Watch Maghiel van Crevel of Leiden University speak on Zheng Xiaoqiong 郑小琼 and the hypertranslatability of migrant worker – or what he calls “battler” – poetry 打工诗歌.
The new issue of the New York Review of Books features “Poems Without an ‘I,’” Madeleine Thien’s review of three books, The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai [李白] (Pantheon, 2019) by Ha Jin 哈金 and The Selected Poems of Tu Fu [杜甫]: Expanded and Newly Translated (New Directions, 2020) and Awakened Cosmos: The Mind of Classical Chinese Poetry (Shambhala, 2019) by David Hinton.
Thien’s is a very informed and informative piece, but as Victor Mair points out on Language Log, even as she’s reviewing translations of Chinese poetry, she seems to believe that translation of Chinese poetry is not really possible:
The essential experience of Chinese poetry is all but untranslatable. Eliot Weinberger, Lucas Klein, Burton Watson, Stephen Owen, and David Hinton, among others, have set down superb translations, while noting that, in bringing Chinese poetry into English, more things go missing than in translations from other languages … Ha Jin describes a particular Li Bai poem as obtaining a beauty that “can be fully appreciated only in the Chinese.” Hinton observes that a particular line, severed from its radically different philosophical context, “fails absolutely in translation.” But the incommensurability of Chinese (logographic) and English (alphabetic) written systems begins the moment a mark is made. Chinese ideograms are composed of strokes, and each of the brushstrokes references others.
I love being put in a list with some of my heroes as having “set down superb translations,” but I cringe at the remark that the “essential experience of Chinese poetry is all but untranslatable.” As Mair writes, “I have never been a fan of the view that Chinese poetry is untranslatable, or that any other genres of Chinese literature, for that matter, are untranslatable. Since I have done a huge amount of translation in my lifetime, if I accepted the notion that Chinese literature is untranslatable, I would long ago have made a gigantic fool of myself.” And I like what Red Pine (Bill Porter) writes, in the comments section to the Language Log post: “How absurd that Chinese poetry would be untranslatable, or anything for that matter. Poems don’t come with moonlight or wind, much less the effects of the wine. They’re just words, until the reader, or the translator comes along and brings them back to life.”
There’s more to Thien’s article than this, of course–and her piece is not the worst offender when it comes to articles mystifying Chinese or poetry written in that language–but it’s worth reiterating: Sure, there are aspects of poetry in Chinese or any language that don’t make it through to other languages well in most translations, but that doesn’t mean the poetry is “untranslatable.” As Maghiel van Crevel points out in an article called “Transgression as Rule” (in Kroll and Silk, eds., “At the Shores of the Sky”: Asian Studies for Albert Hoffstädt; Brill, 2020), “untranslatability” really means hypertranslatability. With more aspects to consider, there are more options for the translator to try out in rendering something from one language into another.
Translation isn’t impossible–it happens all the time. It’s perfection that’s impossible.
I should also add that it’s a strange thing to write “each time we see an ‘I’ in a translation of Tang poetry, it was almost certainly not in the original text” in a discussion of Li Bai–one of the most forceful users of the first-person pronoun in classical Chinese poetics.
Click on the links above to read the pieces in full.
See Maghiel van Crevel lecture on Unofficial Chinese Poetry Journals in the Leiden University Library, in From China with Love.
Click the link to see the full web lecture.
We are pleased to announce publication of Chinese Poetry and Translation: Rights and Wrongs (Amsterdam University Press, 2019).
CHINESE POETRY AND TRANSLATION: RIGHTS AND WRONGS
edited by Maghiel van Crevel and Lucas Klein
Introduction: The Weird Third Thing
Maghiel van Crevel and Lucas Klein
Part One: The Translator’s Take
(1) Sitting with Discomfort: A Queer-Feminist Approach to Translating Yu Xiuhua
Jenn Marie Nunes
(2) Working with Words: Poetry, Translation, and Labor
(3) Translating Great Distances: The Case of the Shijing
Joseph R. Allen
(4) Purpose and Form: On the Translation of Classical Chinese Poetry
Wilt L. Idema
Part Two: Theoretics
(5) Embodiment in the Translation of Chinese Poetry
(6) Translating Theory: Bei Dao, Pasternak, and Russian Formalism
(7) Narrativity in Lyric Translation: English Translations of Chinese Ci Poetry
(8) Sublimating Sorrow: How to Embrace Contradiction in Translating the “Li Sao”
Nicholas Morrow Williams
(9) Mediation Is Our Authenticity: Dagong Poetry and the Shijing in Translation
Part Three: Impact
(10) Ecofeminism avant la lettre: Chen Jingrong and Baudelaire
(11) Ronald Mar and the Trope of Life: The Translation of Western Modernist Poetry in Hong Kong
(12) Ya Xian’s Lyrical Montage: Modernist Poetry in Taiwan through the Lens of Translation
(13) Celan’s “Deathfugue” in Chinese: A Polemic about Translation and Everything Else
(14) Trauma in Translation: Liao Yiwu’s “Massacre” in English and German
(15) A Noble Art, and a Tricky Business: Translation Anthologies of Chinese Poetry
Maghiel van Crevel
The current issue of Chinese Literature Today is free throughout August for Women in Translation month.
The main feature of the issue is of Newman Prize Laureate, the Hong Kong writer Xi Xi 西西, with introductions, appreciations, interviews, and new translations by Jennifer Feeley, Tammy Ho, Ho Fuk Yan 何福仁, Steve Bradbury, Wei Yang Menkus, and others.
The issue also features an appreciation of scholar Maghiel van Crevel, of Leiden University, with an interview with Jonathan Stalling and an appreciation by Nick Admussen, as well as an article by van Crevel about migrant worker poetry in China.
There is also a suite of contemporary Chinese poetry, by Wang Jiaxin 王家新 (translated by Diana Shi & George O’Connell), Che Qianzi 车前子 (translated by Yang Liping & Jeffrey Twitchell-Waas), Li Dewu 李德武 (translated by Jenny Chen & Jeffrey Twitchell-Waas), Hu Jiujiu 胡赳赳 (translated by Matt Turner & Haiying Weng), Mi Jialu 米家路 (with translations by Lucas Klein, Michael Day, and Matt Turner & Haiying Weng), Huang Chunming 黃春明 (translated by Tze-lan Sang), and Chen Li 陳黎(translated by Elaine Wong).
Click here to read for free!
NORMAN, OK—An international jury has selected the Hong Kong poet Xi Xi 西西 (born 1937) as the winner of the sixth Newman Prize for Chinese Literature. She is the third female Newman laureate, and the first from Hong Kong.
Sponsored by the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for U.S.-China Issues, the Newman Prize is awarded biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement in prose or poetry that best captures the human condition, and is conferred solely on the basis of literary merit. Any living author writing in Chinese is eligible. A jury of seven distinguished literary experts nominated seven poets this spring, and selected the winner in a transparent voting process on October 9, 2018.
Winner Xi Xi 西西 (the pen name of Zhang Yan 張彥) will receive USD $10,000, a commemorative plaque, and a bronze medallion at an academic symposium and award banquet at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, on March 7–8, 2019. In addition to this year’s nominating juror, Tammy Lai-Ming Ho (Hong Kong Baptist University), other nominees and jurors include Yu Xiuhua 余秀华, nominated by Nick Admussen (Cornell University); Wang Xiaoni 王小妮, nominated by Eleanor Goodman (Fairbank Center, Harvard University); Xi Chuan 西川, nominated by Lucas Klein (University of Hong Kong); Xiao Kaiyu 萧开愚, nominated by Christopher Lupke (University of Alberta); Zheng Xiaoqiong 郑小琼, nominated by Maghiel van Crevel (Leiden University); and Bei Dao 北岛, nominated by Wang Guangming (Capital Normal University).
“This year’s nominees represent an extraordinarily wide variety of Sinophone poetry,” said this year’s Newman Prize Coordinator, Jonathan Stalling. “The jurors spent over an hour in vigorous deliberation before they finally emerged with one poet out of the many. It is genuinely exciting to see Xi Xi’s poetry and her lifelong contributions to world letters recognized by this year’s prize.”
According to Dr. Tammy Lai-Ming Ho,
Hong Kong literature has for too long been relegated to a secondary position, or even worse—it is as though the city is incapable of producing significant literary works and writers of note. Hong Kong poetry is to many perhaps an even more abstract and chimerical concept. Xi Xi’s poetry, at times whimsical and at times serious, speaks to the character of the city and its people. Her poems also demonstrate how stories of a city can be told through narratives that are at first glance insignificant, allegories and fairy tales instead of grand statements. Feminine, tender, witty, observant, and capable of tugging at the heartstrings, Xi Xi’s poetry reminds us Hong Kong poetry should not be ignored in any discussion.
Previous winners of the Newman Prize have included mainland Chinese novelists Mo Yan 莫言, Han Shaogong 韩少功, and Wang Anyi 王安忆, who won the 2009, 2011, and 2017 Newman Prizes, respectively. Mo Yan went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012. Taiwanese poets Yang Mu 楊牧 and novelist and screenwriter Chu Tien-wen 朱天文 won the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature in 2013 and 2015.
The Newman Prize honors Harold J. and Ruth Newman, whose generous endowment of a chair at the University of Oklahoma enabled the creation of the OU Institute for US-China Issues over a decade ago, in 2006. The University of Oklahoma is also home to the Chinese Literature Translation Archive, Chinese Literature Today, World Literature Today, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.
紐曼華語文學獎的七位專家評審早在今年年初提名了七位詩人。今天，他們經過六輪投票，決定出最終得獎者。獲獎者西西（原名張彥）可獲得一萬美元的獎金，紀念獎牌一塊，銅質獎章一枚，並將受邀於2019年三月7日至8日參加在俄克拉荷馬大學舉辦的紐曼學術研討會和晚宴。西西的提名者是香港浸會大學的何麗明教授（Tammy Lai-Ming Ho）。另外六位評委和被提名的詩人信息如下：康奈爾大學的安敏軒（Nick Admussen）提名了詩人於秀華，哈佛大學費正清中心的學者顧愛玲（Eleanor Goodman）提名了詩人王小妮，香港大學的柯夏智（Lucas Klein）教授提名了詩人西川，阿爾伯塔大學的陸敬思（Christopher Lupke）教授提名了詩人蕭開愚，萊頓大學的柯雷（Maghiel van Crevel）教授提名了詩人鄭小瓊，以及北京首都大學的王光明教授提名了詩人北島。
紐曼華語文學獎的主辦方美國俄克拉荷馬大學美中關係研究院於2006年成立。該學院的成立與Harold J. Newman和Ruth Newman夫婦的慷慨捐贈密不可分。俄克拉荷馬大學還設有中國文學翻譯檔案館，“今日中國文學”雜誌，“今日世界文學”雜誌，並定期主辦紐斯塔特（Neustadt）國際文學獎。
On 1–2 June 2018, an international group of scholars will meet at Leiden University to discuss fifteen papers that bring together expert knowledge on poetry in Chinese and critical engagement with the notion of translation. Texts, authors, and issues discussed range from the ancient Book of Songs to 21st-century migrant worker poetry and from Yu Xiuhua in English to Paul Celan in Chinese. The papers highlight the richness of the study of interlingual and cultural translation, with Chinese poetry as a shining example.
The workshop is open to all and you are welcome to attend any or all of the presentations.
Attending the workshop will be Joseph Allen, Lucas Klein, Nicholas Morrow Williams, Zhou Min, Tara Coleman, Chris Song, Christopher Lupke, Jenn Marie Nunes, Liansu Meng, Joanna Krenz, Jacob Edmond, Eleanor Goodman, Nick Admussen, Rui Kunze, Maghiel van Crevel, and Wilt Idema.
Click the image for further information, including a full schedule with paper titles.
At his blog, Jacob Edmond writes about being censored in a Chinese publication. Edmond reviewed Maghiel van Crevel’s Chinese Poetry in Times of Mind, Mayhem and Money (2008) for The China Quarterly in 2011, and agreed for it to be translated into Chinese for the Journal of Modern Chinese Studies (现代中文学刊). But,
the Chinese version [of van Crevel’s book] lacks the chapter on “Exile,” which includes discussion of poems written by Bei Dao 北岛, Wang Jiaxin 王家新, and Yang Lian 杨炼 after the Chinese government’s violent 4 June 1989 suppression of dissent.
And as a result, Edmond’s review had to be censored as well.
In approving the translation of my review, I faced the same dilemma that Van Crevel and these publishers and editors face in deciding whether to allow their work to be censored: refuse to change anything and so lose the possibility of addressing a Chinese audience, or make the changes and hope that one’s translated words and the mute marks of censored omissions might communicate better than the total silence of refusal. Van Crevel’s is an excellent book on contemporary Chinese poetry: I stand by my review’s description of it as the “definitive sourcebook.” It therefore deserves a wide audience in China, where its insights are most relevant. Cutting one chapter was the price of that audience.
But, as he continues, “The pressures and choices are not, of course, the same in every situation.” He concludes with lessons that are, “like censorship itself, eminently—and frighteningly—translatable.”
Click the image above for his full blog entry.
Last December the Modern Chinese Literature & Culture Resource Center published Maghiel van Crevel’s “Walk on the Wild Side: Snapshots of the Chinese Poetry Scene,” a long take on the field of contemporary poetry in China today. He begins:
I am in the final days of ten months in mainland China. Many things that have struck me about the poetry scene are in evidence … First of all, this get-together is typical of an activism that defies anything that might resemble keeping up: with texts and platforms (books, journals, websites, blogs, Weibo, WeChat), with events, with individuals and groups, with topics, issues and trends, with projects and research centers, with histories and futures. With who is writing what and hanging out with whom and getting published where, and how it all works and what it all means and to whom. This is true for poetry but also for what I’ll call commentary, all the way from hardcore scholarship to the swarms of emoji for praise and blame that careen through the arcades of social media. Which, incidentally, has become a prime channel for publicizing and disseminating hardcore scholarship, not to mention poetry itself. The web and social media have added an entirely new dimension to the poetry scene over the last twenty years, but poetry in print is anything but out. If someone unplugged the internet tomorrow, this breathless dynamism would continue apace in the other forms and media that are available to the genre.
In all, the poetry scene exudes an almost unimaginable vitality that gives the lie to persistent lament over its “marginalization.” On that note, if we go by numbers only, which we shouldn’t, modern poetry is marginal throughout the world. And if we allow the nature of the genre in its modern incarnations to enter our line of vision, it might be only a little controversial to say that such marginality is inherent to it. This is a bigger deal in China than in many other places, because of the continuing, massive presence of classical poetry and the contrast with the roaring 1980s—but the 1980s new poetry surge 新诗潮 was really an anomaly, occasioned by a happy meeting of the public’s hunger for cultural liberalization and the poets’ activism after the Cultural Revolution, before other distractions had begun to compete. I feel like a highly motivated scratched record when I say all this at every opportunity, as an outside prisoner of what Heather Inwood calls contemporary China’s poetry paradox: a representation of poetry as all but dead and a reality of poetry being remarkably alive.
Click on the image above for the full piece.