Daniel Tay on The Reciprocal Translation Project

Daniel Tay has written a review of The Reciprocal Translation Project, edited by James Sherry and Sun Dong 孙冬, which gives a different take from Eleanor Goodman‘s (“There is no acknowledgement of the structure, form, tone, emotional texture, repetition, surprise, rhythm, rhyme, sound effect, level of diction, intent, etc., etc., of the original,” posted here earlier). He writes:

All in all, the poems and their translations are strong and successful. That is, they make good on the editors’ aims, and do so without conclusively declaring any single work as ideal, final, better, or best. The poets generate translations that expose and negotiate the similarities and differences between Chinese and American language, poetic interests, and cultures. In doing so, they expand the criteria available for writing and considering translations.

Put another way, the poets and editors show that poems, translations, and their writers can create and function together in a poetic ecosystem. Normally placed in an evaluative hierarchy, with different works competing for critical praise and attention, these poems and their translations function in an inclusive hierarchy. This means that the poems and translations develop meaning in one another, symbiotically, with none being superior in status to the other. Moreover, no poem or translation is the title work of the collection, and no work is inferior to the collection as a whole …

In this poetic ecosystem, writers do not, as generally understood, hand down their original works to translators; instead, they hand them off – in this case to contemporaries and peers. Critics and publishers often claim that translations have “captured” an original work or its voice. The environmental model for poetics, embodied in The Reciprocal Translation Project, introduces nonlinear goals for translations, and adds a useful complexity to their relationships with original works.

This far, the review only reiterates what Sun and Sherry write in their introduction. But Tay goes on:

in observing the ways in which these questions overwhelmed me, I came to see that my questions manifested a personal resistance. With so many choices, I was refusing to settle into and engage any particular way of reading. After all, each way of reading would preclude, prevent, or worse predetermine certain understandings of the texts. How could I see past my particular way of reading to identify the aims and maneuvers of the various writers?

In showing multiple translations side by side and without commentary, the book invites readers to take stock of and maintain awareness of their own assumptions, preconditions, and demands for texts. At the same time, it asks readers to observe the variety of writers’ considerations, expectations, and intentions as expressed through their works. In essence, readers must reflect, look inward, and ultimately accept and take responsibility for their ways of reading. Only then can they negotiate, and translate between, those ways of reading and the translators’ ways of translating.

Click here to read the review in full.