Klein on Krasznahorkai on Chinese Poets in Cha

ImageThe new Cha also features my review of László Krasznahorkai’s Destruction and Sorrow beneath the Heavens, translated from Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet. Semi-fictional reportage about Krasznahorkai’s travels through China, it features transcripts of discussions with Chinese poets–which I elaborate on in my review:

My own reading experience was one of being amazed at the representative resonances with those whom I know among the book’s characters—critic Tang Xiaodu and poets Yang Lian and Ouyang Jianghe as well as Xi Chuan—while also being enwrapped in the dramatic tension of its various frustrations.

I also take a look at whether the book is fictional, and how Krasznahorkai plays with central questions in Chinese literary studies to

While those trained in European literature are equipped to believe that writing is in itself a fictional act, others have argued, “In the Chinese literary tradition, a poem is usually presumed to be nonfictional: its statements are taken as strictly true.” But this statement is itself at the core of further debates in Chinese literary studies, such as about Orientalism and the mental sequestering of China as an object of study that comprises much scholarship in Chinese literature.

These debates play out implicitly in the pages of the book, I say:

This is the game Krasznahorkai plays. His self-aware presentation of his Westerner’s vision is embodied and embedded in his structure. In Hungarian, Stein’s name is Dante. Changing it to Stein invokes Aurel Stein (1862–1943), the Hungarian-British archaeologist who discovered the grottoes at Dunhuang and removed four cases of relics and paintings and twenty-four cases of medieval manuscripts to the British Museum in London, where they are preserved, or to which they were stolen. But the moniker Dante also implies Destruction and Sorrow‘s knowing Eurocentrism: the book’s three-part structure proceeds through the hell of the narrator’s exasperation to the utopia of the Suzhou gardens … By positing his China as a passage through the hereafter, Krasznahorkai acknowledges his enclosure within the Western tradition. Not that all narratives in Western literature are fulfilled: from Exodus to Ulysses, heroes have failed in their journeys, too. Or that unfulfilled narratives are the only Chinese authentic: don’t the pilgrims in Journey to the West reach Buddha’s Western Heaven?

Click the image above for the full review.

George Szirtes’s Attempt to Categorise Translated Poetry

“Poetry is very hard to translate because no poem means just one thing,” writes George Szirtes, an English poet and translator from the Hungarian.

Or rather, if two of you read a poem you might agree on a lot, but you’d take away some impressions that were different. That might be because your experiences were different – one reader might like spiders and enjoy being reminded of them because of the delicacy of their webs in the sunlight, while another might hate them and prefer not to think of their scuttling on the floor. So one reader thinks about webs, the other about scuttling.

I usually focus on Chinese poetry, of any time period, on this blog, though from time to time that will involve raising questions of translation. Less often will I draw attention to writing on translation per se, regardless of the language it comes from. But this is one of those times.

Part of why I’m linking to George Szirtes’s “attempt to categorise translated poetry” is that Szirtes is translator of László Krasznahorkai, who won the Best Translated Book Award two years in a row (including for Szirtes’s translation of Satantango last year), and I’ve become very curious about Krasznahorkai’s life and works (click here for a 3% podcast about László’s relationship with New Directions). But mostly it’s because Szirtes’s categories–“Translations that look and sound much like their originals,” “Translations that are vigorously reinvented and re-imagined so we see them anew,” “Translations that introduce us to poems from less known languages,” etc.–are so accurate and worth repeating.

And in case you absolutely insist that what I post here have something to do with China, know that Krasznahorkai’s wife is evidently a sinologist, and the time he’s spent in Asia has been very important to his developing work (particularly Seiobo There Below, translate by Ottilie Mulzet, as well as much of his yet untranslated oeuvre). Also, Szirtes mentions Du Fu 杜甫 in “Brian Holton’s translation from Classical Chinese into Scots, re-titled ‘Spring Sun on the Watterside Clachan,’” in his mention of “poems that are not translated into standard English.”

Almost Island Dialogues

Almost Island is a space for literature that threatens, confronts, or bypasses the marketplace. The space began with an online journal, then expanded to an international writers dialogue, held every year. The seventh edition of the Almost Island Dialogues will be held at the India International Centre, New Delhi, from December 19th to 22nd, 2013.
The discussions centre on issues of craft, form, and content as well as the context of writing in different cultures. Unlike a literary festival, Almost Island likes to keep the Dialogues small, rigorous, and intimate. These conversations are concerned with process, with how things are learnt, explored, created, and created again. This year we plan to continue with some singular writers. The mornings and afternoons are kept for intense, extended, freewheeling talks and discussions; the evenings, for readings and performances.
The readings are open to all, but to attend the day discussions pre-registration is needed. For pre-registration and any other queries, please write to Rahul Soni at almostisland.edit@gmail.com.

Evening Readings / Performances on the IIC Annexe Lawns (All Are Welcome.)

Thursday, December 19, 6:30 pm
Baha’ud-din Dagar

Friday, December 20, 10.30 am to 1 pm and 2.30 pm to 5 pm László Krasznahorkai / Xi Chuan

Saturday, December 21, 10.30 am to 1 pm Ashis Nandy / Baha ud-din Dagar

Sunday, December 22, 10.30 am to 1 pm and 2.30 pm to 5 pm Arvind Krishna Mehrotra / Renee Gladman

Panels and Discussion at Conference Room 1, IIC Main Centre (NB: panels are also open to all who wish to come, but

pre-registration is required. Contact Rahul Soni at
almostisland.edit@gmail.com for more details.)

Friday, December 20, 10.30 am to 1 pm and 2.30 pm to 5 pm
László Krasznahorkai / Xi Chuan

Saturday, December 21, 10.30 am to 1 pm
Ashis Nandy / Baha ud-din Dagar

Sunday, December 22, 10.30 am to 1 pm and 2.30 pm to 5pm
Arvind Krishna Mehrotra / Renee Gladman

Download the .pdf for more information.