2.7 The Novel of Revolutionary Ideas: Viet Thanh Nguyen and Colleen Lye (AV)

Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning The Sympathizer and its sequel The Committed, joins esteemed scholar Colleen Lye of UC-Berkeley for a candid discussion about the Asian-American novel and the role of literature and theory in radical social movements. Colleen is drawn to the mix of philosophy and suspense in Viet’s work and wonders if he considers himself a member of the theory generation–that is, writers for whom literary theory is not just a way of reading texts but an impetus to create new literary forms for grappling with ideas. Viet, schooled in deconstruction and postcolonial theory, accepts the designation with a caveat: If he is a novelist of ideas, then he is a novelist of revolutionary ideas. Inspired by Fanon’s anticolonialism and Gayatri Spivak’s concept of the double bind, Viet’s defiantly politicizing aesthetic looks to place the colonial subject, particularly the Vietnamese refugee, at the center of multiple stories of American and French imperialism.

Colleen and Viet reflect on the role of academic training in Viet’s transformation from Asian-Americanist scholar into Asian-American novelist and discuss the peculiarities of immigrant Asian identity in terms of language. Mother tongues, bilingualism, orphaned language, and adopted language all become metaphors for how Asian-American writers must balance the loss of heritage and weight of expectation with the call to self-invention. Plus, Viet reveals the not-so-wholesome treats that enabled him to complete The Sympathizer!

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Audio: The Novel of Revolutionary Ideas: Viet Thanh Nguyen and Colleen Lye

4.6 Translation is the Closest Way to Read: Ann Goldstein and Saskia Ziolkowski Novel Dialogue

In our season finale, Ann Goldstein, renowned translator of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, gives a master class in the art and business of translation. Ann speaks to Duke scholar Saskia Ziolkowski and host Aarthi Vadde about being the face of the Ferrante novels, and the curious void that she came to fill in the public imagination in light of Ferrante’s anonymity. In a profession long characterized by invisibility, Ann reflects on her own celebrity and the changing orthodoxies of the book business. Where once having a translator’s name on a book cover would be sure to kill interest, now there are movements to display author’s and translator’s names together. Ann reads an excerpt in Italian from Primo Levi’s The Truce, followed by her re-translation of the autobiographical story for The Complete Works of Primo Levi. She then offers an extraordinary walk through of her decision-making process by honing in on the difficulty of translating one key word “scomposti.” Listening to Ann delineate and discard choices, we are reminded of Italo Calvino’s assertion (echoed by Ann) that translation is indeed the closest way to read. This season’s signature question on “untranslatables” yields another brilliant meditation on word choice and the paradoxical task of arriving at precise approximations. Plus, Ann and Saskia reveal some of their favorite Italian women writers, several of whom Ann has brought into English for the first time. Mentions: –Elena Ferrante –Jennifer Croft –Primo Levi, The Periodic Table –Primo Levi, The Truce, from The Complete Works of Primo Levi –Stuart Woolf, original translator of Levi, If This is the Man –Catherine Gallagher, Nobody’s Story –Italo Calvino –Marina Jarre, Return to Latvia –Elsa Morante, Arturo’s Island –Emily Wilson, only female translator of The Odyssey –Jenny McPhee –Cesare Garboli Find out more about Novel Dialogue and its hosts and organizers here. Contact us, get that exact quote from a transcript, and explore many more conversations between novelists and critics. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
  1. 4.6 Translation is the Closest Way to Read: Ann Goldstein and Saskia Ziolkowski
  2. 4.5a Novel Dialogue Bonus: Jean-Baptiste Naudy Reads from Claude McKay’s "Amiable with Big Teeth"
  3. 4.5 The Best Error You Can Make: Brent Hayes Edwards and Jean-Baptiste Naudy on Claude McKay
  4. 4.4 “A short, sharp punch to the face”: José Revueltas’ The Hole (El Apando) with Alia Trabucco Zerán and Sophie Hughes.
  5. 4.3 Strange Beasts of Translation: Yan Ge and Jeremy Tiang in Conversation

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Published by aarthivadde

Associate Professor of English - Duke University

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