Jiayang Fan interviews Liao Yiwu 廖亦武, author of For a Song and a Hundred Songs, for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Interview translated into English by Liz Carter. Here’s an excerpt:
Do you think that you, as a Chinese writer, must take a stance on China’s government? Or do you think, as someone who writes literature, you do not necessarily need to have anything to do with politics?
The difference between myself and the dictatorship is a difference of aesthetics. I am a person who writes stories. The further removed from politics and power I am, the better. Unfortunately, they feel that a person who tells stories is guilty of subversion of state power. Furthermore, I didn’t want to express any political ideas in my writing. Like I just mentioned, political views can show up in a different way. Political correctness, in a book, is like standing on the side of reason, but one of the most basic things about being an intellectual is this: you must have doubt and you must ask questions, even for your own writing, yourself, your weaknesses. You have to keep that skepticism. Many writers, while describing politics or the Chinese Communist Party, stop asking questions of and being skeptical toward themselves. I think this is far removed from that sort of thing.
In the beginning of the book, you wrote that in a talk with Michael Day, a Canadian friend and one of the first foreigners you became close to in China, he really wanted you to participate in the protests at Tiananmen.
And then you asked, “Do you think you love China more than me?” That line really stayed with me.
Qiu Xiaolong (裘小龙 ) began writing poems in Chinese in 1978, when he studied under the well-known Chinese poet, Bian Zhilin (卞之琳). After moving to the U.S., Qiu shifted to writing in English, and while he has continued to write and publish poetry, he has become a popular novelist, with eight novels in the internationally best-selling “Inspector Chen” series, whose protagonist is a poet. Qiu has a collection of short stories, and several collections of classic Chinese poetry in translation as well. In this conversation, we talk about his background in modern Chinese poetry, his own ongoing dialog with Classical Chinese and his relationship to his poet-protagonist Inspector Chen. Qiu’s poetry is featured in the current issue of Chinese Literature Today magazine. This recording took place at the Montford Inn in Norman, Oklahoma in 2012.
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.”
His Days Go By the Way Her Years is a collection of Steve Bradbury’s best translations of poetry by Taiwanese poet and filmmaker Ye Mimi 葉覓覓. Mimi’s poetry blends a fascination with dreams with a playful approach to language and sensitivity to sound. In his translations, Bradbury has crafted English poems that sing in their new language and deftly play with its possibilities. This book was a finalist in the Anomalous Press Experimental Translation Chapbook Contest, judged by Christian Hawkey.
Ge Zhaoguang 葛兆光, translated by Michael S. Duke and Josephine Chiu-Duke
In An Intellectual History of China, Professor Ge Zhaoguang presents a history of traditional Chinese knowledge, thought and belief to the late six century CE with a new approach offering a new perspective. It appropriates a wide range of source materials and emphasizes the necessity of understanding ideas and thought in their proper historical contexts. Its analytical narrative focuses on the dialectical interaction between historical background and intellectual thought. While discussing the complex dynamics of interaction among the intellectual thought of elite Chinese scholars, their historical conditions, their canonical texts and the “worlds of general knowledge, thought and belief,” it also illuminates the significance of key issues such as the formation of the Chinese world order and its underlying value system, the origins of Chinese cultural identity and foreign influences.
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.
Chinese poetry, along with many other art forms in China, underwent a highly self-conscious transformation in the first decades of the twentieth century. Poetry, perhaps more than any other art form, did so under the heavy burden of a voluminous literary precedent, a precedent which was in its very format of patterned words inscribed on scrolls––a mark of the Chinese literati tradition. Turning away from this tradition seemed necessary in the context of a political, social, and cultural reform movement (which was designed to strengthen China in the face of increasing international pressure as well as domestic breakdown). At the same time, reforming a poetic tradition which had served as a principal touchstone of aesthetic accomplishment––from its role in Confucian canon as object of contemplation for correct action, to its function as a test of candidate’s qualifications to govern through the civil service examination, to its function as national past-time in all manner of social gathering––was a major challenge.
The result of such a predicament for poets throughout the twentieth century has been the compulsion to discover a poetic style which resonates with the modern world and yet is rooted in Chinese cultural experience. One way in which poets have been able to accomplish this is by relying on poetry’s visuality, be it in the graphic properties of the writing system itself, the visual context of the presentation of the poetic texts, or the acute image details in the poems.
Dissertation Reviews has posted Lena Scheen’s Talking Shop article “The Fun of Mapping Lies.” Here’s how it begins:
“You do realize what you are researching are works of fiction, don’t you?” she asked with a British accent, while her smile expressed a confusing mixture of sincere friendliness and wry skepticism. “Oh dear, are you telling me that all of these stories are based on lies?” I countered, in an attempt to both copy her British wit and hide my annoyance. Holding a glass of lukewarm orange juice in one hand and a soggy club sandwich in the other, I shifted my weight uncomfortably. We were standing in the staff room of a university. It was a spacious but soulless room: grey office furniture, two leather sofas, a wall with announcements. Judging by the yellowish hue of the paper and the curled corners of those announcements, most activities were already deep in the past. The atmosphere was close and oppressive and I looked around to see if I could open a window. What I really wanted to do was leave the room altogether.
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.