Over at Montevidayo, Johannes Göransson has posted “Exploded Tranströmer: On Ye Mimi and Translation.” A hyperopticon of connections, it links Taiwanese poet Ye Mimi 葉覓覓 to Nobel lit. prizewinner Tomas Tranströmer via what Swedish poet Aase Berg’s reading:
A few months ago, after she came back from the Hong Kong poetry festival, Aase Berg wrote to me that she had come across an amazing poet: Ye Mimi. (Apparently YM appeared with a very impressive guitar player as well.)
That is funny because when I first read Ye Mimi what came to my mind was a somewhat controversial article Aase wrote in Expressen after Tomas Tranströmer won the Nobel Prize the other year … Ye Mimi’s poems are wonderful in that way: as “banality and surprising intelligence in unexpected union.” In fact they read a little like Tranströmer poems in which the metaphors flip out, go off in tangents. And a Tranströmer poem in which the tenor of the metaphor is not privileged – not over the vehicle, not over the “banal” everyday stuff (pink hoodies, telephone booths etc).
From there, he indicates a critique of Translation Studies as it’s come to be known under the direction of Lawrence Venuti, which he says “quarantines the work in translation: we never have the work in translation.”
Beijing Creamhas posted a conversation with poet-translator Eleanor Goodman. Here’s a teaser:
Has translation made you more aware of how you write? Does thinking in two languages help your writing, and if so, in what ways?
EG: Translation has had an enormous influence on my own poetry. Chinese is structurally very different from English, and the norms of Chinese poetry are different too, so I’ve consciously (and surely unconsciously) imported some of that into my own work. In particular, I’ve gotten very interested in the lack of punctuation in a lot of contemporary Chinese poetry. Merwin does that too, but few other American poets write straight-up sentence-based poetry that relies on line break and emphasis instead of punctuation. It opens up a lot of new space, at least for me. It’s cliché now to say this, but I do think that writing, thinking, living in another language brings out a different personality that otherwise doesn’t have a chance to emerge. At least that’s true for me.
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.”
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.
Patty Nash of Asymptoteinterviewed 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…
I posted a piece on Paper Republic about the need to discuss translation as a way of promoting translation in English-speaking societies:
My view of translation is that it is, and should be conceived as, a broad-based social movement, one related to broad-based social movements for more internationalism and immigrants’ rights in otherwise xenophobic cultures. We translators and our supporters have already gained considerable victories in raising awareness of translation, particularly in book reviews—take a look at this piece praising How Translation Reviews Should Be Done, using as its example a review published in, of all places, the LARB—but we have further to go. Just as Harvey Milk is supposed to have inaugurated the fight for Gay Freedom (later called Gay Pride) by saying, “I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out,” I believe that we as translators and people who care about translation need to end the conspiracy of silence and talk about translation. Talk about how translation exists in our lives, how it affects us, what it can do, what it cannot do, and overall increase our own and each others’ understanding of translation.
Dissertation Reviews has posted Casey Schoenberger’s review of Ling Xiaoqiao’s dissertation, Re-reading the Seventeenth Century: Ding Yaokang (1599-1669) and His Writings. Here’s how it begins:
Living through the final decades of the Ming Dynasty and the first decades of the Qing, Ding Yaokang 丁耀亢 experienced and participated in one of the most tumultuous yet artistically fruitful periods in China’s history. The Shandong scholar, teacher, essayist, poet, and playwright’s extant corpus further reveals a variety nearly unmatched among his contemporaries. Why, then, have so few scholars, especially in the West, engaged with Ding’s work to the same extent they have with that of his prolific southern predecessors and contemporaries Feng Menglong 馮夢龍 (1574-1645) and Li Yu 李漁 (1610-1680)? Xiaoqiao Ling’s dissertation, “Re-reading the Seventeenth Century: Ding Yaokang (1599-1669) and his Writings” answers this and other questions as it explores major themes in seventeenth-century intellectual life from the variety of angles Ding’s complex corpus provides.
There’s no happy discovery at the end of Xi Chuan’s “Power Outage” such as there is in my sentimental framing of the ice storm stories. When the power goes out, the poem-speaker is cast into a disordered state. The darkness reveals small sounds far and near, traces of human presence in “wind chimes and a cat’s footbeats,” an engine that stops and a song that goes on. Loneliness and isolation are almost palpable.
Then “time turns back,” and darkness takes on a deeper tone, as living crows converge around a plate of crow meat, and blackness engulfs the poem’s speaker entirely. Despair acquires an odour and a name: power outage. The poem-speaker is pitched into an impossible, subsuming blackness. All he can do is summon a frustrated mutter as he recognizes his own wordless shadow.
Click the image above for the whole piece, & for more of Gillis’s writings on contemporary poetry.
C. Derick Varn of Former People: A Journal of Bangs and Whimpers interviewed me with a series of complex questions on modernity and modernism in and about China. And of course, I couldn’t resist talking about Xi Chuan and Chinese and international poetry. Here’s an excerpt:
So that’s the problem. But as I’ve argued in a piece that’s forthcoming, modernism in literature is postmodernist in its philosophical implications … And I don’t think I’ve ever believed in modernism so much as modernisms. An interesting observation is that modernist writers who come from countries that claim an ownership of tradition—modernists from France or Italy or Russia—are often the ones to say, like Marinetti, “Museums, cemeteries!” while the modernists from countries that cannot claim such ownership—Pound and Eliot from the US, Joyce from Ireland—are the ones who want to revivify the ancient amidst the machinations of the modern (this isn’t foolproof, of course: William Carlos Williams and Gertrude Stein stand against such generalizations). As for whether there’s a Chinese modernism, the interesting thing is that after the Cultural Revolution, you get both: those feeling like their country has too much a claim on tradition, and is overwhelmed and stifled by it, as well as those who feel like their country is too displaced from tradition, and needs to re-own it and re-define it. So at any given moment Bei Dao might read like a shrugging off of tradition, and Yang Lian might read like a refitting of it, and Xi Chuan a refitting of that refitting, but they’re also specific responses to the relationship between tradition and modernity as have played out in China in the past hundred years and more.