions of the industry—publishers, booksellers, librarians, reviewers and bloggers, distributors, readers, writers, agents, translators, educators—are changing so rapidly we need to find new ways of collaborating. [. . .]
Michael Reynolds (Europa): I’d like to talk a bit about the work of “outreach.” Obviously, this kind of activity fits more squarely into the mission of a nonprofit or a press connected with a university in the way Open Letter is. But I think it is also something that all presses should engage in. We have lost the ability to talk about books in meaningful ways. Most people are unable to go much further than a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down, or appraise a work of literature with more than “I hated it” or “I loved it.” As a culture—I mean outside of our very limited clique—we have become critically illiterate; we no longer know how to understand, let alone express, the social, political, cultural, historical significance of a book. For that matter, we are almost incapable of expressing its significance for us even on a personal level. It may just be the way of the world—I think many people are conversant on the social and cultural significance of Breaking Bad, for example—and I should get over it. At the same time, I think a more critically literate readership would not only be important for the culture but would also mean that presses like ours would sell more books. Thus, perhaps efforts to grow this kind of critical literacy should be calculated more explicitly as part of our marketing budget. We are, after all, not simply trying to “break into the market” but also attempting to shape that market.
Let’s talk about a “critically literate readership,” the decline of which people often attribute, at least in part, to the shuttering of book pages in newspapers and decreased coverage for literature in periodicals. But at the same time, as the editor in chief of Fiction Writers Review, I also know that there are a number of venues out there for thoughtful discussion of books. So where are people having the sorts of conversations about books that you wished more readers were aware of? Or what avenues for outreach would you either direct people toward to widen those conversations or propose creating, if you’re not already engaged in doing so?
Michael Reynolds (Europa): I think you’re opening up a can of worms with this one. The conversation is long, deep, and broad. I’m going to try to condense some of my thoughts into morsels.
You’ll have to go to the full article to find those morsels . . .
Steve Dolph’s translation of Juan Jose Saer’s massive La Grande won’t be available until next spring, but for those of you who can’t wait to sample what may well be his magnum opus, you can check out Two Lines for a long sample:
Tomatis continues: Mario Brando considered himself an experimentalist, but he was a barefaced bourgeoisie. According to Tomatis, he lived and thought like a bourgeoisie. He married the daughter of an ultra-Catholic conservative general, as opportunistic as himself, who changed his political position with every changing government or circumstance. Brando claimed he had combined poetry and science, but his values and his lifestyle were as traditional bourgeois as they come: he raised his daughters Catholic, and when they grew up he married them to navy officers. According to Tomatis, he never went to mass more than his social obligations demanded, but his wife and daughter attended the chic eleven o’clock mass every Sunday. His brother-in-law, according to Tomatis, was also in the military, and, like his father, gained the rank of general. Starting in the sixties, he’d often visited North American instructors in Panama, in Washington, at the School of the Americas. Because his entire career transpired in the shadow of General Negri, the celebrated torturer, he’d been given the nickname, even in certain military circles, of secondary anticommunist, in reference likewise to his subdued personality, a possible side effect of his alcoholism. And, Tomatis says, precisely because of all of this, he’d once been forced to ask Brando for a favor. Tomatis is quiet for a few seconds, remembering, reflecting maybe. Soldi’s, Violeta’s, and the others’ expressions have also turned solemn. Gabriela lowers her head, possibly so as not to have to look anyone in the eyes, or possibly in order to listen better to what she’s actually heard many times already, from Tomatis, from her parents, or old friends that Tomatis and her parents had in common: the story of the disappearance of El Gato Garay—Tomatis’s friend and Pichón’s twin brother—and Elisa, his lover for several years. She was more or less separated from her husband, who knew about the affair. And though she didn’t live with Gato all the time, she would spend her weekends with him, and sometimes, when she wasn’t busy with the children, whole weeks. El Gato spent practically all his time at the beach house in Rincón that had once been the Garay family’s weekend retreat. El Gato lived on almost nothing, odd jobs from friends mostly, enough for food, for drinks, and for tobacco. He left the town less and less frequently; it was extremely strange to see him in the city. When Elisa visited him, her black car would be parked for days without moving, gathering sandy dust. Every so often they’d walk through the town on their way to the grocery or to the butcher shop, otherwise they were always in the white house, which was starting to fall apart, or in the rear courtyard, which could have been cleaned more regularly. They were an unusual couple, polite but not very demonstrative, and at that time being even slightly different from the people around you who put you in danger for your life. (Someone once joked that they were kidnapped because they didn’t have a television.)
The 2013 Susan Sontag Prize for Translation was just announced, with Nathaniel Rudavsky-Brody receiving this year’s honors for his translation of Benjamin Fondane’s Ulysse.
Not much info up on the Sontag site yet, although I think this literally just went online. (I’ve been refreshing that page like a crack addict in hopes the U of R student and Volodine translator J.T. Mahany would win . . . )
Anyway, the Center for the Art of Translation/Two Lines has a bit of Ulysse available on their website:
The world opens within us at the view of ships
departing—they depart with their hair in the wind
returning—they return old and decrepit
in the dance of lights,
in the farewell revels of ports
seated while everyone dances.
And here’s a bit of info about the author and translator:
Benjamin Fondane (1893-1944) published poems, translations and criticism in his native Romania before moving to Paris in 1923. After devoting seven years to perfecting his French, he resumed his literary activity in that language. His works include the long poems Ulysses (1933), Titanic (1937), and Exodus, and The Sorrows of Ghosts (both posthumous), as well as works of criticism on Baudelaire, Rimbaud and his mentor, the philosopher Lev Chestov.
Nathaniel Rudavsky-Brody lives in Brussels, where he works as a programmer in digital publishing. He studied math in Chicago and medieval literature in Poitiers and Paris. He has published translations of Benjamin Fondane and an article on the philosophy of sailing.
Congrats to Nathaniel and everyone who entered.
The new issue of Two Lines, entitled “Passageways,” has just been released. All in all, it’s a pretty awesome anthology, and includes great pieces by authors like Quim Monzó and Naja Marie Aidt. There’s also a poem by Shez that is particularly touching.
You can buy it here !
On Wednesday, November 9th at 7:30pm, Two Lines is collaborating with The Bridge reading series to put on a special event at McNally Jackson (52 Prince St.) in celebration of the new issue, Counterfeits. “Counterfeits” editor Luc Sante will host the event, and will be joined by translators Aaron Kerner, Patrick Philips, Alex Zucker, Alyson Waters, and author Magdaléna Platzováfor.
In preparation for this event, Two Lines just posted an interview with Alyson Waters about Albert Cossery and her translation of The Colors of Infamy, which is coming out next month from New Directions.
Scott Esposito: We’re here to talk about your excerpt from The Colors of Infamy, which comes from the third novel by Egyptian-French writer Albert Cossery to be published in the past couple of years. Cossery, who died in 2008 and did most of his writing decades ago, has become something of a sensation lately, with these new translations getting rave attention in a lot of leading periodicals. Why do you think Cossery has caught on so much?
Alyson Waters: I wish I could say that he’s moved into best-sellerdom, but that would be overstating the case a bit! I think that Cossery’s a great writer, and maybe it’s taken some time for people to realize that here—an Egyptian author who writes in French translated into English is not everyone’s first choice as a “go-to” book. We’re fortunate to have wonderful publishers like New Directions and New York Review Books who took a chance on publishing these translations in the last few years, although some of his work was translated into English decades ago, but it’s all gone out of print. I started translating The Colors of Infamy for the pleasure of it some seven or eight years ago, but it wasn’t until I won a PEN Translation Grant for the book that publishers sat up and took notice. I was lucky that Barbara Epler of New Directions wanted me to translate A Splendid Conspiracy as well. And now, in addition to The Jokers, brought out last year in Anna Moschovakis’ translation, New York Review Books is bringing out a revised version of a translation by Thomas Cushing of Proud Beggars that was originally done in 1981. It would be nice to think that all this interest has to do with the Arab Spring, and that may be true right now as far as new readers are concerned, and I hope interest continues to grow. But those of us who have been pushing for Cossery to have a bigger presence in the English-speaking world have been doing so for about a decade, some even longer. He’s got a wicked sense of humor, a very appealing anti-work/anti-capitalist/anti-materialist philosophy that goes with our current recession mood, I think, and a rather cynical—though some might say accurate—view of the benefits of any revolution for the poorest of the poor—all of which can be seen quite clearly in The Colors of Infamy.
Click here to read the full interview, and be sure to order a copy of the new issue while you’re there.
For this week’s podcast, Tom and I answered our first mailbag question about literary journals, discussed the old adage that “short stories don’t sell,” and complained about the unbeatable Milwaukee Brewers.Read More...
“Counterfeits,” the new issue of Two Lines, just came out from The Center for the Art of Translation, and looks pretty amazing. As it should, considering that it was guest edited by Luc Sante and Rosanna Warren . . .
This latest volume leads with a special section of innovative, international noir literature from Slovakia, Egypt, Chile, Russia, and more—including a new translation from Steven T. Murray,1 the award-winning translator of Steig Larsson. Featuring a special introductory essay by Luc Sante, as well as introductions by each of the translators, the Focus on Noir Literature delivers a robust exploration of new noir worldwide.
This anthology is further highlighted by poetry editor Rosanna Warren’s selections from Mongolia, Catalan, and Bulgarian, among many others. Printing bilingually throughout, “Counterfeits” features fifteen different languages and includes stunning work from Russian absurdist Sigizmund Krhizhanovsky (his “prose has a recklessly unstable tone . . . [that makes] a delighted examination of impossible worlds,” writes Adam Thirlwell) and mordant Frenchman Albert Cossery—who counted Henry Miller as a fan.
In addition to Krhizhanovsky (BTBA finalist) and Cossery (ditto), this issue also features work from Cesar Aira, Venus Khoury-Ghata, Primo Levi, Goncalo Tavares, Ngo Tu Lap, Henrik Nordbrandt, and many others. In terms of translators, there are pieces translated by Alyson Waters, Lisa Hayden Espenschade, Rhett McNeil, Andrew Oakland, Meena Desai, Chris Andrews, Martha Collins, Alex Zucker, Marilyn Hacker, Andel Rodel, and many more.
Definitely worth checking out . . . Unfortunately, the Two Lines site doesn’t have info on ordering this yet, but will in the near future, I’m sure.
1 AKA Reg Keeland.
The eighteenth annual installment of Two Lines will be edited by Luc Sante and Rosanna Warren, and we’re looking for the best of the best new translations in any genre (poetry, fiction, drama, essay, non-conformist).
In addition to nearly two hundred pages of poetry and fiction from around the world we will also be running a special section of international noir literature. When we say noir, however, we’re not merely looking for the next Stieg Larsson, we’re looking for work that walks the edges of the genre, that attempts something greater or other within (or around) the traditional model. We want poetry that incorporates thematic music, excerpts from graphic novel whodunits of a political slant, or anything you feel might interestingly play with the tropes of noir.
Previously unpublished work only.
Deadline to submit your work is December 1, 2010. No late submissions accepted!
All other details (length, mailing address) can be found at the link above.
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:
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.
The Center for the Art of Translation recently redesigned its website, which provides a perfect opportunity to reiterate just how awesome CAT is. Lots of amazing stuff on here, including a killer list of upcoming events, an interview with Susan Bernofsky about translating Robert Walser, and information about Two Lines.
So if you haven’t been to the CAT site—or haven’t been in a while—I highly recommend checking it out . . . Especially since the new layout is really pretty . . .
Although the official pub date isn’t until November 9th, a copy of the sixteenth volume of Two Lines arrived in the mail yesterday. It’s edited by Margaret Jull Costa and Marilyn Hacker, and contains a number of excerpts from interesting translations coming out this year, including the new translation of Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum, Yoko Tawada’s The Naked Eye, Inger Christensen’s Azorno, Jose Manuel Prieto’s Rex, and Tarek Eltayeb’s Cities Without Palms.
In addition, there’s a special focus on Paletinian Poetry, which was edited by Marilyn Hacker, and for which she wrote an interesting introduction that starts with a discussion of Mahmoud Darwish’s “Rita’s Winter” as setting out
one of the paradigms of contemporary Palestinian poetry: a history larger than that of any individual expressed through narratives of the quotidian and the deceptively personal. This stands alongside, and arises in part from the inescapable fact of exile (and the presence of a not at all imaginary occupying Other) as one of the principal components of contemporary Palestinian writing, a paradoxical but undeniable source of its inspiration. But this energy is not insular; it’s also an integral part of the ongoing renaissance of poetry in Arabic (the creation of an Arabic modernism) that began int he circle around the journal Ch’ir (Poetry) founded in Lebanon int he 1960s by a circle of poets including the Syrian Adonis, a movement that, as the Moroccan poet-critic Abellatif La’abi claims, enlarged poets’ angle of vision while revising and recasting their poetical “arsenal.” The tropes and cadences of classical Arabic poetry were met, confronted by European ideas of ruptured and new forms, while “new” ways of thinking about aesthetics were reconnected with classical, spiritual, and philosophical sources.
Definitely worth checking out, and you can preorder your copy by clicking here.
Two Lines (and the Center for the Art of Translation as a whole) is one of the most impressive annual anthologies of literature in translation being published today. (Actually, most of those qualifiers can be eliminated: it’s one of the best annual publications in the world.)
One of the reasons for the organization’s success (in addition to a staff that includes Olivia Sears, Annie Janusch, and now Scott Esposito), are the amazing guest editors they get to work on the anthologies.
The next volume (the seventeenth) will be edited by translator Natasha Wimmer (one of the absolute best, most well known for 2666 and The Savage Detectives) and poet and translator Jeffrey Yang.
I’m convinced that they will put together one of the best Two Lines yet. And if you’re a publisher or translator and want to submit something to the magazine, you should contact Annie Janusch at ajanusch at catranslation dot org before November 25th . . .
Over at Entre Los Espacios, Rose Mary Salum is continuing her line-up of bad-ass interviews. Last month she talked with a slew of editors at translation literary journals (such as Absinthe and Calque), and today she has a nice interview with Annie Janusch from Two Lines.
And tying in to the previous post about editing translations:
What would seem to be the essential editorial challenge when working with translations?
Since translation editors aren’t in a position to, say, recommend revising a particular passage so that it moves the narrative along differently, the editorial focus is on honing and crafting the language, maintaining consistency in voice, style, or intangibles like “spirit.” When I read a draft of a translation of a story, I read it as closely as I would a poem, pausing over every word and weighing every choice. This can lead to endless questioning.
While I was out of the office last week, the new issue of Two Lines arrived. This is the fifteenth volume of Two Lines, which is really impressive, and as always, the production quality and contents are both excellent.
The “theme” of this particular issue is “Strange Harbors,” which can be interpreted (like all of the Two Lines themes) in a number of ways. Pulitzer-nominated playwright and novelist John Biguenet and poet and Turkish translator Sidney Wade co-edited this volume, and, in my opinion, did a fantastic job in including established writers and translators and a host of new voices.
Some of the highlights include:
Basically, I could just copy over the entire Table of Contents . . . In addition to all the great fiction and poetry included in each issue of Two Lines, I really enjoy this journal because it gives me a chance to find out about new translators, and to see what people are working on these days. And the trim size (approx. 5.5” tall by 8” wide) is strangely intriguing and appealing. Anyway, you can order copies online or find them at better bookstores everywhere.
And in terms of future issues, volume 16 will be edited by Margaret Jull Costa and Marilyn Hacker (wow!) and information about submitting is available online. The deadline is October 31st.
Two Lines is one of the most interesting journals of translated literature out there—just check out this recent TOC if you don’t believe me—and a real cornerstone of the ever-impressive Center for the Art of Translation.
Anyway, Two Lines just put out a call for submissions for the 15th anniversary edition, which will be edited by Pulitzer-nominated playwright, novelist, and translator John Biguenet (prose) and acclaimed poet and translator Sidney Wade (poetry).
The deadline is October 22, and all the necessary information is avaiable here.
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .