John Bradley on Burton Watson (1925 – 2017)

In honor of Burton Watson’s passing, I am collecting statements and memories from friends and fans, to be posted as they come in. The following remembrance is by John Bradley, from his review of Salutations; a Festschrift for Burton Watson (Ahadada / Ekleksographia, 2015), originally published in Rain Taxi #81 (21.1, Spring 2016):

Empty hills, no one in sight,
only the sound of someone talking;
late sunlight enters the deep wood,
shining over the green moss again.

This famous poem by Chinese poet Wang Wei displays the craft not only of the author but also—we all too often forget—of the translator. Burton Watson translated this poem with such craft that some may say “That’s it?” as indeed a student of Lucas Klein’s did, as he relates in his essay “Translation and Translucence in the Work of Burton Watson,” one of the offerings in this festschrift.

Watson certainly deserves acclaim for the quality and the breadth of his Asian translators. His works are much too long to list here, but a few titles will give an idea of his productivity: Cold Mountain: 100 Poems by the T’ang Poet Han-shan, The Selected Poems of Du Fu, and the Complete Works of Chuang Tzu. These are just a fraction of his translations from classical Chinese works. Some of his translation from classical and modern Japanese literature include: From the Country of Eight Islands: An Anthology of Japanese Poetry (collaborating with Hiroaki Sato), Ryokan: Zen Monk-Poet of Japan, and Saigyo: Poems of a Mountain Home.

Salutations offers seventeen contributions, each by a different writer, with some of the texts consisting of scholarly papers on Asian literature, and others offering personal reminiscences of Burton Watson or poems dedicated to him. The scholarly papers cover such topics as “a cultural history of Wenren,” which, as Victor H. Mair and Timothy Clifford explain, refers to a “literary man” (22). While these papers would have interest to Asian scholars, for the non-specialist the personal memories of encounters with Burton Watson are more engaging.

… Perhaps the best remedy will be to turn to one of Burton Watson’s many Asian translations and savor his skill.

Contact me if you would like to add your own remembrance.

Victor Mair on Burton Watson (1925 – 2017)

In honor of Burton Watson’s passing, I am collecting statements and memories from friends and fans, to be posted as they come in. The following remembrance is from Victor Mair, professor of Chinese at University of Pennsylvania:

Sometime around the mid-70s, I had the great, good fortune to be invited to a dinner at the home of my mentor, Patrick Hanan. Also in attendance that evening were James Hightower and Burton Watson. I distinctly recall, already at that time, my impression of Watson being a venerable scholar of enormous accomplishments. Yet think of all that he has accomplished since that time four decades ago!

Despite his stature as a preeminent translator, Burton displayed no pretensions whatsoever. He put me completely at my ease. We had a pleasant, relaxed conversation about how we both had gotten into the study of Chinese literature and our mutual joy in translating it well.

Contact me if you would like to add your own remembrance.

Salutations; a Festschrift for Burton Watson

Edited by Jesse Glass and Philip Williams, this collection of essays, articles, and poems about Chinese and Japanese literature and culture celebrates the illustrious scholarly career of Burton Watson, whose range of excellent literary translations into English from Japanese and classical Chinese is second to none. Over half of the book’s seventeen chapters are articles about Chinese or Japanese literature and culture with full scholarly apparatus; the remainder are tributes to Watson in the form of poetry or informal essays.

Topics include analysis of Watson’s skills as a translator and practical critic; a cultural history of Chinese literati; masterpieces of the Ming essayist Zhang Dai; revisiting David Hawkes’ interpretations of Du Fu’s poetry; China’s earliest science fiction from the late Qing; reflections on cultural change by the early Yuan Confucianist Hao Jing; the multi-dimensional symbolism in Hagiwara Sakutarô’s poetry; the fictional portrayal of a self-sacrificing female Chinese Buddhist saint; key patterns of arboreal imagery in the 300 Tang Poems anthology; and Japanese linked verse across the centuries.

Featuring contributions by Victor Mair, Robert Hegel, Hiroaki Sato, William Nienhauser, Jonathan Chaves, Lucas Klein, Hoyt Tillman, Yenna Wu, Yoko Danno, Hua Li, Duncan Campbell, Stephen Addiss, Robert Epp, Timothy Clifford, Philip Rowland, Sam Hamill, and Gary Snyder.

Click on the image for ordering information.

The Complete Sino-Platonic Papers for Free

The entire run of Sino-Platonic Papers are now available for free download, including Jiaosheng Wang’s translations of The Complete Ci-Poems of Li Qingzhao 李清照 (1989), David McCraw’s Pursuing Zhuangzi as a Rhymester (1995), and Jonathan Ratcliffe on “The Mythos of the One-Eyed Man in Greek and Inner Asian Thought” (2014). From Victor Mair:

Sino-Platonic Papers began in 1986 and for its first twenty years remained a print publication.

In 2006, however, Sino-Platonic Papers became an electronic publication, with all new issues released on the Web for free. Since that time we have been gradually converting the print issues to PDFs so that they could also be made available for free to readers around the world. We are very pleased to announce that process is now complete–Two hundred and forty-nine and counting!

All issues of Sino-Platonic Papers are now available for free at www.sino-platonic.org.

We continue to publish new material, so check our website often to find our latest issues.

Victor Mair

Translating Chinese poetry is hard

噫吁嚱危乎高哉!

At Language Log, Victor Mair posts (pictured here) a handwritten translation of a famous Li Bai 李白 poem, whose translator “said he was caught doing English homework in a Chinese class by his Chinese teacher. The teacher was angry and punished the student by making him translate Shǔ dào nán 蜀道难 (‘The Way to Shu Is Hard’) into English.”

For good measure, Mair posts a translation I did of the poem when I was a college senior, and published on CipherJournal.

Click the image above for the full Language Log post, and the fruitful discussion that follows.

Chris Livaccari on Overcoming Misconceptions about China

chinaSalon.com posted an interview with Chris Livaccari of the Asia Society (New York) with a guided reading list of how to overcome misconceptions about China. Here’s how he begins his responses:

I recently asked some school kids, “If you had the opportunity to go to China today, what do you think you would see?” One of the students said there would be a lot of lanterns everywhere, a lot of red, and a lot of dragons. I thought, “Wow. If this kid stepped into Shanghai in 2012, he would really be bowled over.”

The books he mentions are Robert Ramsey’s The Languages of China, Joanna Waley-Cohen’s The Sextants of Beijing, Zhuangzi 莊子 as translated by Victor Mair (called Wandering on the Way), the stories of Lu Xun 魯迅 (the article links to William Lyell’s translations), and The Story of the Stone 石頭記 by Cao Xueqin 曹雪芹 and translated by David Hawkes and John Minford. Not surprisingly, his list contains no poetry. Perhaps one day somebody will compile a list like this and Xi Chuan will be on it.