Hopscotch Editors’ 2022 Roundup
by the Hopscotch Translation editorial team
Happy New Year from Hopscotch Translation!
For our final publication of 2022, several of the Hopscotch Translation editors would like to offer a few thoughts on a handful of their favorite works in translation from the past year (or so)—and look forward to some of the many exciting new translations coming out in 2023!
Before the pandemic shut everything down in 2020, I’d made plans for a trip to Wales, and although (or because) I’ve not yet managed to reschedule my visit, the country has loomed large in my reading life these last couple of years. It wasn’t wholly by chance, then, that I spotted Welsh poet Llŷr Gwyn Lewis’s prose narrative Flowers of War, published by Parthian Books and sumptuously translated into English by Katie Gramich. It’s become something of a reviewer’s reflex, I think, to reach for the adjective “Sebaldian” when describing a work of literary prose that makes creative use of photographs, but in this case the book invites the comparison from the very first sentence (“About the middle of January in the year 2011 a feeling of restlessness descended on me and gradually transformed itself into a strong desire to embark on a journey”), which reads almost like a pastiche of the incipit of The Rings of Saturn as translated by Michael Hulse (“In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work”). As with Sebald, Lewis’s journey explores the boundary between novel and nonfiction; both writers favor a long intricate syntax that deepens the elegiac quality of their prose. Yet unlike Sebald’s best-known works, Flowers of War is very much a young man’s book, as Katie Gramich says, and the narrator’s periodic yearning to belong to a generation as heroic as those who fought in the World Wars feels rather gratuitous. Gramich’s own distance from some of the book’s sentiments makes her translation achievement all the more impressive; the style is never less than absorbing, and many passages – commemorating the war dead, wallowing in homesickness, or simply mourning the passing of time – are deeply poignant. At one point the narrator muses, “What would it be like, then, when there was not a single Welsh reader left? Would this grand, lovely, oppressive library be left empty, or would the librarians carry on as usual without noticing, filling the gaps with the English books that abounded in the much more uncomfortable, colder, more modern library next door?” It struck me that merely by existing in English, let alone an English as lyrical as the idiom forged by Katie Gramich, Flowers of War heightens the longing for Wales and the Welsh language that is already a theme of Lewis’s book. The translation, in other words, creates the conditions of its own nostalgia, its own hiraeth.
In the new year, I’ll be eager to get my hands on the translation of another book whose author has a fraught relationship with English. Franco-Bengali novelist Shumona Sinha’s Down with the Poor!, translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan, will be published by Deep Vellum in March. Sinha has only just published a memoir of her immersion in her adopted language, L’autre nom du bonheur était français (“The Other Word for Bliss was French”), and has spoken openly of her rejection of English as a creative medium, so it will be fascinating to see how Fagan negotiates that tension in her translation. I’ve loved her recent versions of Vénus Khoury-Ghata, another of which is forthcoming from Seagull Books in April – what luck!
The past year was an even-busier-than-usual year for me, with a large number of curveballs thrown my way, including two out-of-state relocations (one for my wife), and culminating with a chaotic first semester at a new job. I know, excuses, excuses, but I didn’t get as many new translations read as I had expected. It didn’t stop me from acquiring them, but many are awaiting calmer days. Still, a few stuck out for me, and a few more are high on the list for 2023.
I really enjoyed Margaret Mitsutani’s translation of Yoko Tawada’s Scattered All Over the Earth. Trying to piece together Mitsutani’s decisions around what to do with the invented “Panska” language was a highlight for me, as I have puzzled over similar problems before and always find them fascinating. Most recently, I was thrilled to dive into a new volume of stories from Samanta Schweblin, Seven Empty Houses, once again translated by the exceptional Megan McDowell. Schweblin always manages to creep me out with at least a few pieces, and what I love most about her (and Megan’s) great timing is that I never see it coming. It’s rarely a shocking turn, either, but instead, a long-settling feeling of discomfort where you slowly realize that something’s not quite right. The Schweblin trigger memory for me, of course, was the panic that set in the morning after I first read the title story from Mouthful of Birds, as I awoke from a deep sleep and groggily stepped over a feather that lay on the floor by the foot of the bed.
As always, there are plenty of great works in translation coming in 2023 that I’m already excited about. I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself, especially with the backlog of ’22 reading I’ve got stashed away. Soon, I will dive into Terry Bradford’s translation of Boris Vian’s Vercoquin and the Plankton, which I’ve already committed to writing about. I have to wait for the time to do that right, however, as it will require multiple reads and some side-by-side comparison as such pieces often do.
Perhaps most of all, I’m excited to read the final version of Lara Vergnaud’s translation of Mohamed Mbougar Sarr’s 2021 Prix Goncourt winner La plus secrète mémoire des hommes. I’ve read portions of this as a work in progress, and while there were still kinks to be worked out (it’s a very playful book), I don’t doubt for a moment that its arrival will turn some heads.
I wish you all a wonderful New Year, one filled more with books than with angry politics, for a change. Thanks for spending some time at Hopscotch Translation, and hey, if anything on your list of translations to read really stands out to you, why not pitch a review or a think-piece to the editors?
My year-end wrap-up piece has been thwarted by weather this year. Stuck in the Midwest thanks to flight cancelations, and in a rural area hit with an internet outage to boot, I’ll have to keep this short. Perhaps it is appropriate, given the circumstances, that I’d planned on writing about two books on cybernetics this year. For one thing, weather prediction was an important problem that the early cyberneticians tackled (cf., e.g., Norbert Wiener’s Cybernetics)—fascinating stuff! And any “service” outage always throws in relief the astonishing feats of connectivity we are living with: the fact that we are woefully glued to our gadgets, of course, but also the coordination huge quantities of planes flying through the skies at any given moment… Anyway…
The idea to highlight these books on cybernetics came because I’ve spent the last few months working on a translation of a book on Philip K. Dick by French philosopher David Lapoujade (L’Altération des mondes. Versions de Philip K. Dick), which will be published by University of Minnesota Press (probably in 2024). The book covers many of Dick’s novels and stories, approaching them from a variety of directions, including Dick’s interest in general semantics, information theory, and, of course, cybernetics. In the course of my side-reading for the project, I was thrilled to discover that, in 2021, MIT Press had published Stanisław Lem’s Dialogues, translated into English for the first time by Peter Butko. Lem had famously touted Dick as the one great American SF author, and we at Hopscotch had just published Chris Clarke’s two-part interview with accomplished Lem translator Michael Kandel, so this felt like quite the auspicious discovery. The dialogues were, as Lem himself puts it, “conceived under the spell of cybernetics” and were modelled on Bishop Berkeley’s Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous. The eight dialogues themselves are fascinating, ranging from the possibility of constructing an inorganic brain to pathologies of social regulation, and exhibiting Lem’s mastery of the philosophical debates of the time. But what really makes this publication great, is the inclusion of two appendices of essays that Lem wrote after the fact, situating the Dialogues in the time of their composition and revealing what was naïve in them (and in much of the discourse around cybernetics at the time) but also what remained promising a decade and a half later. The first appendix (“The Dialogues Sixteen Years Later,” which includes “Lost Illusions, or From Intellectronics to Informatics” and “Applied Cybernetics: An Example from Sociology”) addresses the Dialogues themselves, while the second (“Additional Essays,” which includes “The Ethics of Technology and the Technology of Ethics” and “Biology and Values”) offers two short essays that are linked to the overall theme—together the appendices make this book an exciting document on the history of science and philosophy, as well as a fascinating look into the mind of a great author. – Regarding the prose of the Dialogues, perhaps a warning is in order: if you were made to read Berkeley’s Dialogues (or Hume’s or even Plato’s) in an intro to philosophy class at some point and couldn’t stomach the somewhat unnatural conversational style, be ready for more of the same here—it isn’t a Lem novel! That said, as a lover of the philosophical essay, I find Peter Butko’s rendering of the style Lem was mimicking to be superb.
As for a forthcoming work in translation I’m looking forward to, I can’t wait for Raymond Ruyer’s Cybernetics and the Origin of Information, translated by Daniel W. Smith and Andrew Iliadis, which will be published in late-2023 (or early-2024) by Rowman & Littlefield. The fact that Ruyer’s books are finally getting translated into English is fantastic (so far, we’ve seen Neofinalism and The Genesis of Living Forms). He was a wide-ranging and idiosyncratic thinker, working on the cutting edge of the philosophy of science (in a manner much closer to the approach of a late-Whitehead than that of the logical positivists), and he was a major influence on figures like Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze, and Simondon. As writers like PKD and Lem showed (and predicted) so poignantly, and as we can’t help but notice daily as we approach the second quarter of the 21st century, cybernetics and information theory have radically changed us. As one of the first philosophical studies of these developments, this book should be of great interest to a great many people. And, as far as I’m concerned, every new Ruyer translation is a cause for celebration.
Thanks for reading Hopscotch!
Originally published on Hopscotch Translation
Tuesday, December 27, 2022