Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Literary translation: a matter of import

This is a difficult post to pull together. I could speak of what translated literature means to me, but that might not mean that much to you. So I'll try to confine myself to what it means to us.

But who's (or whose) us? Readers, certainly, particularly those who read literature in preference to, say, genre fiction (not that there's no overlap). Still, the effects are far wider, as word and story permeate other media (and vice versa). And as the arts are permeable, so too culture: f'rinstance, one foundation stone of Modernism is Pound's free translation of classical Chinese poetry. To "make it new" one must see it anew, from unfamiliar perspectives or in different contexts. I will not speak of cultures, as such are merely thematic variations on universal human urges, drawing upon disparate resources, some local, some from beyond the horizon ... often, it's the latter that revitalizes the former. And as distances diminish, our world expands.

Languages provide modes of expression that recalibrate distances, redraw the map, somewhat akin to geometries or topologies, with variations not just between but within them (from dialect all the way down to idiolect). Insights that occur naturally in one language may be harder to accomplish in another; literature traffics in more elaborate insights, drawing deeply upon the resources of language, and literary translation captures what's essential to it, not the destination but the journey, or more geometrically, the transformation. (I've previously drawn the analogy to musical transcription, but changes to coordinate systems are also apt; it all works because the underlying matter is the same.)

The above is more sketch than exposition, but I hope it conveys the importance I attach to literature in translation and to the processes and people who support it: not only the translators (for whom it is more a labor of love than of money), but also the publishers and promoters (for whom, similarly), which is why I natter on so about the BTBA. Fortunately, the number of non-profit cultural conduits has increased in recent years (and continues: welcome aboard, Transit Books! and there's a slew of others [pdf] deserving of mention). Unfortunately, a keystone to the support system, the National Endowment for the Arts, is under siege, despite its making a little go a long way (as may also be said of the non-profits); many foundations and state agencies use NEA grants as indicators for what's worthy of their support. The ensuing uncertainties have only added to the precarities of publishing literature in translation.

So here comes the ask.

Archipelago Books (on whose board I serve) has launched its annual fundraising drive. I've long been a supporter (and fan) of the press, as the diversity of its efforts have consistently maintained a high standard of quality; this spring it embarked on another tack, bringing children's literature in translation into play with a new imprint, Elsewhere Editions. And recognition keeps coming, for specific titles as well as for overall efforts: Jill Schoolman will be receiving the Ottaway award from Words Without Borders in November. Such recognition helps, but in the current environment, individual support is more important than ever, in itself and again as an indicator for foundations and others. Numbers matter, beyond dollars: the scope of individual support influences other funding sources and the politicians in whose hands rests the fate of the NEA. So give what you can. It's worth it. (Another opportunity to show support, in person, is the Fall Fête on Oct 5 at the Wythe. Hope to see you there!)

previously, previously


BTBA winners!

Just back from the ceremony at The Folly, where the Best Translated Book Awards were announced simultaneously with The Millions online:
Fiction: Lúcio Cardoso, Chronicle of the Murdered House (Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson: Portuguese [Brazil]) [Open Letter]
Poetry: Alejandra Pizarnik, Extracting the Stone of Madness (Yvette Siegert: Spanish [Argentina]) [New Directions]
Congratulations to all of the above, and for that matter to all the contenders! And kudos to Chad Post, who got the whole BTBA ball rolling, for having his press credited with its first award (but hey it's the author and translator who get the cash; he read MJC's gracious acceptance to the assembly). And in the online announcement, the poetry judges were kind enough to cite our press' Abdellatif Laâbi, In Praise of Defeat (Donald Nicholson-Smith: French [Morocco]) [archipelago]; got to make the acquaintance and chat a bit afterwards with DN-S, and a bit beforehand with Robert Mandel of Mandel-Vilar Press (non-profit sci-fi? who knew? but no much more than that) ...


BTBA fiction shortlist 2017

Finalists for the Best Translated Book Awards announced today at 1E6s, presented here with links to the 3% series on Why This Book Should Win:

Antonio di Benedetto, Zama (Esther Allen: Spanish [Argentina]) [nyrb]
Sergi Lebedev, Oblivion (Antonina W. Bouis: Russian) [New Vessel]
Laia Jufresa, Umami (Sophie Hughes: Spanish [Mexico]) [Oneworld]
Marie NDiaye, Ladivine (Jordan Stump: French) [Knopf]
Pedro Cabiya, Wicked Weeds (Jessica Powell: Spanish [Dominican Republic]) [Mandel Vilar]
Lúcio Cardoso, Chronicle of the Murdered House (Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson: Portuguese [Brazil]) [Open Letter]
Ananda Devi, Eve Out of Her Ruins (Jeffrey Zuckerman: French [Mauritius]) [Deep Vellum]
Boubacar Boris Diop, Doomi Golo (Vera Wülfing-Leckie and El Hadji Moustapha Diop: Wolof [Senegal]) [Michigan State]
Stefan Hertmans, War and Turpentine (David McKay: Dutch [Belgium]) [Pantheon]
Daniel Saldaña Paris, Among Strange Victims (Christina MacSweeney: Spanish [Mexico]) [Coffee House]

This year's shortlist is something of a departure from past practice (which is not to say good or bad). Two-time BTBA press winners were winnowed out: this is the first year that Archipelago Books didn't make the fiction shortlist, and only the second time New Directions didn't, despite having four titles on the longlist (both are however present on the poetry shortlist). Conversely, congrats to newcomers Oneworld, Deep Vellum, New Vessel and Mandel Vilar! (and to more established first-timers Knopf, Pantheon and MSU). Lots of newcomers among the authors and translators as well! There's more of a regional concentration: half of this year's titles are Latin American. Relatedly, only two language home countries are represented, Russia and France, by Sergi Lebedev and Marie NDiaye respectively (I think the latter a favorite to win [though still to be read], but I'm out of synch and so will keep prognostication to a minimum). For other thoughts, see hear 3% podcast (fiction starts 9:45 in).


BTBA fiction longlist 2017

The longlists for the Best Translated Book Award (fiction and poetry) were announced this morning (cf précis), and it's a mixed bag, something for everyone but not everything for anyone, not so much eclectic as all over the map, leaving me relieved not to have hazarded any guesses about its content this time round: I've read only a fifth of the list (half last year's tally), with another quarter being anticipated by the buzz preceding, and will consider in that order, followed by what should have made it onto the list; reformatted for concision as
author, title (translator: language [country if not home]) [publisher].

First, what I've read (and what I had to say about them):
Rafael Chirbes, On the Edge (Margaret Jull Costa: Spanish) [New Directions]
didn't live up to expectations--not that it isn't good, just that it isn't that good; novel as craft not art (and awareness of this does not elevate) 29.5.16
Antonio di Benedetto, Zama (Esther Allen: Spanish [Argentina]) [nyrb]
internal exile for executor of the will; a tad disappointing, but second half stronger 27.10.16
Maja Haderlap, Angel of Oblivion (Tess Lewis: German) [Archipelago]
bildungsroman amid the ruins, didn't grab me to start but tightened its grip inexorably throughout (2011 Ingeborg Bachmann Prize [among others]; trans 2015 Austrian Cultural Foundation Translation Prize [I attended AFCNY presentation whereat Haderlap read from the Slovenian translation ...]) 4.10.16 also won the PEN translation prize since
László Krasznahorkai, Last Wolf and Herman (George Szirtes and John Batki: Hungarian) [New Directions]
the first refracts Bernhardian technique into Krasznahorkain territory; the second really just a pendant not up to usual standard but not a lot of room to operate 24.9.16
Sergi Lebedev, Oblivion (Antonina W. Bouis: Russian) [New Vessel]
trying to kick off the traces of Arctic-circular inhumanity 24.11.16
So, of these, I would choose Haderlap (what's a shortlist without Archipelago?) and Lebedev to go through.

Next, the books whose reputations preceded them:
Basma Abdel Aziz, The Queue (Elisabeth Jaquette: Arabic [Egypt]) [Melville House]
Laia Jufresa, Umami (Sophie Hughes: Spanish [Mexico]) [Oneworld]
Javier Marías, Thus Bad Begins (Margaret Jull Costa: Spanish) [Knopf]
Patrick Modiano, In the Café of Lost Youth (Chris Clarke: French) [nyrb]
Marie NDiaye, Ladivine (Jordan Stump: French) [Knopf]
Sjón, Moonstone (Victoria Cribb: Icelandic) [FSG]
Yoko Tawada, Memoirs of a Polar Bear (Susan Bernofsky: German [Japan(?)]) [New Directions]
Not a lot to say, but I've been suffering some Marías and Modiano fatigue ... I'd given all the others consideration at some point, and now will again.

And then, those new to me:
Alessandro Baricco, The Young Bride (Ann Goldstein: Italian) [Europa]
Pedro Cabiya, Wicked Weeds (Jessica Powell: Spanish [Dominican Republic]) [Mandel Vilar]
Lúcio Cardoso, Chronicle of the Murdered House (Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson: Portuguese [Brazil]) [Open Letter]
Ananda Devi, Eve Out of Her Ruins (Jeffrey Zuckerman: French [Mauritius]) [Deep Vellum]
Lidija Dimkovska, A Spare Life (Christina Kramer: Macedonian) [Two Lines]
Boubacar Boris Diop, Doomi Golo (Vera Wülfing-Leckie and El Hadji Moustapha Diop: Wolof [Senegal]) [Michigan State]
Santiago Gamboa, Night Prayers (Howard Curtis: Spanish [Colombia]) [Europa]
Stefan Hertmans, War and Turpentine (David McKay: Dutch [Belgium]) [Pantheon]
Daniel Saldaña Paris, Among Strange Victims (Christina MacSweeney: Spanish [Mexico]) [Coffee House]
Enrique Vila-Matas, Vampire in Love (Margaret Jull Costa: Spanish) [New Directions]
Jakob Wassermann, My Marriage (Michael Hofmann: German) [nyrb]
Banana Yoshimoto, Moshi Moshi (Asa Yoneda: Japanese) [Counterpoint]
Yoss, Super Extra Grande (David Frye: Spanish [Cuba]) [Restless]
Over the coming days, up to the shortlist announcement April 18, the 3% blog will run a series of posts on why each book should win, or in other words why it should be on my radar.

Finally, some of the books that would have at least made my longlist:
Pere Gimferrer, Fortuny (Adrian Nathan West: Catalan [Spain]) [Godine/Verba Mundi]
in a word, sumptuous; unlikely focal point for diffraction, ornament of the essence 14.5.16
Ilja Leonard Pfeiffer, La Superba (Michele Hutchison: Dutch) [Deep Vellum]
fantastic Genoa, expatriated, poet's pomo-novel; narrator overly bro in least successful of the subplotting, otherwise thumbs-up 19.6.16
Jung Young Moon, Vaseline Buddha (Yewon Jung: Korean) [Deep Vellum]
about writing an antinovel antinarratively 13.8.16
Álvaro Enrigue, Sudden Death (Natasha Wimmer: Spanish [Mexico]) [Riverhead]
widespread acclaim justified but not without flaws (f'rinstance, authorial intrusion too explicit even if/as knowingly so) ... I feel a bit hobbled in that Francisco de Quevedo is mostly unenglished 27.3.17
and the elephant on the shelf:
Arno Schmidt, Bottom's Dream (John E. Woods: German) [Dalkey]
I'll tackle it later this year (really; it's in hand, had to get Finnegans Wake out of the way first); a signal, monumental accomplishment, but too much a niche interest, and much too long and dense to impose on the judges, who already have their hands full. (It's remarkable that Dalkey was shut out again this year, even moreso than that New Directions again placed four on the longlist, or that Margaret Jull Costa matched that number.)


waning philosophical

a who's who of philosophers
knowing what's what ontologically
going beyond to reflect on wise whys
but the back-peddling of their wares wears thin


the year in reading 2016

Like last year, I'm unimpressed by the year-end best-of lists. And like last year, I've read a dozen books a month (closing in on 100 novels, and 24 books of poetry so far ...) from all over the map, over half in translation, with new incursions into Catalan and Korean (though oddly none yet from Dalkey Archive), and over half by authors I hadn't previously encountered. (And like last year, a gentle reminder that non-profit literary presses deserve your tax-deductible year-end support; I'm partial to Archipelago Books myself, but then I'm on the board.) Unlike last year, I've read more books by women (about a quarter of the total), and won't be opining on the Best Translated Book Awards until the longlist comes out at the end of March. Also unlike last year, I'll select the best reads of each month, and include an honorable mention as well, even as this does not by any means exhaust what was worthwhile*:

Jan: José Eduardo Agualusa, A General Theory of Oblivion (Daniel Hahn) [archipelago]: tight weave within the chaos of Angolan independence [MAO]
Richard Weiner, The Game for Real (Benjamin Paloff) [Two Lines]
Feb: Jack Cox, Dodge Rose [Dalkey] [3AM and (*spoilert*) a two part consideration]
Christos Ikonomou, Something Will Happen, You'll See (Karen Emmerich) [archipelago]
Mar: Sarah Howe, Loop of Jade [Chatto & Windus]: wow, some think overly precious but no allusion gratuitous or wasted, 1st debut Eliot Prize
Llorenç Villalonga, The Dolls' Room (Deborah Bonner) [Dalkey]
Apr: Ralph Cusack, Cadenza [Dalkey]: clinic on Irish yarn-spinning tangled in time and space (Sorrentino afterwords: "a stew of bewildering and impenetrable events, an inexpiicable 'cosmic joke.'" But that's life ...)
Raduan Nassar, A Cup of Rage (Stefan Tobler) [Penguin]
May: António Lobo Antunes, Fado Alexandrino (Gregory Rabassa) [Grove]: PTSD but P for Portuguese nothing Post- about it (and stress on disorder), thick interweave
Han Kang, Human Acts (Deborah Smith) [Portobello]
Jun: Ilja Leonard Pfeiffer, La Superba (Michele Hutchison) [Deep Vellum]: fantastic Genoa, expatriated, poet's pomo-novel; narrator overly bro in least successful of the subplotting, otherwise thumbs-up [MAO]
Robert Coover, The Origin of the Brunists [Grove]
Jul: Christine Brooke-Rose, Thru [Carcanet]: thru the Omnibus, which is to say thru with it, which is to say thru Thru, which I enjoyed the most of the bunch (whereas Between, least): the language semiotics of love and vice versa chiasmusically, and academonically, whodunnit recast as whoseddit, subriffing ... yes some flash and trash too but enough of it works ... Out was nouveau roman but with a difference, a difference that became clearer with Such; she knows how to work a conceit, and how to make you work for it. Between: tourism of simultaneous interpretation, traveling in style more than in substance
{goin' meta, M.A.Orthofer, The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction [Columbia] [my review]; so extra honorable mention next month ...}
Aug: Vladimir Sharov, Before and During (Oliver Ready) [Dedalus]: a bit of history with which I was unfamiliar til now and seemingly forgotten (til Sharov resurrects it) but still operative in the Russian psyche: Fyodorov and Cosmism [MAO]
Elias Khoury, Broken Mirrors: Sinalcol (Humphrey Davies) [archipelago]
Jung Young Moon, Vaseline Buddha (Yewon Jung) [Deep Vellum]
Sep: Pierre Reverdy, The Thief of Talant (Ian Seed) [Wakefield]: hybrid prose poetry, this is a keeper, if only surrealism had taken this track and knit itself as tightly I don't encounter much that demands a reread like this
Pascal Quignard, A Terrace in Rome (Douglas Penick and Charles Ré) [Wakefield]
Oct: Tomasz Różycki, Twelve Stations (Bill Johnston) [Zephyr]: convoluted comedic elegiac verse spanning 20c Poland from east to west and in retrograde [TQC oeuvreview]
Maja Haderlap, Angel of Oblivion (Tess Davis) [archipelago]
Nov: Iván Sándor, Legacy (Tim Wilkinson) [Peter Owen]: retracing the persisting end of 1944 Budapest, plumbing the murky depths of the past, memory, the unconscious ... and how the story comes together, or apart
Sergei Lebedev, Oblivion (Antonina W. Bouis) [New Vessel]
Dec: TBD Eliot Weinberger, 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: with more ways [NDP]: a must-read on poetry in translation (and each in isolation) [MAO]
Mina Loy, The Lost Lunar Baedeker: Poems (Roger L. Conover, ed) [FSG]: wow! modernism that Modernism wasn't ready for
(and special mention for John Kerrigan, Shakespeare's Binding Language [Oxford]: oaths & vows, Empsonically)

* (a full rendering of my reading in the usual unusual place)



particular or wavey
the answers don't matter when
the question's not even wrong
ontology recapitulates
in all probability
it's all the way down
all the way down
shut up and copenhagen



think on your feet and stand on your head
dig in your heels to furrow your brow
sit on your hands but stay on your toes
lead with your chin when armed to the teeth
lending an ear while holding your tongue
trust in your gut it's right on the nose


poetry in commotion

the momentum of mass transit
carries you to the wrong platform
to make an impossible connection
in the busy abandoned station
everybody someplace else
in packed forsaken corridors
or on crowded vacant stairs

avoid eye contact it's irritating
even the blind vagrant feels your gaze
and rattles his anthora cup in reply
slip in the swipe card with one last ride

31.7 EDIT: anthora replaces greek-keyed thx Sharon!