Queen Mob’s Teahouse now features Greg Bem’s review of Lost Wax, poems by Jonathan Stalling with Chinese and English re-translations by Zhou Yu, Yao Benbiao, Nick Admussen, Jennifer Feeley, Jami Proctor-Xu, Eleanor Goodman, Andrea Lingenfelter, and me. Here’s how it ends:
Moving from poem to poem, curiosity strikes me: is the primary goal of this book to bring us toward an understanding of the nuances of multilingual and multi-personal translation? Is this just an editor’s paradise to see how the process of a significant body of learned, engaged writers see the shape of a work? If there some collective meaning across the pages? By the end of the book, I hoped for commentary. I hope for more “meta.” An afterward from or an interview between the technicians. But in its absence, I was left with my own thoughts and theories (and a drive to learn some Chinese) in hopes of getting towards an understanding of what the core meaning of “lost wax” really is.
The new issue of Cha is here, featuring my translation of three poems by Mang Ke 芒克 from the forthcoming October Dedications (Chinese University & Zephyr)–“Street” 街, “Even After Death We Grow Old” 死后也还会衰老, and “Late Years” 晚年:
we will hope, wishing we could live forever
wishing we were not some animal to be hunted
cooked over open flame, eaten
we will hurt, and oh we won’t be able to bear it
the white hair of the dead grows from the ground
which makes me believe: even after death we grow old
The issue also includes poetry by Andrea Lingenfelter, DeWitt Clinton adaptating Kenneth Rexroth’s 100 Poems from the Chinese, Karen An-hwei Lee, and more. Click the image above for the link.
The book presents Stalling’s sequence of poems about his wife Amy’s work as a sculptor. These poems are translated into Chinese and back into English by members of a “workshop” of eight fellow translators–Zhou Yu, Yao Benbiao, Nick Admussen, Jami Proctor-Xu, Jennifer Feeley, Eleanor Goodman, Lucas Klein, and Andrea Lingenfelter–then re-amalgamated by Stalling into a new final. Each poem is then presented in a) the original; b) the Chinese; c) the new English version. An additional workshop page illustrates choices made by translators on both sides of the English/Chinese divide.
The clay is the past
The wax inherits
As its own
The conditions, but not the only source
Of her arising
陶泥成为过去 石蜡也有了自己的 传承， 条件，不仅仅是她 出现 的唯一来源。
Clay becomes the past
Paraffin has its own
This condition is not her only
Source of coming into being
Click on the image for more, including ordering information.
Nanjing is a tragic city. Its tourist spots are either places where people died or places people have been buried. Despite having been the capital during imperial China’s Six Dynasties (220-589), the city is scarred by the decline and fall of those ephemeral kingdoms. Today in Nanjing few historic landmarks remain intact, due to successive waves of destruction inflicted by Mongolian nomads, Manchu occupation, the Taiping Heavenly Army, Japanese invasion, the Civil War, and the Cultural Revolution. The city’s real history exists largely in the imagination: in myths and legends, poetry, drama, and art.
The Asian American Writers’ Workshop has published a feature of five poets from Nanjing, “An Impossible Present,” with translations by Dong Sun and Josh Stenberg, edited by Andrea Lingenfelter. Poems by Dong Sun, Huang Fan, Lu Dong, Hu Xuan, and Yu Bang. Here’s a sample from Lu Dong:
Men imitate birds
Birds imitate men’s nightmares
The greatest birds
Aim high, fly far
After a lifetime aloft
They drop from the sky
And discover that flying
Out of every kind of magic
Is the lowest trick of all.
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.
Literary translations enter our canon as new works of art, bringing voices and stories from diverse cultures to a new audience. For the art of literary translation is not simply the act of converting an author’s words from one language into another; rather, it requires difficult choices and creative thinking in order to fully convey images and meaning. Today, the National Endowment for the Arts announced its latest efforts to support literary translation through $250,000 in recommended grants to 16 translators to support the translation of works into English from 13 languages and 15 countries.
The following grants have been awarded to Chinese literature:
Andrea Lingenfelter (Berkeley, California) is recommended for a grant of $12,500to support the translation from Chinese of The Kite Family, a collection of fiction by contemporary Hong Kong writer Hon Lai Chu.
George O’Connell(Omaha, Nebraska) is recommended for a grant of $12,500 tosupport the translation from Mandarin of From Here to Here: New and Selected Poems by Chinese writer Hu Lan Lan. This project is in collaboration with Diana Shi.
Art Beck reviews The Changing Room, poems by Zhai Yongming 翟永明 translated by Andrea Lingenfelter. He writes:
Other English versions of some of these poems are accessible on the internet … Various readers may prefer various translations of various poems, but Lingenfelter’s volume provides an added plus in that she worked directly with Zhai. The reader has the benefit, not only of Lingenfelter’s bilingual skills, but of being invited to share a long, ongoing conversation that took place in life as well as on the page. In Lingenfelter’s words: “I could not have completed this project without the gracious help and encouragement of Zhai Yongming herself, who has shown me around Chengdu … taking me to (historic) sites … all the while placing everything we were looking at in a larger context. She has also treated me to many memorably wonderful meals … .” Translation is, after all, a matter of the tongue, and, ultimately, nourishment.
Mo Yan 莫言 has given his Nobel acceptance speech, but that doesn’t mean the debates about whether he deserved the award have stopped–or that older pieces haven’t been resurfacing.
A good deal of the debate focuses on the contrast between Mo Yan and Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波, the imprisoned critic who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Larry Siems and Jeffrey Yang (my editor at New Directions) make the case in “China’s Nobels” that while Liu is “is serving an 11-year sentence for ‘inciting subversion of state power’ in his writings” (while his wife is under house arrest), Mo Yan “has done little to jeopardize his status as one of the country’s most honored writers.” Yang is the translator of Liu’s poems assembled in June Fourth Elegies念念六四, which has just been noted as one of Poets.org’s Notable Books of 2012. Yang and Siems do note that despite the difference between the two Nobels, their stories do converge: “Mo Yan, who had previously pleaded ignorance of his countryman’s case, told reporters that he hoped that Mr. Liu ‘can achieve his freedom as soon as possible’ and that he should be free to research his ‘politics and social system.'” Another editor of a recent Liu Xiaobo publication in English, however, Perry Link, editor of No Enemies, No Hatred: Selected Essays and Poems of Liu Xiaobo, is less impressed: in “Does This Writer Deserve the Nobel Prize?” Link speculates, “Was Mo Yan’s ‘in good health’ phrase something that Chinese authorities had supplied to him, perhaps to prepare the way in international opinion for Liu Xiaobo’s ‘seeking medical treatment abroad’?”
More than thirty years ago, when I was in the army, I was in my office reading one evening when an elderly officer opened the door and came in. He glanced down at the seat in front of me and muttered, “Hm, where is everyone?” I stood up and said in a loud voice, “Are you saying I’m no one?” The old fellow’s ears turned red from embarrassment, and he walked out. For a long time after that I was proud about what I consider a gutsy performance. Years later, that pride turned to intense qualms of conscience.
–seems to invoke the empty chair of Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace prize two years ago.
Nor do many commentators seem to have read his books very closely. Andrea Lingenfelter, who has, though, says in her review of his forthcoming novel Pow! (translated, as always, by Howard Goldblatt) that it, “like the bulk of Mo Yan’s other novels, is a social and political critique”; interestingly, when I first caught her review online I remember it being less patient with criticisms of Mo Yan’s politics. Perhaps she was convinced by Link’s article, or Mo Yan’s defense of censorship.
The word he uses is jiancha, usually translated as “check,” either as a verb or a noun, rather than “censorship,” which my dictionary tells me would be shencha 审查. Jiancha is, of course, related to security checks, which should help explain his comparison. And as I read it, he doesn’t say that checks should exist but that they do exist. I would give a rough translation of the passage as:
I’m disgusted with checks of all kinds. When I go to the embassy for a visa, I get checked. When I take an airplane and go through customs, I get checked, even have to take off my belt and shoes. But I figure these checks must be necessary, and while I’ve never praised the system of checks on the news, I believe that checks on the news must exist in every country in the world. But measuring checks like this, the method of checking is different. If there were no checks on the news, somebody could go off in the newspapers or on TV and attack someone, or slander someone. I imagine it’s the same in any country. But I would hope all checks on the news adhered to the highest principle: as long as it doesn’t violate the truth it shouldn’t be checked, but rumormongering and defamation that violates the truth should be put under check.
In a related point, Mo Yan was cited in a Time Magazine feature two years ago:
Mo Yan is adamant that he never worries about censorship when choosing what to write about. “There are certain restrictions on writing in every country,” he says, adding that the inability to attack some topics head on is actually an advantage. Such limitations make a writer “conform to the aesthetics of literature,” Mo Yan argues. “One of the biggest problems in literature is the lack of subtlety. A writer should bury his thoughts deep and convey them through the characters in his novel.”
You may disagree. You may find this naïve. You may feel like security checks and censorship are not the same, and that the kinds of governmental controls on the news he imagines do not exist in your country and should not exist in his. You may feel that the restrictions on writing inherent to literature are of a different order from the restrictions on writing imposed by the government, and that writers can be subtle without having to worry about censorship. You may feel like the “highest principle” he wishes for is a pipe dream, that as long as the state has power to limit speech it will use that power, and the only high principle is the principle of freedom. I certainly think all those things. That is different, however, from claiming that Mo Yan advocates, let alone celebrates, censorship. I’ve written about problems of translation in English-language reporting on China before; this example, in which reporters have treated the word jiancha as if it were shencha, is more of the same.
Finally for the commentary, Charles Laughlin argues, in “What Mo Yan’s Detractors Get Wrong” (an article that mentions Xi Chuan) that “when discussing the merits of Mo Yan’s receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature, I think it is misleading for us to compare its validity to that of awarding the Peace Prize to Liu.”