Chinese Translation of 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei

Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei in Chinese

Eliot Weinberger’s classic study of “how a Chinese poem is translated,” Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, has just been published in Chinese translation.

Here’s a quick write-up about it, from The World of Chinese:

For American translator and writer Eliot Weinberger, this is all part of the charm of the job. Weinberger has collected different versions of “The Deer Park” from all over the world, and in his book 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, chose a select number to introduce and review, from simple transliterations to Kenneth Rexroth’s highly loose interpretation. As Octavio Paz writes in an afterword to the book: “Eliot Weinberger’s commentary on the successive translations of Wang Wei’s little poem illustrates, with succinct clarity, not only the evolution of the art of translation in the modern period but, at the same time, the changes in poetic sensibility.”

Now, Weinberger’s book has been translated back into Chinese, and published by the Commercial Press. Whether you are interested in Chinese poetry, or simply curious about the vagaries of translation, it comes highly recommended.

Click here for more.

New Klein Translation / Translation Studies Publications

Mail to Hong Kong from North America can be slow, so even though the current issue of Metamorphoses, a double issue on literature in Chinese, guest-edited by Sujane Wu, has been on the stands for some weeks, I only received my copy today.

The issue includes two new translations I’ve done of poessays 诗文 by Xi Chuan, “On Fan Kuan’s Monumental Landscape Scroll Travelers among Mountains and Streams” 题范宽巨障山水《溪山行旅图》 and “Once More on Fan Kuan’s Travelers among Mountains and Streams” 再题范宽《溪山行旅图》.

It also includes a short essay titled “Our Daily Bread“:

Chinese steamed buns, or mantou 饅頭 “are, indeed, just bread.” The statement is by Harvard professor of medieval Chinese literature Stephen Owen, elaborating on his earlier comments on world literature, where he had said that in the“international poetry” he was looking at, “most of these poems translate themselves.” Is mantou just bread? And what does this assertion have to do with translation?


From there, I go on to discuss Walter Benjamin on pain and Brot, and Eliot Weinberger on pumpernickel and Wonder Bread (and steamed buns). Of all the articles of mine that have been published, this is probably my favorite.

Take a look!


Kapoor on Bei Dao as “tranquil bard of protest”

As he turns 69, Chinese poet Bei Dao remains the tranquil bard of protest, even in exileWriting for Scroll.in, Manan Kapoor writes about how “As he turns 69, Chinese poet Bei Dao remains the tranquil bard of protest, even in exile.”

The piece is full of imprecisions–it refers to Bei Dao as “Dao” throughout, misattributes poems translated by Bonnie McDougall, and spells his current translator Eliot Weinberger’s name as “Wineberger”–but it’s broadly accurate in its outlines.

At times, it’s even moving:

But even in exile, Dao did not lose his calm. After years of being away from Beijing, he believed that something good would spring up from it. He still questioned authority with serenity, equating his exile to a crusade where someone was needed to be “away from home, suffer a little” so they could gain some understanding of the world and how everything functions. He wrote, “To a certain extent, it’s a historical crusade, but the intention of the crusade is not to conquer the enemy, but for the person to conquer him/herself.” A voice like his is seldom experienced. From the choice of words, to the forms of expression and dissent, Bei Dao will go down in history as an exemplary figure who redefined the poetry of resistance.

Click the image for the full write-up.

Complete Review on Weinberger’s 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei

I missed this when it was published.

M.A. Orthofer at the Complete Review has reviewed the re-release of Eliot Weinberger’s 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei. Here’s an excerpt:

These more than two-dozen variations on the text — and Weinberger’s brief observations of what they get particularly wrong (and also what they seem to get right) — also serve, in sum, as an excellent gloss on the poem. Of course, part of the exercise is to demonstrate the obvious, that there can be no ‘perfect’ 1:1 mapping of the poem — a useful lesson for those who all too readily rely on single translations of their favorite foreign poems and poets … — but beyond that the different perspectives — which is how the translation-attempts can also be seen –, from the most literal attempts to Kenneth Rexroth’s (“perhaps more ‘imitation’ than translation”), also reveal a great deal more about the original to those for whom the Chinese itself remains inaccessible.
Helpfully, Weinberger does not shy away from judging (harshly, where need be) — while giving his reasons for what went right (or oh so wrong) — a reminder, too, of how the often unknowing reader is at the mercy of what is available at the local bookstore or library, or what happens to fall into their hands.

And

The addition of ‘more ways’ to the original collection is also of interest, as it is not just more of the same: as Weinberger notes: “most or all of the English-language translators were aware of the book”, and presumably were influenced in their own takes at least in part by that, writing (or rather translating) in response to Weinberger as well.

Follow the link for the review in full.

Asian American Writers’ Workshop recommends Asian Literature

The Asian American Writers’ Workshop has collected recommendations from noted American writers and publishers for what to read of Asian literature. And unsurprisingly, Chinese poets and poetry are well-represented.

Barbara Epler, president of New Directions publishing, recommends Li Shangyin and Bei Dao, among others. She writes:

I am torn between favorites—Qian Zhongshu’s Fortress Besieged, Tanizaki’s The Maids, Li Shangyin’s Derangement of My Contemporaries, Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Cat, Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound, Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book—but finally want to choose Bei Dao’s new memoir, City Gate, Open Up. It’s a remarkably moving autobiography of this great poet, beautifully translated by Jeffrey Yang: a testament to stubbornness and endurance, City Gate, Open Up is a love letter to the Beijing of his childhood and to his family.

And Eliot Weinberger gives an even fuller syllabus, explaining, “‘Favorite Asian book’ is as impossible as ‘favorite European book’ or ‘favorite song.’ Sorry not to play by the rules of this game–and instead rattle off a long list of personal faves–but, after all, it’s 3000 years of writing in many languages and over a hundred years of translations that one would still want to read.” His list includes:

The many translations of classical Chinese poetry and philosophy by David Hinton (especially, for me: the poems of Tu Fu, T’ao Ch’ien, and Meng Chiao); Ezra Pound’s Cathay (now in a facsimile edition from New Directions) and his much-maligned masterpiece The Confucian Odes; A.C. Graham, Poems of the Late T’ang; Kenneth Rexroth & Ling Chung’s translation of the Sung Dynasty woman poet Li Ch’ing-chao; Gary Snyder, Cold Mountain Poems (Han Shan); Michèle Métail’s anthology of reversible poems, Wild Geese Returning (tr. Jody Gladding). (For more translations by Pound, Rexroth, Snyder, W.C. Williams, and Hinton, and essays by them on Chinese poetry: my The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry.)

As for modern and contemporary Chinese poetry: Bei Dao (various translators); Gu Cheng (tr. Joseph Allen); Xi Chuan (tr. Lucas Klein). Lastly, David Knechtges’s three-volume translation of the Wen xuan, a 6th-century anthology of the usually neglected, often ridiculed documentary poetry fu form (also Watson’s Chinese Rhyme-Prose)

It’s a lot to read!

Click on the image above for the full list.

Turner on Bei Dao & Weinberger at Columbia

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting

To promote City Gate, Open Up, Bei Dao 北岛 appeared with Eliot Weinberger at Columbia University on September 26. Matt Turner was in the audience, and here he gives his report on the evening:

We sat down in a very bright, medium-sized lecture hall that looked like it was modeled after a circa-1985 computer case. It filled up quickly with Chinese students. As much as their elders may complain about the ’90s generation, here they were—listening, taking notes, and asking questions. I looked around and noticed a couple of local poets in the audience. Bei Dao and Eliot Weinberger (along with an interpreter for Bei Dao whose name I didn’t catch) were introduced, read passages from his recent memoir, City Gate, Open Up, and launched into a discussion about the organization of the book (it was written in installments for a financial magazine) and the difficulty remembering the details necessary for its writing (photographs were needed).

Weinberger would ask a question in English, Bei Dao would look at him and say something brief in English—and then look at the interpreter for a translation of Weinberger’s comments. Bei Dao would reply in Chinese, Weinberger would look at the interpreter, and so on… Given that it was not billed as a Chinese-language event, the English was necessary—even if 95% of the audience understood Chinese.

The conversation had a number of moments like this:

Bei Dao (in English): I will tell you how my parents met, and how they made me.

Weinberger: You’ll tell me how they made meat?!?

This lightened the mood of the talk, which focused on Bei Dao’s childhood and youth during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. And Bei Dao made dark jokes about not having enough to eat and about missing exams because the schools were closed. To deflect some of the more pointed questions about Chinese history, he repeatedly insisted that the history of China during the period in question was tai fuza: too complex for easy summary or simple statement of fact. Bei Dao did not discuss the traumas of the Cultural Revolution (he goes into detail in his book), but emphasized the free travel for students unbound by the demands of a structured education. The period opened the door for its survivors to discover and reinvent themselves.

One person asked (paraphrasing): What do you think of the poetry written in China today, and what is your relationship to it.

Bei Dao: Tai fuza! Next!

Another person asked (paraphrasing): When you wrote your book, did you try to reconstruct the city you grew up in, or did you try to make it into a new home?

Bei Dao (paraphrasing): It would be impossible to reconstruct the city, as it’s changed beyond recognition. And whenever I travel through China I notice the cities now all look the same, which is the problem of modernization in China.

He also said: When I’m at home, I feel lonely. When I travel, even back to Beijing, I feel the same. This is the basic contradiction of being a poet…

Afterwards, I was nervous about talking with Bei Dao. When we met, I forgot all the Chinese I had just rehearsed in my mind. I gave him a magazine with my review of him memoir in it. He seemed very happy about this, and signed my book. We stumbled through. Next!

–Matt Turner

Gewirtz on Bei Dao’s City Gate, Open Up

The Poetry Foundation has published “Bei Dao’s Beijing: The eminent Chinese poet on exile and his native city,Julian Gewirtz’s review of City Gate, Open Up, the newly published memoirs of Bei Dao 北岛, translated by Jeffrey Yang. The review also weaves in decades of Bei Dao’s poetry, creating a compelling narrative of his development and longstanding interests. It ends:

Faced with the weight of history and the force of politics, Bei Dao’s struggle to “refute the Beijing of today” and “rebuild” his Beijing ultimately—perhaps inevitably—proves unattainable in either poetry or prose. He writes in his memoir, “This long-consuming task of rebuilding and reconstruction—I feel it’s almost impossible to achieve.” Yet this does not undermine the value of the attempt. In the 1994 interview, he elaborated on this point: “On the one hand poetry is useless. It can’t change the world materially. On the other hand it is a basic part of human existence… [and] what makes human beings human.” His yearning for a lost Beijing might fit the same rubric: a desire at once “useless,” “impossible,” and intensely human. “Writing is a renaming of the world,” he has said, and his memoir, like his poetry, is fundamentally an act of “renaming.” In a recent poem, “Black Map” (translated by Weinberger), Bei Dao imagines a final salute to his lost city:

Beijing, let me
toast your lamplights
let my white hair lead
the way through the black map
as though a storm were taking you to fly
..
I wait in line until the small window
shuts: O the bright moon
I go home—reunions
are one less
fewer than goodbyes
.

Click the image above for the full review.

Burton Watson Obituary in NYTimes Books Section

The New York Times books section has published an obituary of Burton Watson, over a month after he passed away. William Grimes writes:

Burton Watson, whose spare, limpid translations, with erudite introductions, opened up the world of classical Japanese and Chinese literature to generations of English-speaking readers, died on April 1 in Kamagaya, Japan. He was 91.

He rendered the poems of such classic Chinese writers as Su Tung-p’o, Po Chu-I and Du Fu and the Japanese poets Ryokan and Masaoka Shiki in a contemporary idiom informed by his wide reading in modern American poetry. In “Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei” (1987), the essayist Eliot Weinberger described Mr. Watson as not only “a prolific and particularly fine translator” but also “the first scholar whose work displays an affinity with the modernist revolution in American poetry: absolute precision, concision, and the use of everyday speech.” His admirers included the poets Gary Snyder and W. S. Merwin.

In 2015, the literary organization PEN awarded Mr. Watson its Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation, calling him “the inventor of classical East Asian poetry for our time.”

Click on the image for the article in full.

Link on Weinberger’s 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei

Perry Link at the New York Review of Books reviews the expanded re-release of 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, by Eliot Weinberger. Link writes:

Some of the art of classical Chinese poetry must simply be set aside as untranslatable … Weinberger knows all of this and sensibly begins his inquiry at step two—after all the untranslatables have been set aside. Now the question becomes: How can one make another poem from the twenty bundles of meaning that the Chinese characters offer? Weinberger criticizes, astutely if sometimes unkindly, almost every translator he cites … Although he is critical of nearly everyone’s translation in Nineteen Ways, Weinberger wisely adopts the position that “quite a few possible readings” can all be “equally ‘correct.’” Dilemmas about translation do not have definitive right answers (although there can be unambiguously wrong ones if misreadings of the original are involved). Any translation (except machine translation, a different case) must pass through the mind of a translator, and that mind inevitably contains its own store of perceptions, memories, and values.

Link also gives a China-centered take on Weinberger’s new essay collection, The Ghosts of Birds: “Weinberger’s sensitivity to words and gift for clear thinking underlie nearly every page in Nineteen Ways, but in The Ghosts of Birds they spout like a geyser.”

Click the image above for the (paywalled) review in full.

The article is also now available on ChinaFile for free.