Huang’s book of translations, SHI: A Radical Reading of Chinese Poetry, clearly identifies itself as, in part, a response to the Fenollosa/Pound argument concerning Chinese poetry and its proper translation. However, the primary purpose of the work, as Huang states in his introduction, is to deal “with…the often-invisible face of translation…brought to the foreground of poetic texture and the traces of translation’s needle work…exposed to the reader’s view.” The translations reveal the difficulties and problematics of ripping a literary work from its cultural and linguistic context, a process that is too often smoothed over in editions that aim to hide the invisible, yet irrevocable changes committed by translation’s hand.
On his blog at Jacket2 Charles Bernstein has posted Yunte Huang’s 黃運特introduction to his 1997 book SHI: A Radical Reading of Chinese Poetry. Huang has since become one of the foremost figures in Chinese – American literary studies, translating Ezra Pound and Michael Palmer into Chinese, and writing the scholarly books Transpacific Imaginations and Transpacific Displacement, as well as the recent Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History. Here’s how Huang’s intro to SHI begins:
This book is not an attempt to grasp the “essence” of Chinese poetry, nor is it an endeavor to produce an over-polished version of English that claims aesthetic superiority over other works in the same field. It grapples rather with the nature of translation and poetry, and explores poetic issues from the perspective of translation and translation issues from the perspective of poetry. Looking from such a vantage point, translation is no longer able to hide itself in our blind spot; instead, the often-invisible face of translation is being brought to the foreground of poetic texture and the traces of translation’s needle work are being exposed to the reader’s view. With its agenda hidden, translation is too often a handyman for the metaphysical, mystical, or universal notion of poetry. When emerging from obscurity, translation becomes an ally with poetic material and enacts the wordness of the words. And this book strives to strengthen the alliance between translation and poetry through various textual and conceptual means that I will discuss now.