More Mo Yan

The overlapping world of literary critics and cultural commentators is still arguing about Mo Yan 莫言 and his Nobel Prize. Nobel Literature Laureate from 2009, Romanian-raised Herta Müller calls Mo Yan’s win “a catastrophe” because he “celebrates censorship.” And Anna Sun of the Kenyon Review calls Mo Yan’s writing “diseased“; as for the “shimmering poetry and brutal realism” of his writing as advertised? Sun says “only the ‘brutal realism’ is Mo Yan’s; the ‘shimmering poetry’ comes from a brilliant translator’s work.”
As for the translator, Howard Goldblatt’s “Memory, Speak” is online at Chinese Literature Today. Chinese Literature Today co-founder Jonathan Stalling responds to criticism of Mo Yan with “Mo Yan and the Technicians of Culture.” And an audio interview with Mo Yan has been posted at Granta.
Finally, Tim Parks doesn’t mention Mo Yan in “A Game Without Rules,” but he does say:

For all the different styles of play in different countries and continents, football is a game whose rules can be universally applied. North Korea plays Mexico with a Swedish referee and despite one or two contested offside decisions a result is recorded and one team can pass to the next round without too much discussion. But can we feel so certain when the Swedish referee judges poems from those two countries that he will pick the right winner? Or even that there is a “right” winner? Or even a competition? The Mexican did not write his or her poems with the idea of getting a winning decision over the North Korean, or with a Swedish referee in mind. At least we hope not.

Conversation with Howard Goldblatt at University of Minnesota

Conversation with Howard Goldblatt

Date: 11/27/2012
Time: 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM
Location: 140 Nolte Center for Continuing Education
Cost: Free
Join us for a conversation between acclaimed translator Howard Goldblatt  and Joseph Allen. Professor Goldblatt is best known as the translator of Mo Yan, the 2012 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Howard Goldblatt was a Research Professor of Chinese at the University of Notre Dame 2002-11 and is a translator of numerous works of contemporary Chinese (mainland China & Taiwan) fiction, including The Taste of Apples by Huang Chunming and The Execution of Mayor Yin by Chen Ruoxi. His translations of Mo Yan’s work include Life and Death are Wearing Me Out (2008), Big Breasts and Wide Hips (2005), and The Republic of Wine (2000). Joseph Allen is a Professor of Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Minnesota.  His publications include Taipei: City of Displacements (University of Washington Press, 2012) and Sea of Dreams: The Selected Writings of Gu Cheng  (New Directions 2005).

Mo Yan and the World: Another Roundup

Mo YanMo Yan 莫言, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature, continues to be a topic of conversation. Following yesterday’s posting of “A Westerner’s Reflection on Mo Yan,” here are three other links to the relationship between Mo Yan–and by extension, Chinese literature, if not China–and the world.

First, Mo’s longtime translator into English Howard Goldblatt gives a brief take on the relationship between translator and writer, in “My Hero: Mo Yan.”

Then Julia Lovell, translator and author of The Politics of Cultural Capital: China’s Quest for a Nobel Prize in Literature, weighs in on the political responses in China and the “intellectually lazy … Western observers” in “Mo Yan’s Creative Space.”

Then, looking at Yang Mu 楊牧 winning the Newman Prize, Liao Yiwu 廖亦武 winning the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, and Mo Yan winning the Nobel–all in the space of a few days–Didi Kirsten Tatlow looks at “In 3 Awards, 3 Ways of Seeing China,” quoting observations from P K Leung and Michelle Yeh.

Mo Yan wins 2012 Nobel Prize

Mo Yan 莫言 has won the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature–a victory for those who support global pluralism in literature prizes, for those who believe in the legacy of Faulkner and García Márquez in contemporary international fiction, and for those who believe in giving a Nobel to a Chinese writer the Chinese government doesn’t oppose (belonging to one of these categories does not necessarily indicate belonging to either of the others). Congratulations also to Mo Yan’s translators in all languages, particularly Anna Gustafsson Chen in Swedish and Howard Goldblatt in English.

For readers looking for more, here is the press release for the Nobel Prize, the BBC’s beginner’s guide to Mo Yan, a good summary from 3% of Mo Yan’s writings available in English, and a section of an interview Howard Goldblatt did with himself for Chinese Literature Today. Still more? Here’s an article on the reaction in China, advanced ordering information for his forthcoming Pow!, an excerpt from another forthcoming work Change, and yet another excerpt from another forthcoming work, Sandalwood Death (pre-order Sandalwood Death here).

Asymptote July 2012

The new issue of Asymptote is out, featuring work by Rosmarie Waldrop, plus A Sinophone “20 under 40,” as well as:

The Pocketwatch,” a new translation of a Huang Chunming story (by Howard Goldblatt)

Translations of Yang Mu’s poetry (by Arthur Sze and Michelle Yeh)

Translations of Ye Mimi’s poetry (by Steve Bradbury)

Dylan Suher essay on Qian Zhongshu, that also serves as a review of Humans, Beasts and Ghosts: The Collected Short Stories of Qian Zhongshu (translated by Christopher G. Rea)

Also see the January 2012 issue for my translations of Xi Chuan‘s “Beast” 巨兽, “The Distance” 远方, and “Poison” 毒药,  and hear a recording of “The Distance” read in Chinese by Huang Yin-Nan.

Xi Chuan at the London Book Fair

Digital Conference catch up

The London Book Fair opens today, with China as the Guest of Honor. My friend the translator Bruce Humes compiled a list of China-related events, but his blog is down, so I’m re-posting here:

April 16

Modern Chinese Masters: The launch of two new books in translation by Annie Baobei and Li Er, together with their translators and publisher Harvey Thomlinson.

Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2012: Shortlist Spotlight: Chinese novelist and film maker Xiaolu Guo and Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival Nick Barley as they reflect on judging the scores of books in translation submitted for this year’s award. They will be sharing their insights into literary translation with Literary Editor of The Independent Boyd Tonkin, a long-serving judge of the Prize.

Editing China and Japan: This session will explore the joys and challenges of editing translations from Chinese and Japanese, languages and literary cultures that are unfamiliar to many editors and readers. How can editors make decisions about translation from languages they don’t know; what are the peculiarities and specificities of languages such as Chinese and Japanese; and what is the role of the translator in this process? We will hear from Harvill Secker’s publishing director Elizabeth Foley, Penguin China’s Managing Director Jo Lusby and translators Eric Abrahamsen and Michael Emmerich.

April 17

Bi Feiyu Interviewed by Rosie Goldsmith: Bi Feiyu’s novel The Moon Opera (青衣), translated by Howard Goldblatt was longlisted for the 2008 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize while Three Sisters (玉米 ,玉秀,玉秧), also translated by Goldblatt, won the 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize. In China, his awards include twice winning the Lu Xun Literary Prize, and  the 2011 Mao Dun Prize, the highest national literary award, for Massage.

Ancient Myths in Contemporary Fiction: Alai and Tsering Norbu explore why ancient myths fascinate us until today and how these timeless stories can be brought into the 21st century.

New Perspectives in Chinese and British Literature: Four Chinese writers, Tie Ning, Mo Yan, Alai and Liu Zhenyun as well as their four British counterparts will share ideas on topics such as “maintaining national characteristics in a global context”, “active and diverse literature creation in China (UK), “literature and contemporary life, “literature and social progress and development”, etc.

Chinese Children’s Literature: British readers are all too aware of the British superstars in children’s literature, such as J.K. Rowling, Michael Morpurgo or Julia Donaldson. In an attempt to find out more about the world of Chinese children’s literature, two of China’s most popular authors in this genre—Yang Hongying and  Zheng Yuanjie—join us to discuss their writing.

April 18

Contemporary Chinese Poetry: Contemporary Chinese poetry is constantly evolving, drawing both on the ancient and rich poetic tradition in China as well as on influences from around the world. Xi Chuan and Han Dong, two of China’s most celebrated contemporary poets, read from their work with fellow poet Pascale Petit and reflect on this evocative and though-provoking genre.

Bringing Chinese Poetry to the UK: Chinese poetry has a long and honourable history in English translation – it is nearly 100 years since Arthur Waley’s 170 Chinese Poems was first published. Both the Chinese classics and contemporary poetry, which has flourished in the last three decades, provide rich opportunities for Western publishers. In the last twelve months alone, several new volumes – both anthologies and single-poet volumes have been published in the UK and the USA. Nevertheless there are huge challenges: • Few poetry publishers will have in-depth knowledge of the contemporary Chinese poetry scene. Which poets will be represented? In the West, the label ‘dissident’ sells books, but what does it mean in the Chinese poetry context? • Who will do the translations? The panel will look at collaborative translating (translators + poets) as a practical and creative solution. • Promoting the unfamiliarand finding new audiences. How much contextualization is needed when introducing new poetry (whether classical or contemporary) to readers? How important are promotional events or readings, if at all? Panelists Nicky Harman, Bill Herbert, Brian Holton and Yang Lian, will discuss all this and more with chair David Constantine.

Contemporary China on the Page: Chinese society has been undergoing monumental changes and is constantly evolving under the influence of China’s changing status in the world. Chi Zijian, Feng Tang and fellow author Xinran discuss how contemporary literature is reflecting these transformations and the effect they have on the life of Chinese people today.

Rural China: Amidst rapid urbanization, the rural setting in contemporary fiction has acquired new meaning in China. Authors Mo Yan and Li Er debate with literature expert Lu Jiande the role of life outside the city in contemporary fiction, forming the background to explorations of tradition and change.

Chinese Names in Push Open the Window

When I first wrote about the Copper Canyon anthology Push Open the Window, I said, “My only quibble with the book so far is that, while everything is printed with Chinese and English en face, for some reason the Chinese characters of none of the poets’ names made it into the book.” Co-translation editor Sylvia Lin has worked to address this, writing in a recent post to the Modern Chinese Literature & Culture email list:

List members may be interested in a new bilingual anthology of contemporary Chinese poetry, Push Open the Window, the third volume in a larger project of bilingual anthologies of contemporary poetry funded by the NEA. The poems were selected by the Chinese editor, Qingping Wang, with Sylvia Li-chun Lin and Howard Goldblatt as translation editors.

Despite our objections, the publisher, Copper Canyon Press, chose not to include the poets’ names in Chinese. We are making them available here; feel free to share the list with other users of the anthology.

Shi Zhi 食指
Mang Ke 芒克
Shu Ting 舒婷
Yu Jian 于坚
Zhai Yongming 翟永明
Wang Xiaoni 王小妮
Sun Wenbo 孙文波
Gu Cheng 顾城
Bai Hua 柏桦
Zhang Shuguang 张曙光
Wang Jiaxin 王家新
Song Lin 宋琳
Xiao Kaiyu 肖开愚
Han Dong 韩东
Chen Dongdong 陈东东
Zhang Zao 张枣
Qing Ping 清平
Sen Zi 森子
Huang Canran 黄灿然
Xi Chuan 西川
Huang Fan 黄梵
Cai Tianxin 蔡天新
Zang Di 臧棣
Hai Zi 海子
Ye Hui 叶辉
Ma Yongbo 马永波
Shu Cai 树才
Yi Sha 伊沙
Yu Nu 余怒
Ge Mai 戈麦
Lan Lan 蓝蓝
Xi Du 西渡
Yang Jian 杨键
Sang Ke 桑克
Chen Xianfa 陈先发
Lin Mu 林木
Zhou Zan 周瓒
Zhu Zhu 朱朱
Jiang Tao 姜涛
Yan Wo 燕窝
Jiang Hao 蒋浩
Ma Hua 马骅
Han Bo 韩博
Leng Shuang 冷霜
Duo Yu 朵渔
Hu Xudong 胡续冬
Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇
Shen Muqin 沈木槿*
Wang Ao 王敖

* The book prints this name as Shen Mujin; the character can be pronounced either jǐn or qín.

Translation & Cultural Distinction

In his introduction to Xi Chuan and Zhou Zan from their 92nd St. Y reading on October 10th, Forrest Gander referred to something his Brown University colleague John Cayley had said about classical Chinese poetry in English translation. Sylvia Lin and Howard Goldblatt, the translation editors of the NEA anthology Push Open the Window, also picked up on the same statement, writing in their “Translation Co-Editors’ Preface”:

When we agreed to take on this exciting project as translation editors, we were reminded of a comment that has long resonated with us, as readers and translators of Chinese literature and as “shameless” promoters of the best of it, in the original when possible and in translation otherwise. John Cayley, himself a translator and a publisher of Chinese poetry in translation, has written: “Incontestably, the translation of classical Chinese poetry into English has given us a body of work which is culturally distinct from the poetry of its host language but which has immediate appeal, and is often read with intense pleasure and a deep awareness of its moral and artistic significance.” The challenge, for us, was to assist in bringing over contemporary poetry from China such that Cayley’s assertion could be modified by replacing a single word and remain true.

This is interesting to consider. Certainly what Cayley says is true, that English translations of classical Chinese poetry have been loved by readers and influential to poets who have little or no knowledge of Chinese as a language or a culture otherwise; Eliot Weinberger‘s early Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei and more recent New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry are testaments to this fact. And yet, when it comes to contemporary Chinese poetry, I’m not so ready to agree (I’ve been critical, for instance, of anthologies of contemporary Chinese poetry that seem to exploit the creativity of the translator and suppress what makes the original original).

Certainly translating a poem from a thousand years ago and a poem from this decade are somewhat different activities. Certainly the cultural distinction of contemporary Chinese vis-à-vis the contemporary anglophone world is much less than the cultural distinction of China in the Tang or Song. Do facts of proximity–from globalization to immigration to travel to…–mean that we translators have less cultural leeway when dealing with contemporary Chinese writing than with writing from ancient China? In other words, do we have to make our translations less culturally distinct from their originals because contemporary Chinese originals are already closer to us than ancient Chinese originals? I find this question especially relevant to translating Xi Chuan, who often incorporates a view of classical China from (for instance, his series “Thirty Historical Reflections” 鉴史三十章).

This deserves more thought, of course, and I certainly don’t want to prescribe anything all translators everywhere have to follow. I will say this, though: my goal in translation is to satisfy three kinds of readers, those who read Chinese poetry, those who read poetry in English, and those who read translations. If I don’t think what I’ve written satisfies those three very different sets of demands, I don’t think I’ve written a good translation.