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Posts Tagged ‘Asymptote’

Staff Picks: No Conscience, No Hope, No October

March 6, 2015 | by


Ilf and Petrov.

In the latest London Review of Books, Adam Phillips conducts a restless interrogation of conscience, that most eminent and most frustrating of moral constructs. We take it as a given, Phillips points out, that self-criticism has some purgative or ameliorative influence, that it moves us to better ourselves. But it’s more often an exercise in a kind of self-slavery: “We seem to relish the way it makes us suffer.” Why do we put such stock in our superego, who is, after all, mainly a reproachful asshole? “Were we to meet this figure socially, this accusatory character, this internal critic, this unrelenting fault-finder, we would think there was something wrong with him. He would just be boring and cruel. We might think that something terrible had happened to him, that he was living in the aftermath, in the fallout, of some catastrophe. And we would be right.” There follows a fascinating Freudian reading of Hamlet, a meditation on cowardice, and a careful deconstruction of the superego, from whose ridiculousness Phillips draws an inspired conclusion. “Just as the overprotected child believes that the world must be very dangerous,” he writes, “so we have been terrorized by all this censorship and judgment into believing that we are radically dangerous to ourselves and others.” —Dan Piepenbring

When I saw the first installment of Knausgaard’s travelogue for the New York Times Magazine, I thought of Ilf and Petrov’s American Roadtrip, their account of driving around the U.S. for ten weeks in 1935. But in truth, the two chronicles have little in common. Where Knausgaard is expansive and self-seeking, Ilf and Petrov are witty and concisely observant. “And on a chilly November morning we left New York for America,” they write, later finding the archetype of the American landscape at “an intersection of two roads and a gasoline station against a ground of wires and advertising signs.” Both Ilf and Petrov had experience in journalism—they met while working for the proletariat magazine Gudok—but I hadn’t read this early work until this week, when I saw Steven Volynets’s translation in Asymptote of a 1923 feuilleton by Ilf called “A Country That Didn’t Have October.” It’s an atmospheric recitation of the waves of occupation and retreat in Odessa during the civil war and World War I. Volynets calls it an “atomization” of the city’s fervor, and I was frequently reminded of Mayakovsky’s brash, agitated poems. Of 1917, Mayakovsky writes, “The drum of war thunders and thunders. / It calls: thrust iron into the living,” to which Ilf adds a description of the “worker provinces … where the factory smokestacks and horns ominously billowed and tooted. The [revolutionaries’] gaze fell upon the black depot, on the flurried seaport, on the rumbling, ringing, groaning railroad shops.” —Nicole Rudick

If you liked Leslie Jamison’s Empathy Exams or Charles D’Ambrosio’s Loitering, try Steven Church’s latest collection, Ultrasonica group of essays brought together by the theme of sound. Church at times seems to say, I make noise, therefore I am. He dissects the nature of sound waves in a racquetball court, counts the seconds between lightning and thunder, and listens for signs of life from trapped Chilean miners—and his digressions invariably come back around to sucker punch you. Church uses sound to explore notions of masculinity and fatherhood, love and death. He elaborates on his methods and inspirations in an interview with Jacket Copy: “I did a Google search for ‘blue noise’ … I read a sentence that said, ‘Blue noise makes a good dither,’ and, though I had no idea what it meant, I loved how it sounded. The sentence became a puzzle that I wanted to solve and, before I knew it, something like a book project began to take shape as individual essays, each focused on sound in some way.” —Jeffery Gleaves
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Staff Picks: Getting On, Getting Away, Getting Organized!

January 30, 2015 | by


“Together We Can Do It!”

The latest issue of n+1 opens with an edifying symposium on labor and magazines, two subjects more historically entwined than you might think. Nikil Saval has an excellent primer on the first strike in publishing, and Gemma Sieff tells the still-contentious story of Harper’s unionization—but what really got me was Daniel Menaker’s recollection of tensions at The New Yorker in the seventies, when employees twice tried to stand up for better pay. William Shawn may have been an extraordinary editor, but a manager he was not. “We should have had a policy that after ten years,” he said in a speech to the staff, “if [employees] didn’t rise to something, then they should leave. They’re eccentric, unusual people, and we keep them on.” It’s a lot of inside baseball—I’m not sure, frankly, if anyone who doesn’t work at a magazine will care—but it will nurse the flame of the populist in your soul. And it provides a bracing counternarrative for the publishing industry, which is too often depicted as a kind of rarefied good-old-boys’ cabal. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must agitate for collective bargaining among the staff of a certain literary quarterly. Editors of the world, unite. —Dan Piepenbring

Maybe I’ve been watching too much Girls or Transparent or Togetherness, or reading too much Trollope (see below), but for my money, no comedy on TV can compete with season two of Getting On, a show with old, sick people in it, and with smart, passionate, deluded, lonely protagonists—none of whom is trying to get famous. Such people do exist, and their problems are funny, too. —Lorin Stein

While I was in England a few years ago, someone recommended I arrange to see an Evensong concert. The majesty of the experience doesn’t translate to anything I’ve encountered in the U.S.—the tightly enclosed chapels and their unspeakably beautiful designs, the intensity and reverberation of the voices, the ritual of it all. I was reminded of the experience—one that I repeated as many times as I could—when I came across the Choir of New College Oxford’s version of “Shenandoah.” (Leave it to an Oxonian choir to offer the most hauntingly beautiful version of an American folk song.) —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

The New York Times wrote that Kathleen Ossip’s first collection of poems, The Cold War, “conjures delightful and unexpected muses in this socio-poetical exploration of post-World War II America.” Her second collection, The Do-Over, is an equal delight. It uses the same socio-poetically shrewd eye to consider America’s pop-culture milieu, distilling its own understanding of mortality and death. Unassuming and masterly, Ossip’s poetry is sneaky, very often disguising itself as easy, and surprising you the moment you let your guard down; “her poems are fun and deadly serious at once,” as NPR put it. The Do-Over is a kind of elegy to contemporary culture: it critiques modern life while basking in its ever-younger, glitzier rabble. —Jeffery Gleaves
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What We’re Doing: Talkin’ Translation

January 21, 2014 | by


Tonight at seven, brave the snow, the cold, and any other inclemencies the sky may belch on us and come to Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, where our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, is discussing translation with Eliot Weinberger (acclaimed translator of Octavio Paz, Jorge Luis Borges, and Bei Dao), Idra Novey (translator of Clarice Lispector), Daniella Gitlin (translator of Rodolfo Walsh), and Jeffrey Yang (poet, editor, and translator of Liu Xiaobo). It’s all to celebrate the third anniversary of Asymptote, the international literary journal.



What We’re Loving: Psycho-Biddies, Illusions, MTV

July 19, 2013 | by


It’s hard to read in a heat wave, but the July issue of Asymptote is so absorbing I hardly notice my sweat drops hitting the keyboard. Even more impressive than the diversity of things translated—book reviews in Urdu, fiction in Bengali, poetry in Faroese—is their quality. I’ve especially enjoyed the excerpt from Operation Massacre, a novela negra by the great Argentinian writer Rodolfo Walsh, and the interview with David Mitchell about his translation of a memoir by Naoki Higashida, an autistic Japanese thirteen-year-old. Here is Mitchell on the misery of translation: “As a writer I can be bad, but I can’t be wrong. A translator can be good, but can never be right.” —Robyn Creswell

I usually behave at museums, but last weekend, at “Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective,” currently at the Met, the guards were just waiting for my friend and me to leave. A number of the amorphous, neon, strangely suggestive ceramics for which Price is particularly known appeared to have small windows carved out of their exteriors to reveal dark, hollow interiors (see, for example, Price’s Pastel). But upon closer examination, it became difficult to tell whether the windows truly exposed new space, or whether they were simply painted on—perfectly executed optical illusions. Clearly, the only option was to get even closer. This is not allowed. Repeat offenses were unavoidable, though; I wanted an answer! The sculptures gleamed so! I felt taunted. A definitive answer could not be determined before we were ultimately shooed away. A partner exhibition of Price’s work, at the Drawing Center, which I hope to see this weekend, consists only of works on paper; it will be easier to be better there. —Clare Fentress Read More »


Staff Picks: Delightful Fuckers, Ephemeral New York

September 30, 2011 | by

Elaine Blair says let your children read Nicholson Baker: “House of Holes will introduce impressionable readers to many interesting sexual possibilities without a whisper of stereotype or slur. You can be sure that no matter what scene your children are masturbating to, they are not objectifying women. But you will have to make sure that they accidentally stumble on it soon, before they find the Internet, if they are to have a fighting chance at being wholesome and delightful fuckers instead of hopelessly depraved ones like yourself.” —Lorin Stein

My friend Pete turned me on to Ephemeral New York, which, along with Vanishing New York, has immediately entered my personal must-read feed. And if you really want to feel melancholy about our city’s lost treasures, take a look at this. (And thanks to Vanishing New York for turning me on to Karen Lillis’s Bagging the Beats at Midnight, a memoir by a long-time employee of beloved—and endangered—St. Mark’s Bookshop.)Sadie Stein

Is print dead? Not at all. The New York Art Book Fair, hosted by Printed Matter this weekend at P.S. 1, is probably the best browsing experience you’ll have all year. Photobooks, artist’s books, antiquated books, ephemera, zines: it has everything from the small to the massive, the odd to the vintage, the practical to the whimsical. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

I’ve been poking around in Asymptote, a new and impressively eclectic online magazine, with fiction and nonfiction, poetry and criticism, all in translation. I’ve especially enjoyed the (very) short story by Robert Walser, translated by Susan Bernofsky, Adonis’s “Ambiguity,” translated by Elliott Colla, and an essay about riddles by the Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky, translated by Shushan Avagyan. There is, in other words, something for everyone. —Robyn Creswell

I picked up a copy of Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi in the office and am thoroughly enjoying doses of Wes Anderson-esque whimsy. It’s a fairy tale disguised as a novel about a writer (named Mr. Fox), his muse (Mary Foxe), and his characters. Like all good fairy tales, the story is told over and over again in various romantic settings, in this case involving plenty of typewriters, brownstones, and flower shops.Artie Niederhoffer

An old interview between Borges and Enrique Krauze, devoted mainly to Spinoza, is newly translated in the current issue of The Reading Room: “Descartes let himself be seduced by that abominable little Protestant sect, the heresy that is the Church of Rome; but if one accepts his premises, one arrives either at solipsism or Spinozism. Which means that Spinoza was a more coherent thinker and certainly much braver than Descartes. For me—simply because I'm a coward myself—bravery is an essential virtue.” –L. S.

Much has already been written on the immersive, off-broadway theatre experience, Sleep No More. Recently extended through November 5, this eerie production has been haunting me all week. Though the storyline (based on Macbeth) left me a bit puzzled and frustrated, the sets, music, and lighting design alone are worth the price of admission. If you go, stick as close to the actors as you can (even when that means literally running up and down stairs) and you might get as lucky as I did to get locked in a room alone with one of the players. What a memorable and bewitching treat to have a monologue recited to you and you alone—sans mask. —Charlotte Strick