Experimental Japanese translations. Interviews with National Book Award finalists. Mexican Twitter fiction. Ancient Babylonian texts and contemporary underground Uyghur poetry. These are just a few of the offerings from literary translation journal Asymptote. Asymptote has published translations from more than 70 languages of various eras and in different formats in just the past five years.
For the five-year anniversary of the online quarterly, they are hosting events all over the world. Celebrations have already taken place in New York City, London, and Ottawa, and the next one is taking place in Chicago.
While the founder and editor-in-chief, Lee Yew Leong, is based in Taipei, the journal is international. Asymptote is written by and for those that don’t let the borders they were born into define their cultural identity. The mission of the journal recognizes translation as an act of creation. This allows for the translator to be as recognized for their work alongside the original artist. The title of the magazine offers a perfect visual: in mathematics, an asymptote is a curve of a line that as it extends toward infinity, gets closer and closer and closer, without ever quite reaching the axis. A perfect metaphor for the imperfections of translation, while recognizing the utility of that very imperfection.
The fact that the journal is released for free online every quarter does not detract from its value. Mary Gaitskill, Jose Saramago, J.M. Coetzee, Junot Diaz, Yann Martel, Mo Yan, and many other notable writers have appeared in the magazine’s digital ink, in the original text or in translation (and sometimes both), as well as in interviews.
The Chicago celebration happens on Wednesday, April 13. This event’s theme is (appropriately) “One City, Many Languages.” Gracing the beautiful stage at the Chopin Theatre will be four of Chicago’s very own:
- Nathanaël is a translator, self-translator, and professor at the School of the Art Institute, whose translation from the French of The Mausoleum of Lovers by Hervé Guibert appeared in Asymptote.
- Rey Andujar, Dominican writer and performer, and his translator Kolin Jordan of Siete Vientos press based in Pilsen, will explore layered translation and the translation of text into movement.
- Jason Grunebaum translates from Hindi and he has been awarded the NEA Literature Fellowship and the PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant for his work; he teaches at the University of Chicago.
Asymptote Five-Year Anniversary Event will be Wednesday April 13, at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division. Tickets ($5) can be purchased ahead of time on Eventbrite and will be available at the door. You can RSVP for the Facebook event here.