Lucas Klein: Foreign Echoes & Discerning the Soil: Dual Translation, Chineseness, & World Literature in Chinese Poetry
2013/5/30, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. at Centre for Translation, DLB 601, David C. Lam Building, Shaw Campus, Hong Kong Baptist University, Renfrew Road, Kowloon Tong
What constitutes the relationship between world literature and Chineseness? How has translation shaped Chinese poetry, and can translation be understood as at the foundation not only of world literature, but of Chineseness, as well? This talk will begin to answer these questions by demonstrating how Chineseness as an aspect of the Chinese poetic tradition is itself a result of translation. Looking at Chinese poetry’s negotiation with concepts central to translation – nativization and foreignization, or the work’s engagement with the Chinese historical heritage or foreign literary texts and contexts, respectively – I argue not only that Chinese poetry can be understood as translation, but for an understanding of the role of such translation in the constitution of both Chineseness and world literature. After contextualizing recent debates in the field of Sinology and translation studies, I will examine the work of Bian Zhilin 卞之琳 (1910-2000) and his implicit vision for a world literature able to merge the Chinese literary heritage with Western influence. Since debates around world literature, especially in Chinese literary studies, focus on the modern era, however, I shift focus with a discussion of the Tang dynasty (618-907), when China had earlier become highly international, even cosmopolitan, in a detailed look at the history of Regulated Verse (lüshi 律詩), describing not only its origins in Sanskrit but how it maintained associations with Buddhism. Following this, I consider the work of Du Fu 杜甫 (712-770) to understand how the canonization of his work nativized Regulated Verse through its historiography. I conclude with a reconsideration of the ethics of world literature and translation in determining our understanding of the local.
Dissertation Reviews has posted Brian Skerratt‘s review of my dissertation, Foreign Echoes and Discerning the Soil: Dual Translation, Historiography, and World Literature in Chinese Poetry. Here’s how it begins:
Lucas Klein’s dissertation, Foreign Echoes and Discerning the Soil: Dual Translation, Historiography, and World Literature in Chinese Poetry, is notable both for its ambition and its erudition. In seeking to answer how the “Chineseness” of Chinese poetry, its quality of being or seeming natively Chinese, is produced in and through acts of translation, Klein not only tackles Modernist-inspired poetry from the twentieth century, where “Chineseness” is a salient issue, but also the monolith of the Chinese literary tradition itself, including such ultra-canonical figures as Wang Wei 王維 (692-761) and Du Fu 杜甫 (712-770). In practical terms, this impressive breadth of scope results in a dissertation in two parts: the first featuring studies of modern poet Bian Zhilin 卞之琳 (1910-2000) and contemporary poet Yang Lian 楊煉 (b. 1955), and the second reaching back to Tang Dynasty masters Wang Wei, Du Fu, and Li Shangyin 李商隱 (813-858). By avoiding the urge to arrange his chapters chronologically ― or, at least, by putting the modern before the pre-modern ― Klein refuses to allow “traditional China” or its poetic stand-in, Tang regulated verse, their place as the seat of pure Chineseness, untarnished by contact with the modern West; in fact, one of his goals is to situate the Tang Dynasty back into a global network of cultural interaction and exchange. The arrangement of chapters further serves to illustrate Klein’s methodology, which is to allow the insights of deconstruction, Marxist thought, translation studies, and contemporary avant-garde poetics to illuminate the distant past ― and vice-versa. Klein’s dissertation serves the larger goal of deconstructing the binaries tradition/modernity, native/foreign, textual analysis/high theory, and, most centrally, original/translation.
The new issue of Plume is here, with new work by, among others, Arthur Sze and Tomaž Šalamun, translated by Michael Thomas Taren.
Click here for my translation of Xi Chuan’s “The Ant’s Plunder” 蚂蚁劫, published in Plume last November. And follow this link for information about Chinese Writers on Writing, edited by Arthur Sze, which includes my translation or essays by Xi Chuan and Bian Zhilin 卞之琳.