AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 14

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Session 14: (Not) Lost in Translation I

Modernism, Translation, Iteration: Yang Lian and John Cayley
Jacob B.P. Edmond, University of Otago, New Zealand

In this paper, I explore the implications of the recent expansion of scholarship on imaginings of China in Western modernism for reading what Marjorie Perloff calls “twenty-first-century modernism.” If, as this scholarship argues, the concept of modernism itself is inseparably bound up with Western modernist imaginings of China, how then do these imaginings play out when they are re-imagined by a contemporary Chinese poet such as Yang Lian? And what models for conceptualizing cross-cultural interaction, translation, and modernism itself do these re-imaginings offer––other than discredited notions of mimetic reproduction and authenticity? I revisit the entwinement of Chinese and Western modernisms and the mutual cross-cultural readings and imaginings that inform them by examining the work of contemporary Chinese poet Yang Lian and especially his collaboration with Canadian poet John Cayley. Yang and Cayley share a fascination with Ezra Pound’s translations of Chinese poetry and his and Jacques Derrida’s influential texts on the Chinese language. In their collaborations, they combine theoretical thinking about the Chinese language with a variety of translational and quasi-translational rewriting practices. In Cayley’s digital reworking of Yang’s Where the Sea Stands Still, for example, a text already built on reiterations is subjected to further repetitions and transformations. Yang’s and Cayley’s work demonstrates that while translation––and Pound’s translations and imagining of Chinese poetry in particular––played a key and much discussed role in the development of English-language modernist poetry, cross-cultural reading and translational and quasi-translational iterative practices occupy an arguably even more important place in twenty-first-century modernisms.

“Foreignizing” Chinese Language: Nation, Class, and Culture ---Qu Qiubai and Lu Xun's Debate on Translation
Wenjin Cui, New York University, USA

My paper seeks to explore the ways in which the translation of Russian literature was engaged by some Chinese intellectuals in their efforts to create the mass language. Through the examination of how the discourse of nation and class played out during the debate on translation between Lu Xun and Qu Qiubai, I hope to shed a light upon the understanding of this most significant aspect of Chinese literary modernity. It was not the establishment of national language, but the question of class that defined the debate on translation between Qu Qiubai and Lu Xun. Both took language as the register of ideology and both demanded for a defamiliarizing and valorizing operation of Chinese language through the translation of “new ways of expressions”. While Qu assumed a transparent relationship between language and thought as determined by the nature of Proletarian class consciousness, and envisioned a process of production of the new language out of the colloquial of the Proletarian class, for Lu Xun, the relationship between language and thought was more opaque and paradoxical, and the creation of the new language involved a more complicated negotiation between the written and the colloquial. Correspondingly, while for Qu, the “foreignness” of Russian language seemed to be easily dissolved into the class discourse, Lu Xun’s endeavor of translation engaged a more intense and difficult valorizing operation on the modes of signification of the language.

How China perceives Western plays: the reception of the Italian dramatist Luigi Pirandello
Barbara Leonesi, Independent Scholar, Italy

Luigi Pirandello, Italian writer and dramatist who won the Nobel prize in 1934, is well-known in Chinese literary circles since the 30s. The first Chinese translation of his most famous play, Six Characters in Search of an Author, was published in 1929, only 8 years after the première in Italy in 1921. But surprisingly enough, we had to wait until 1992 to watch it on stage in Beijing. Following the same destiny of many Western authors in China, Pirandello’s works have been known in the 30’s and 40’s, but after 1949 he was criticized and forgotten. In the beginning of the 80’s, following the boom of foreign literature in China, the interest towards Pirandello’s drama rose again (see Waiguo xiju 4-1982). This paper will focus on the reception of Pirandello in contemporary China: although his innovative drama has been constantly raising the interest of the Chinese critics and researchers, his plays have been staged in China only 4 times. Both Chinese academics and theatre staff - directors, actors, etc. – greatly appreciate Pirandello. But at the same time, they believe that Chinese audience would neither understand nor appreciate his plays. Following the theoretical debate on Pirandello’s drama in the Chinese academic journals, this paper will sketch out the Chinese image of Pirandello and the reasons why, according to such a specific perception of this Italian author, Chinese directors and producers conclude that Pirandello’s drama is unable to reach Chinese audience.

Making Three Kingdoms into a national novel of Korea
Hyuk-chan Kwon , City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

In my paper, I aim to clarify how a ‘Chinese’ work of fiction has become an enduringly popular Korean work since its importation in the sixteenth century. In this context, my thesis encompasses a comparative exploration of the influence of the Sanguo zhi yanyi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms; hereafter Three Kingdoms) as reflected in premodern and contemporary Korean culture and literature. The domestication and appropriation of Three Kingdoms today can be attributed, in part, to a relentless modification and re-creation of its contents in the forms of numerous translations, adaptations, and revisions that have reflected sociopolitical and ideological agendas in Korea. Three Kingdoms’ status in Korea has been much higher than that of a Chinese classic; it remains the most widely read of all novels in modern Korea. Moreover, authors like Chang Chŏng’il do not hesitate to define Three Kingdoms as a national novel of Korea. It is virtually impossible for a modern Korean to lead a life divorced from Three Kingdoms. My paper shows that these phenomena did not appear suddenly in the twentieth-century Korea. Rather, they are the result of domestication and appropriation of Three Kingdoms that has steadily progressed for centuries; the novel has been relentlessly re-interpreted in terms of Korea’s socio-political and cultural context. My paper elucidates the cultural politics that contribute to making Three Kingdoms into a national novel of Korea.

The Second Life of Ha Jin: Bilingual Articulations and Chinese/American Affiliations
Angela Lai, Harvard University, USA

This paper will read Ha Jin’s works as acts of translation that traverse fields of Sinophone and Anglophone literature, revealing the porousness of those boundaries, the contingency of cultural affiliations and the textual embeddedness of Chineseness. Ha Jin’s choice and “non-native” use of the English language is as central to his reception as his Chineseness, and both the success of his works and the controversies surrounding them can be read in terms of the tension between the two. Derrida’s reiteration that “I have only one language – yet that language is not mine” aptly describes the elusiveness of nativity, in the cultural as well as linguistic sense. The idea that language and culture are always other than oneself describes translation as the mode by which Ha Jin’s Chineseness is constructed and his English competence substantiated. If, in the Benjaminian sense, translation exists as an afterlife of a text, then Ha Jin’s always already translated works can be better understood to exist in terms of a simultaneous “second life,” a textual realm in which language is virtually animated. This paper takes as its point of departure the cultural politics surrounding the position of Ha Jin as a bilingual writer, but rather than focusing on his categorization as Chinese Anglophone, Chinese American or Sinophone, it will consider how these terms of evaluation—nationality, ethnicity, language and culture—are contingent upon each other, and even more fundamentally, upon translation as a mode of readership.