Asymptote, one of the prettiest (and smartest) online magazines, has a new issue out to kick off the new year, and it’s pretty packed with interesting material:
For one, we got to talk to our favorite Francophile, Edmund White, about why Proust is “a more profound psychologist than Freud”. We also have an excerpt from the new novel by Amélie Nothomb, the Belgian phenom behind Fear and Trembling; Life Form is about yet another cultural clash—this time with an American soldier in Iraq. But perhaps we are proudest of bringing you the first ever English translation from Toh EnJoe’s 2012 Akutagawa Prize-winning novel, Harlequin’s Butterflies. In the fascinating interview Toh also granted us, the Physics PhD elaborates on his “un-local novels”, and how we must cherish the ability to enjoy strange things.
I’m particularly interested in Harlequin’s Butterfly, especially after reading this note from Sim Yee Chiang and Sayuri Okamoto about the translation:
Harlequin’s Butterfly is a complex work in which (to give one out of any number of possible summaries) the entanglement of idea (‘butterfly’) and praxis (‘net’) is told and retold from multiple perspectives, making it all the more deserving of the Akutagawa Prize. The first chapter, presented in its entirety in this extract (along with the introduction of the second chapter for clarity’s sake), forms the comedic version of the tale, and is dominated by the imposing figure—a veritable Pantalone—of A. A. Abrams. To translate humour is treacherous enough, but to recreate Abrams’ American English from a Japanese translation of a Latino sine inflexione rendering of his original English? Straining our ears, we managed to catch echoes of Clare Quilty.
And the opening—although maybe a bit too goofy at first (calls to mind Calvino, but the handstand joke falls flat, in my opinion)—is pretty mesmerizing:
Books that may only be read while traveling would be nice.
Books that may also be read while traveling are boring. For every thing, there must be a right time and place. A book suited for reading anywhere and anytime is nothing more than a half-baked sham.
This book, without a doubt, takes the form of A Book To Be Read In Two Minutes While Doing A Handstand and has indeed been made for the express purpose of handstand reading. Its significance cannot be fully grasped via non-handstand reading. You can open the book normally and follow the words on the page, but the feeling is nothing compared to the sensation of actually finishing the book while standing on your hands. The story ingeniously employs the rush of blood to the head. By adapting this principle, Revelations That Come In The Thick Of Anger and the like can be created easily.
This happens during a flight between Tokyo and Seattle. The copy of Confession To Someone With Three Arms that I have purchased from the kiosk sits on my lap. I try flipping through it, but as usual nothing sticks in my mind. It might be the flight speed, but the letters seem to lag ever so slightly behind the page, scrambling to catch up. Absorbed by their movements, I am only able to see a mass of print; I am utterly distracted.
At this stage, I give up the pointless struggle and start to think about books that make use of the movements of letters. Every time I travel, the same thing happens. I stuff two or three books in my bag, even buy additional books during the trip, but strangely, I have yet to get very far in any of them.
The ability to convert these vague feelings into wealth instead of words is called business sense.
While no multimillionaire, it is by listening to such fancies as these that Mr. A. A. Abrams amasses a respectable fortune.
This all happens during a flight between Tokyo and Seattle.
Mr. Abrams is a man who is continually onboard planes, without having any particular destination. Flying is his business, and so he flies as much as he can, staying in hotels near airports when forced to remain on land. He is neither flight attendant nor pilot, just a traveler with nowhere to go.
Be sure and check it all out.
This was the question that Leon Neyfakh from the New York Observer asked a few people at the recent PEN Foundation annual gala. The answers aren’t all that provocative or surprising: Edmund White points out how most panels are “an exercise of competing egos rather than an effort to communicate or focus on the topic” and Daniel Menaker (whose Titlepage.tv project seems to have gone into permanent hibernation) offers up the excuse that most authors aren’t good at interacting with the public.
The one comment that I completely agree with is from Rhonda Sherman (organizer of the New Yorker Festival): ““In general, it’s not a party unless there’s blood on the floor. There needs to be tension on a panel. You need to have some disagreement. If everyone agrees on the panel, it’s a total snooze-a-thon.”
Every panel needs a contrarian to really foster a discussion. Otherwise it’s easy for these events to devolve into a series of disconnected, individual presentation.
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!. . .