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.
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. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .