Johannes Göransson on Aase Berg / Ye Mimi / Tomas Tranströmer / Translation Studies

5_Ye_Mimi_photoOver at Montevidayo, Johannes Göransson has posted “Exploded Tranströmer: On Ye Mimi and Translation.” A hyperopticon of connections, it links Taiwanese poet Ye Mimi 葉覓覓 to Nobel lit. prizewinner Tomas Tranströmer via what Swedish poet Aase Berg’s reading:

A few months ago, after she came back from the Hong Kong poetry festival, Aase Berg wrote to me that she had come across an amazing poet: Ye Mimi. (Apparently YM appeared with a very impressive guitar player as well.)

That is funny because when I first read Ye Mimi what came to my mind was a somewhat controversial article Aase wrote in Expressen after Tomas Tranströmer won the Nobel Prize the other year … Ye Mimi’s poems are wonderful in that way: as “banality and surprising intelligence in unexpected union.” In fact they read a little like Tranströmer poems in which the metaphors flip out, go off in tangents. And a Tranströmer poem in which the tenor of the metaphor is not privileged – not over the vehicle, not over the “banal” everyday stuff (pink hoodies, telephone booths etc).

From there, he indicates a critique of Translation Studies as it’s come to be known under the direction of Lawrence Venuti, which he says “quarantines the work in translation: we never have the work in translation.”

Click the image above to read the post in full.

Foreignizing Translations in the New York Times

If you are a “China Watcher”–and if you’re reading this blog, you might be–you’re no doubt familiar with the recent trial against Gu Kailai 谷开来, accused murderer and wife of deposed Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai 薄熙来.

I try to steer clear of politics on this blog, but at some point everything is potentially political, especially translation, which I noticed when reading the New York Times‘s coverage of Gu’s trial. As part of their focus, they highlighted a selection of quotations from her book Winning a Lawsuit in the U.S. 胜诉在美国, reveling in the irony of someone who had lambasted American due process in favor of China’s swift justice coming up against the swiftness of a trial lasting less than seven hours: “In a bitter twist of fate,” the NYT reports, “Ms. Gu, herself a lawyer, once expressed an unshakable faith in her nation’s legal system.”

The clincher on their list of quotations culled from her book reads, in the NYT translation,

China practices law in a different way than America; we don’t play with words. We have a principle called “based on the facts.” You will be arrested, sentenced and executed as long as we know you killed someone.

We don’t play with words, indeed. I’m in favor of a fair trial, and I’m not convinced that Gu Kailai received one in China (even Ai Weiwei 艾未未 doubts whether Gu and her husband can get a fair shake), but with translations like this, it’s evident that the New York Times isn’t letting her pick her own representation, either.

In short, the above quotation is not the only way to translate Gu’s statement–an obvious fact even without seeing her writing in Chinese. I agree that the sentiment is dubious at best, but with their specific choices in vocabulary and phrasing, they set Gu Kailai up as shrill, frightening, and unsophisticated. As they do in most of their reporting on China, the NYT comes short in representing the American principle of innocent until proven guilty. How different it would be if the passage read, “Chinese legal practices are different from those in America. We don’t play with words, but rather are fact-based: when we are certain you are guilty of murder, you will be apprehended, convicted, and executed.”

Some translations scholars such as Lawrence Venuti advocate foreignizing translations as the only ethical way to represent difference as difference. In this instance, however, I think we can see how foreignizing, awkward translations can reinforce prejudices and stand in the way of reaching our ideals about the principles of our judgment.