Back in the tumultuous summer of 2009, Timothy Nassau was an intern here at Open Letter. He read some manuscripts, he packed some orders, he listened to a variety of rants, wrote a few blog posts and reviews, and returned to Brown University a bit wiser and with ambition in his heart.
Fast-forward two years, and young little Tim has helped launch Aldus, Brown University’s Undergraduate Journal of Translation.
The first issue is available via the link above, and is pretty damn star-studded: Red Riding Hood by BTBA 2011 winner Ales Steger, translated by fellow BTBA winner Brian Henry; excerpts from A Stroll through Literature by Roberto Bolano, translated by Laura Healy; Etchings by Paul Verlaine, translated by Keith Waldrop; excerpts from Triste Tristan by Paol Keineg, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop; The Voice by Charles Baudelaire, translated by Erik-Dardan Ymeraga; The Philosophy Teacher by the Marquis de Sade, translated by Timothy Nassau; and Since Nine by C. P. Cavafy, translated by Peter Kenros and Emily Oglesby, with assistance from Daniel Mendelsohn, among many others. (And I heard from Tim that Susan Bernofsky has something the new Walser collection in the next issue . . .)
To give you a sense of the vision of this journal, here’s the letter from the editor that Tim and fellow editor Matthew Weiss wrote:
Speaking without fear of repercussions, we can organize contemporary literature around two poles: the literature that marshalls all the faculties of the soul in full cognitive stimulation, the reader’s brain lit globally on the screen of an MRI machine; and the literature of completeness, pages already cut, that tries to make story and identity cohere. These poles have always existed; today’s inheritors are post-modernism, on the one had, and the New Yorker’s fiction section, on the other. The battlelines have been drawn since the end of the last century, yet no one recognizes that today’s readers have long ago erased these lines in the sand, rushing to the shore and the ocean, their attention on the mystery of the lands beyond it.
This situation is nothing new. In 1925, when Russian literature found itself in the same predicament, Boris Eikhenbaum wrote about a recent influx of translated literature into the market. Today, he tells us, “translated literature fills a vacuum which has come about in our native literature—only a seeming vacuum perhaps, but for the reader one unquestionably there. The reader is no historian of literature . . . What he needs is to have an absorbing book on hand for leisurely reading. He needs a finished product, one ready to use.” And how do works in translation fill the space of uncertainty in the literary marketplace? A translated work is always already finished to us; it presents itself as an emissary from a completed world, removed from the pettiness of one’s own language, literature, and culture—and no matter how it is perceived in its own land, it always appears unified in another language. As such, it stands above contemporary controversies, like a manuscript from antiquity or a message from the future. It brings into view the following: that a different kind of whole is possible.
Now, the most exciting things happening in American literature bear the mark of a translator, and the authors need not be named. For when things get tough for letters, one looks abroad for new exemplars, new reminders.
This volume, brings together authors and translators speaking from across time, place, language, and genre. There is no path, exactly; each work opens up a new height and a new abyss. All together, they superpose a globe and a timeline; grasp them before they collapse.
If you want to submit something—a translator or “treatise on a related matter”—email the text (and original) to aldusjournal [at] gmail.com by October 15th.
César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .
Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .
For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .