Moving the Goalposts:
Symposium on Translation and Modern Chinese Poetry
16 June 2017
LBYG06, Lingnan University
Moving the Goalposts:
Symposium on Translation and Modern Chinese Poetry
16 June 2017
LBYG06, Lingnan University
The current issue of Chinese Literature Today features:
Click on the image above for more information.
Jacob Edmond’s A Common Strangeness has been named runner-up for the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present 2013 Book Prize. ASAP’s citation reads:
In this remarkable book, comparative literature outdoes itself, becoming fully contemporary and transnational: Edmond innovates a genuinely global poetics that discovers the fullest cultural crossings among Chinese, Russian, and U.S. poets. Reading correspondences among Yang Lian, Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, and Lyn Hejinian, Bei Dao, Dmitri Prigov, and Charles Bernstein, among others, Edmond aims to give a field “still shaped by the history and conceptual and political structures of the Cold War” the resources to read the “appositional, transnational, and multicultural poetics of our current era”; its focus is contemporary poetry’s “common commitment to forms of strangeness,” which disallow old assertions of what unites or foreignizes the world’s populations. And its great advantage is a sense of literary culture equally powerful in its three languages, which translates to interpretive insight uniquely adequate to the world today.
The words transnational and globalization appear frequently within scholarship on contemporary poetry, but so far there have been few sustained attempts to narrate recent developments across more than two language-groups or geographical regions. … In the present era of pervasive budget cuts, curtailed language instruction, and increased productivity demands, who has the training, time, and resources required to engage in even more broad-based comparative research?
At least one person can now be said to fill the bill. Jacob Edmond’s A Common Strangeness: Contemporary Poetry, Cross-Cultural Encounter, Comparative Literature recounts the history of avant-garde poetry from the late 1960s to the turn of the millennium in the United States, the People’s Republic of China, and the Soviet Union/Russian Federation. Edmond concentrates on six figures: Yang Lian and Bei Dao, menglong shiren (Misty Poets) who defied Cultural Revolution-era restrictions on writerly freedom; Arkadii Dragomoshchenko and Dmitri Prigov, samizdat poets whose careers extend into the post-Soviet period; and Lyn Hejinian and Charles Bernstein, founding members of the avant-garde movement known as Language poetry. Throughout, Edmond shows himself to be thoroughly grounded in the relevant literary traditions, and whether a given poem is written in English, Russian, or Mandarin, he proves able to supply the kind of intensive, patient, erudite textual analysis that one associates with the Yale school back in its heyday.
And Lisa Samuels’s “Bridges Across Silos“:
Jacob Edmond’s refreshing book focuses on concerns common to avant-garde poetry and comparative literature, specifically poetic material produced primarily in the 1980s and 1990s by six writers from China, Russia, and the United States and comparative literature’s interest in negotiating dialectics between self and other. Edmond’s introduction indicates his interest in sighting a ‘third alternative’ to Maurice Blanchot’s 1971 concept of ‘common strangeness’: Edmond wants to write within zones ‘between the common and the co-man, between speaking of others—of exile literature, modernism, or world literature—and speaking to them: responding to how we can know or write about each other in the first place.’ … The book stays true to the dialectical energy promised in its introduction. That energy shifts its sails in relevant directions, and it consistently concerns matters both brought forward and presumed as background to this work.
While many comparative literary studies have used textual and contextual analysis to examine authors and literary movements so as to show commonalities and differences, Edmond employs a different methodology. The domestic political and literary contexts, although a constant presence in the background, are only lightly sketched, and focus is directed on the concerns that have shaped the work of these authors in the world, as members of a transnational poetic community. Translation is yet another diffused activity that touches upon the selected creative and conceptual practices, providing an extra motive for gathering these poets together in this book.
from Jacob Edmond’s A Common Strangeness blog:
I’d like to draw your attention to a book published by Cosima Bruno and described below, entitled Between the Lines: Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation. Bruno’s book makes a case for studying translations as a method of reading poetry. I’m mentioning the book here because I think it may be of interest to readers of this blog but may not otherwise enter into conversations within English-language poetry since it focuses on the work of Chinese poet Yang Lian––about whom I’ve also written in A Common Strangeness.
MCLC has published Jonathan Stalling’s review of Jacob Edmond’s A Common Strangeness: Contemporary Poetry, Cross-Cultural Encounter, Comparative Literature. Here’s how it begins:
To begin with, Jacob Edmond’s new book, A Common Strangeness, is anything but common and signals what I hope will be a new trend toward more ambitious studies of late-modernist to contemporary poetics on a global scale. While it might be premature to announce the arrival of a “global poetics,” there is a pressing need for a space to explore this genre specific cognate of World Literature, a space to reimagine what in China operates under the title: comparative poetics (比较诗学). This is a robust area of academic research in China, yet it tends to reduce poetry and poetics to the pre WWII traditional canon: Plato, Aristotle, and Longinus; Sidney, Pope, and Johnson; Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Emerson; Poe, Arnold, and Eliot; and perhaps Frost, Williams, Hughes, and, because it is China, Pound. In English literary criticism today, however, the term “poetics” often demarks poetry discourses consciously connected to avant-garde practice along the vectors of a more radical canon: Blake, Whitman, Stein, Pound, Zukofsky, Olson, Mac Low/John Cage to Susan Howe, Lyn Hejinian and others associated with the so-called LANGUAGE poets from the 1970s forward through neo-conceptual poetry, etc … One should also mention that scholars tracking trends in contemporary poetics in the West have remained problematically Anglophonocentric and have largely failed to attend to poetic shifts on a global scale unless such shifts are explicitly conversant in the idioms of innovative English-based poetics (including those within the Sinophone sphere). So while no single volume could ever hope to connect the multitudinous and heterogeneous threads of a “global poetics,” A Common Strangeness succeeds in moving in this direction in part by offering a critical lens (strangeness) through which to view poetry on a global scale.
Click the image above for the full review.
Jacob Edmond has written a remarkable book—impassioned, theoretically astute, and timely—that deserves to garner significant response across many fields in the humanities. The tasks it sets to accomplish—and succeeds admirably in doing so—are manifold. First, it presents a compelling new vision for the role and relevance of the discipline of comparative literature in our rapidly changing times. Second, it argues for the continuing intellectual and political relevance of contemporary poetry and its aesthetic and cognitive projects in the context of globalization, despite the short shrift this form of writing often gets in grand cultural models and the neglect or condescension towards it from many writing on globalization from the disciplinary standpoint of the social sciences. And last but not least, it triangulates between the literary traditions—Chinese, Russian, and American—that to my knowledge have never been considered together at such extent in a book project, with the traditional locus of much comparatist writing, West European literatures, only serving as a foil in the argument the author builds. At best, these national literatures usually appear in comparative models, if at all, in binary structures, juxtaposed with the dominant West European center. A Common Strangeness therefore takes an original and unexpected spin on the call to “provincialize Europe” that has been pronounced by a number of scholars of literature and culture of non-(West) European background.
Click the image for the full review.
Jacob Edmond of A Common Strangeness has a new post at Jacket2‘s “Iterations” series titled “From Sea to Screen: Yang Lian and John Cayley’s iterations.” Here’s how it begins:
The long poem “Dahai tingzhi zhi chu” 大海停止之处 by Yang Lian 杨炼 and its transformation into the collaborative digital and performance piece Where the Sea Stands Still illustrate an iterative response to digital technologies and globalization. The iterative structure of Yang Lian’s long poem produces an expanding sense of space and geography that, like the title, combines perpetual repetition with continuous change.
In the lives of poets, as in the lives of most other people, there has been a great change of consciousness worldwide over the last three or four decades. We have gone from a contest between capitalist West and communist East (with an ill-defined “third world” bending this way and that in the background); to the apparent dominance of capitalism and the market, even in officially “communist” China (with the rumblings of nationalist particularities in the background, especially in the Muslim world). We are also aware of how different cultural exchanges have become in the age of the internet, high-speed communication and a pervasive and internationally-marketed “pop culture”. With varying degrees of approval and disapproval, and with varying and competing definitions, terms like multiculturalism and globalism are now tossed around.
The debate over the “universality” of literature – including poetry – is not a new one, but it becomes more acute in this new global context. By definition, poetry is language, but languages are not universal. Traditionally, the universal was seen to be best expressed in the particular – hence, a poem “understood” worldwide was nevertheless rooted in a particular language and culture, and much of even the most “universal” poem was always untranslatable for those outside that particular language and culture.How are poets, especially avant-garde poets, responding when they are now – like nearly everybody else – also wired in to an international ‘global’ culture?
The website of the Short Takes on Long Poems conference, which I attended at University of Auckland in March, is now live, featuring a video of our “world’s longest poem” and the presentations of Jacob Edmond, Susan Schultz, John Tranter, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis, along with others. My presentation on Xi Chuan and Yang Lian 杨炼 is not up [yet], but if / when it appears, I’ll post to it here.