Patchwork: Seven Essays on Art and Literature presents in English translation a number of essays written by the Chinese literary scholar and novelist Qian Zhongshu (1910-1998). One of the great minds of the twentieth century, Qian, with his characteristic erudition and wit, addresses here aspects of the classical literary and artistic traditions of China. Better known, as a scholar, for his magisterial Limited Views: Essays on Ideas & Letters (Guanzhui bian 管錐編) (1979-80) and, as a novelist, for his Fortress Besieged (Weicheng 圍城) (1947), these essays, first written during the period 1948-83 and much revised over the years, allow readers insight into Qian’s abiding concern with “striking connections” between disparate literary, historical, and intellectual traditions, ancient and modern, Chinese and Western.
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Words Without Borders has posted an editorial of mine. Here’s how it begins:
Recently two of my Facebook friends posted links to reviews of their work that neither named nor noticed them. This would be inconceivable if my friends were authors, film or stage actors, or artists, but my friends are translators, so not being mentioned is par for the proverbial course…
For reviews not to discuss or even mention the translator is so standard, in fact, that my friends felt they had to backpedal their outrage. Don Mee Choi, translator of Kim Hyesoon’s All the Garbage of the World, Unite! (Action Books), can’t bring up how she was overlooked without apologizing: “I despise self-centeredness, so I hope I’m not being [self-centered] right now…” Likewise, Elizabeth Harris, translator of This is the Garden by Giulio Mozzi (Open Letter Books), writes, “It’s such a strange feeling: I’ve read two reviews now that don’t mention me at all and yet quote the book. Very, very strange. I am glad they like what they’re reading, though. I can take some pleasure in that.”
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Dissertation Reviews has posted Victor Fan’s review of Li Jinhua’s Transnational Remakes: Gender and Politics in Chinese Cinemas and Hollywood (1990-2009). Here’s how it begins:
Transnational remakes between Chinese cinema and Hollywood are not simply a matter of “lost in translation.” Rather, as each story is transplanted from one social, political, and cultural sphere to another, and a new paradigm of social values and narrational codes is actively constructed. Li Jinhua’s dissertation offers a thoughtful discussion on this matter by examining how the act of cross-cultural adaptation re-inscribes a new mode of femininity into the narrational process.
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Karen An-hwei Lee reviews Notes on the Mosquito at Your Impossible Voice! Here’s how it begins:
If I could sing well enough—or play acoustic guitar, for that matter—I would sing Xi Chuan’s early lyric poems in a quiet studio with a swept parquet floor. A single lightbulb or a candle burning. Enormous shadows on the walls. Pot of cold black tea on a small table. Photographs of unadorned scenes from modern life: a power outage, a nurse’s youth dissolved by acid, a man pacing the room late at night. The title poem, “Notes on the Mosquito,” alludes to ironies existing between the collectivist ideal of proletariat rule versus actual bourgeois realities, a political motif in both his pre- and post-Tiananmen writings.
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In “Wise Words of Confucius on Shifts in Institutions” Emanuel Pastreich presents a translation of Confucius so as (per an explanation elsewhere) “to write something that does not sound too sage-like [but rather] is essentially of the same style as contemporary American political discourse … If Confucian writings are translated as the words of sages, closer to the register of the Bible or of Plato, their impact on contemporary American political discourse will be limited.” He translates:
If the terms that we employ to describe the institutions in society cease to be accurate representations of what those institutions have become, then, although we can discuss the problems of our age, the discussion will not correspond with the actual reality in a political or economic sense.
Pastreich applies this to the banking industry:
Confucius suggested that the problems we encounter in the political realm are the result of a slippage in the meaning of the terms that we use to describe. For example, there has been tremendous slippage in the significance of the term “bank” and that slippage has introduced chaos into our society. Although we use the word “bank” without even thinking about its meaning, the term’s significance is far from clear. Whereas the word “bank” referred to an organization with a rather limited mandate to lend money under strict regulations, it has evolved into a complex financial instrument whose roles are multifarious and changing rapidly as money itself has shifted in its significance as a result of the IT revolution. We need perhaps to redefine “money” at the same time.
What I find so striking about this is that while the method of translation is very, very different than translation of Chinese according to the imagined Confucian notion by Ezra Pound, both present us with a similar investigation of the morality of economics, specifically as relates to banking.
Stonecutter is kept from his tone
weaver is kept from his loom
wool comes not to market
sheep bringeth no gain with usura
Usura is a murrain, usura
blunteth the needle in the maid’s hand
and stoppeth the spinner’s cunning.
Dissertation Reviews has posted Edwin van Bibber-Orr’s review of Liu Gang’s dissertation, The Poetics of Miscellaneousness: The Literary Design of Liu Yiqing’s Qiantang Yishi and the Historiography of the Southern Song. Here’s how it begins:
Gang Liu’s dissertation, The Poetics of Miscellaneousness: The Literary Design of Liu Yiqing’s Qiantang Yishi and the Historiography of the Southern Song, is an ambitious structural analysis of the Yuan biji 筆記 (“literally, brush notes” [p. 2]) text Qiantang yishi 錢塘遺事 (“Anecdotes of Qiantang”), by Liu Yiqing 劉一清 (ca. early 14th c.). Biji, Liu writes, is “a type of Chinese literature… whose miscellaneous content, accommodative structure, and flexible form often challenge our very conception of literary genre itself” (p. 2). Liu’s thorough introduction details the evolution of the biji genre in China and reviews scholarship in both China and the West; in his discussion of biji, Liu quotes Christian de Pee that the genre “stands in an implied contrast with a stabilizing center of imperial power, legitimate genres of written composition, and enduring civilization.” Liu points out that biji traditionally have been understood only as historical texts, and remarks that the special “literary qualities” (p. 30) of biji have mostly been ignored.
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Journeys through Time and Space: Bridging Worlds with Translation
University of San Francisco
Tuesday, Feb. 11 | 5:00 – 6:30 p.m.
Translating contemporary Chinese literature, Andrea Lingenfelter bridges cultures via a craft that intersects scholarship and art. Dr.Lingenfelter will talk about what she has learned in her life as a translator of poetry, fiction, and film subtitles. Informed by decades of experience with different genres, she will address some of the issues that confront the translator—rhetoric, style, esthetics, sound and syntax, idioms, culture, audience, and ethics.
Drawing on her own work, Dr. Lingenfelter will explore some fundamental differences between poetry, prose, and spoken language that become striking when we translate them. She will also talk about some of the ways that differences in language and cultural background affect how audiences experience and respond to works of literature. How do translators try to bridge those gaps? How do they do justice to the original work while simultaneously offering a meaningful experience to a new audience? How is translating a novel set in the 16th century different from translating a novel set in the late 20th century? What is special about subtitles? How does Mainland poetry have to be approached, as opposed to poetry from Hong Kong or Taiwan? What information can a translator add for the benefit of readers? What has to be left out, and why? Join us for a lively discussion of these issues and more.
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The Burden of Female Talent: The Poet Li Qingzhao and Her History in China
by Ronald Egan
Widely considered the preeminent Chinese woman poet, Li Qingzhao 李清照 (1084-1150s) occupies a crucial place in China’s literary and cultural history. She stands out as the great exception to the rule that the first-rank poets in premodern China were male. But at what price to our understanding of her as a writer does this distinction come? The Burden of Female Talent challenges conventional modes of thinking about Li Qingzhao as a devoted but often lonely wife and, later, a forlorn widow. By examining manipulations of her image by the critical tradition in later imperial times and into the twentieth century, Ronald C. Egan brings to light the ways in which critics sought to accommodate her to cultural norms, molding her “talent” to make it compatible with ideals of womanly conduct and identity. Contested images of Li, including a heated controversy concerning her remarriage and its implications for her “devotion” to her first husband, reveal the difficulty literary culture has had in coping with this woman of extraordinary conduct and ability. The study ends with a reappraisal of Li’s poetry, freed from the autobiographical and reductive readings that were traditionally imposed on it and which remain standard even today.
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Ilan Stavans talks to Xiao Hai to promote the latter’s new book Song of Shadows, translated by Zhu Yu:
What in Song of Shadows might get lost in translation?
It’s difficult to translate poetry. A translation can be correct or wrong, good or bad. A translation may gain or lose something from the original, too. The present translator of Song of Shadows is one I trust in. She has been studying, teaching, and translating English poetry for many years, and she writes poems, too. She translated Song of Shadows because she loves it. She didn’t think of getting it published when she started the translation. Instead, she wanted to compare the subtle differences of the long poem expressed in different languages. The things that are difficult to translate lie in 1) the classical Chinese poems and historical stories I mention in this work that may be unfamiliar to a Western audience and 2) pun and polysemy that may not work in different languages.
What is the status of poetry in China now?
Poetry still enjoys a loyal readership in contemporary China. Every good poet (past and present, home and abroad) has his or her audience, though poetry is not as popular as movies or music. Poets cannot feed themselves on writing alone, but they always have their followers as long as they stick to their free will and creative power and are willing to lead a simple or even hard life.
Click the image above for the full conversation, on dining tables, eyeglasses, censorship, and publishing fees.
Patty Nash of Asymptote interviewed me about my thoughts on translation as a social movement. Here’s an excerpt:
As I understand it, the fact that we have “movie stars” developed out of a need for movie studios to mitigate risk. Basically, there’s no way for us to tell if a movie’s any good before we see it, but we’ll pay for anything our favorite star is in. The story goes that translators get reduced to invisibility because of how publishers want to mitigate risk—as in, they see publishing translation as even more of a risk than publishing anything else, even though translations also come with sales figures in other languages—but it’s conceivable that it could work the same way as it does with movie stars. I know I’ve bought books by authors and poets I’ve never heard of because I trust the taste and style of Gregory Rabassa, Suzanne Jill Levine, Eliot Weinberger, Rosmarie Waldrop, Clayton Eshleman, John Nathan, Susan Bernofsky…
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