Alphadictionary.com

Our Sponsors

Technical Translation
Website Translation Clip Art
 

Great leap forward

Miscellaneous Other Topics.

Great leap forward

Postby M. Henri Day » Thu Jun 16, 2005 3:32 pm

Given the interest evinced by many Agorists not only for linguistics but for literature as well, I thought Julia Lovell's article, published in last Saturday's Guardian, would meet here with a receptive audience. I take the liberty of pointing out that my forwarding of the article should not be taken to indicate that Ms Lovell's views are necessarily identical with my own. But I did find them worth your perusal....

Henri

Great leap forward

Chinese literature is overlooked in the west but a new English edition of a classic novel could change that, writes Julia Lovell

Saturday June 11, 2005
The Guardian

Why does modern Japanese fiction have an audience in Britain while its Chinese counterpart plays to an empty house? How come substantial numbers of British readers of literary fiction can conjure with a few names from recent Japanese literature - Yukio Mishima, Yasunari Kawabata, Haruki Murakami - while the Chinese Shen Congwen, Qian Zhongshu and Mo Yan languish in near-total obscurity?
The cold war has a lot to do with it. In the 1950s, as part of the broader US project of reinventing Japan as an unthreatening regional ally against communist China, the American publisher Knopf set about marketing a picture of Japan - through carefully selected and translated works of its modern fiction - as a non-bellicose land of exotic aestheticism; the very opposite of Japan's aggressive, jingoistic pre-war image. These were the years in which authors such as Mishima and Kawabata became the representative, languishingly melancholic voices who later slipped comfortably into canon-forming collections in Britain: Penguin Modern Classics, the Everyman's Library. Although the themes and styles of those contemporary Japanese novelists now best known in the west - Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto - are a far cry from the taciturn, elusive qualities of Mishima and others, both owe large swathes of their western audiences to the trails blazed by their predecessors.

At almost exactly the same historical moment as the cold war gave Japanese fiction an entrée into big-business publishing, Mao's bamboo curtain clattered down around China, shutting off western access to many of its most interesting, free-thinking writers and tainting its modern literature - in the eyes of the western public - with the stigma of communism. At about this time, the earliest courses in modern Chinese literature began in British universities, many of which adopted as teaching materials politically correct works advertised as modern masterpieces by the Chinese state. To an Anglophone reading community that is, at best, timidly selective about reading translations, these two publishing and teaching trends helped promote a timesaving shorthand for stereotyping both literatures in audiences' minds: Chinese as dully propagandistic; Japanese as aesthetically humanist. In a major British review journal four years ago, a work of Japanese fiction was praised as "a hymn to the resilience of the human spirit", while the reviewer of a Chinese author, a couple of column inches higher up, dismissed all mainland Chinese fiction as "socialist realism".

But something momentous has just happened: Penguin Modern Classics has for the first time allowed a work of 20th-century Chinese fiction on to its list. After skulking for decades in small, academic or, more disastrously, communist Chinese presses (the threadbare Panda Books), translated fiction from China has, 50 years after a similar gesture transformed Japanese fiction's profile in the west, been beckoned into Penguin's modern canon. Modern Chinese fiction, long regarded at best as an educational source of information on China, or at worst, providing none at all looks to have made a great leap towards the bookshelves of British readers.

The novel itself, Qian Zhongshu's Fortress Besieged, is a fairly uncontroversial choice. The last hurrah of modern Chinese literature's pre-communist cosmopolitan age, this 1947 satire of an intellectual dilettante enduring love, disappointment and hypocrisy in 1930s Shanghai enjoyed two years of best-selling success immediately after publication. When, in 1949, the People's Liberation Army marched into the city, transforming one of China's most vibrant metropolises into the grey headquarters of communist orthodoxy, Qian - an outstanding product of early 20th-century China's internationalist cultural revolution, fluent in both Chinese and European literatures - was erased from the state literary canon. But after Mao's death in 1976, liberated Chinese critics and readers gleefully rediscovered Qian's novel, enthusiastically enshrining it as a modern classic.

Ribald, sardonic, set against the tragic turmoil of wartime China without ever collapsing into patriotic bluster, its pages populated by young westernised Chinese harried by their traditional families, Fortress Besieged has, it would seem, something for everyone. It certainly ought to stand a better chance of reaching into the hearts of Anglophone readers than many other works of modern Chinese fiction.

What is disappointing, is that - despite expending a good deal of trouble on producing a beautiful-looking book, fronted by an original Chinese print - Penguin has used an old (1979) and uninspired translation by Jeanne Kelly and Nathan K Mao. It is, for the most part, competent, but hardly reproduces the dazzling, spiked wit for which the original is renowned. Dialogue, in particular, is wooden and unidiomatic - "I've heard about you for a long time"; "This is certainly neglect of filial duties to the extreme!" - and littered with empty filler adverbs ("really", "simply") and literally translated Chinese proverbs with explanatory footnotes bolted on. Descriptive prose, while more serviceable, also contains the occasional puzzler, such as "sleep ... like a club suddenly knocked him into its dark bottom".

This is the kind of carelessness characteristic of most mainstream presses in Britain when they - very unusually - venture to produce translations of modern (late 19th-century to 1976) or contemporary (1976-) Chinese literature. It is as if they are already so convinced of its fundamental aesthetic poverty that when they do finally stir themselves to publish, they seem barely to bother with the quality of the translation. If they do, they certainly don't apply the kind of rigorous critical standards to be expected in the editing of other books on their lists. This is strikingly true in this instance, but the same criticism could also be levelled at both Faber and HarperCollins; Rebecca Carter's painstaking work at Chatto & Windus - Red Dust, The Noodle Maker, Village of Stone - is a wonderful exception.

A kind of vicious circle results, in which large publishers are chary of producing modern Chinese literature because it is little known, generally viewed as being of poor literary value and therefore unlikely to attract audiences. When they do publish it, slack editing often allows unsatisfactory translations to slip into print. All in all, it merely confirms general readers and other editors in their instinct that China's recent literature can be safely ignored.

There are, of course, reasons other than translation and editing that help explain why modern Chinese fiction has not taken off among Anglophone readers. One is logistical: China's cultural remoteness from the west makes it inevitable that audiences from very different reading traditions will have difficulty fathoming its literature. The Chinese language is an especially intimidating barrier: it is no coincidence that post-Mao film-makers (particularly Zhang Yimou) have scored the kind of global success - international prizes, Hollywood distribution deals - of which their literary counterparts can only dream. Cinema trades in the direct, universal currency of images; it doesn't have to worry about losing value across the uncertain exchange rates of translation. Although Fortress Besieged contains plenty of comic character types and situational slapstick that entertainingly convert into English without too much confusion - the chubbily pompous author of "Adulterous Smorgasbord", a pseudo-cosmopolitan sonnet littered with meaningless foreign words; the innkeeper who insists that maggots stirring drowsily from their "greasy slumber" on a slab of ham are no more than harmless "meat sprouts" - other parts of the book are studded with puns and allusions that would challenge the most inventive translator.

Another reason is historical, affecting the quality of individual works. In the early 20th century, China embarked on a quest for a modern version of itself that dragged its writers through decades of political upheaval and guilty anxiety that they should, somehow, help rescue the country from national crisis. Especially after the communist revolution in 1949, ideological pressures and the ever-shrinking remit of Revolutionary Realism and Romanticism (Mao's extra-rose-tinted version of socialist realism) severely squeezed creativity; between 1949 and 1966, the production of novels dwindled to an embarrassingly low average of eight per year.

When these proscriptions eased after Mao's death, contemporary Chinese literature was left to contemplate its lost years. Thanks to Mao's fondness for sending intellectuals for "re-education through labour", authors who normally would have been reaching their mature middle decades in the 70s and 80s, had been cleaning toilets, planting rice or mucking out pigs - certainly not thinking hard about the bourgeois question of how to write a good book - during their early career, when a novelist steadily refines his or her craft. Qian Zhongshu is a case in point. Fortress Besieged was his only novel, written two years before the 38-year-old gave up fiction when the communists swept to victory. For much of the next 30 years, he was occupied by the state translating Chairman Mao's Collected Works into English, except for labouring in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution.

Although in Fortress Besieged Qian emerges as a refreshingly sceptical chronicler of 1930s China, with a sharp ear for the comic hypocrisy of his fellow intellectuals, the book has the unmistakeable failures of discipline and control of a first novel: the flow of the prose trips a little too frequently on Qian's pointed analogies and asides, as if he can't quite suppress his admiration at his own cynical cleverness. Qian himself rapidly became dissatisfied with his work and it's impossible to resist wistfully imagining what he might have achieved if Mao had never come to power.

But there are Chinese novelists who managed, at times, to sidestep the 20th century's circumstantial exigencies, and whose work can compare with European or American writing of which educated British readers could be expected to have some knowledge. For example, Qian Zhongshu could be termed a scurrilously Chinese Evelyn Waugh; Shen Congwen a Hunanese Turgenev, awash with ambivalent nostalgia for his war-wracked southern homeland; Zhang Ailing a bleakly claustrophobic Katherine Mansfield, for her intricately oppressive stories of Shanghai domesticity. And the most accomplished translators of Chinese fiction at work today are certainly capable of producing versions of the best works elegant enough to tempt the insular appetites of British readers - if major publishers are prepared to believe that these works can provide not just worthy pseudo-documentary information on Chinese history, but also more universal literary satisfactions: delicate psychological portraits, powerful evocations of time and place, philosophical insights into the human condition.

And this is what is required to give Anglophone audiences access to the reading pleasures of recent Chinese literature. Although translations of post-Mao fiction into English have been coming steadily over the past 20-odd years, it is hard to think of more than one or two robustly selling succès d'estime. One reason is that contemporary Chinese fiction in English translation emerges into a vacuum, artificially wrested from its modern antecedents. While British readers lack points of reference from earlier, formative decades in modern Chinese literary history, their capacity for understanding and appreciating more recent writing is always going to be shaky.

I am not claiming that British audiences have any kind of obligation to read Chinese fiction in translation. Arguments about China having the longest continuous literary civilisation, or being the most populous nation in the world might help spark a utilitarian kind of interest in its literature, but in a publishing free market, its fiction has to stand on its own merits. Yet that is so often precisely what it is not allowed to do by publishers; at least not relative to its competitors - fiction in English or translated from other languages. Most major publishers do not even give modern Chinese fiction a platform on which to rest beside their glossily marketed rivals.

What 20th-century Chinese literature badly needs, in order to convince foreign readers that it is worth the investment of time and concentration necessary to make some sense of it, is a gesture comparable to that made towards modern Japanese literature in the 1950s.

Cosmetically, Penguin has started on this very worthwhile endeavour. But if it wants any kind of meaningful return - in terms of satisfied readers eager for more - on its initial outlay, it will have to make a commitment not just to the dust jacket and paper quality of works of 20th-century Chinese literature in translation, but also to the words that make them modern classics.

A modern Chinese library

Cao Xueqin
The Story of the Stone, translated by David Hawkes (Penguin Classics, 1973-). Written around 1760, this classic family saga of the late imperial period is probably China's best-known novel.

Lu Ling Children of the Rich. An epic and untranslated account of the decline of a wealthy family during the Japanese invasion of the 1930s.

Lu Xun's bleak stories of rural China and reworked versions of classical stories, collected in Lu Xun Selected Works, translated by Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang (Foreign Languages Press, 1985).

Ma Jian, Red Dust, translated by Flora Drew (Chatto & Windus, 2001). Semi-fictionalised travelogue of an escape around the margins in the early 1980s; an acute portrait of a society in flux.

Qian Zhongshu's 1947 satire of wartime Shanghai, Fortress Besieged, and barbed stories of human and superhuman vanity collected in Men, Beasts, Ghosts.

Shen Congwen's bittersweet nostalgic tales of his war-ravaged south China homeland in the early 20th century, some of which are translated by Jeffrey Kinkley and others in Imperfect Paradise (University of Hawaii Press, 1995).

Han Shaogong's relaxed biography of a village in southern China, A Dictionary of Maqiao, told as the author's semi-fictionalised memoir of labouring there and learning the local dialect during the Cultural Revolution; translated by Julia Lovell, (Columbia University Press, 2003).

Xiao Hong, The Field of Life and Death, translated by Howard Goldblatt (Indiana University Press, 1979). A moving portrait of stoical, suffering women in the northeast during the 1930s.

Yang Jiang, Six Chapters From My Life "Down under", translated by Howard Goldblatt (University of Washington Press, 1984). Written by Qian Zhongshu's wife, a wryly sensitive account of two years labouring in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution.

Zhang Ailing's claustrophobic novellas of domestic scheming and psychological disintegration in pre-1949 Shanghai. One of the best "The Golden Cangue", is in Modern Chinese Stories and Novellas, 1919-1949 translated by CT Hsia et al (Columbia University Press, 1981).

• Qian Zhongshu's Fortress Besieged is published by Penguin for £18.99

• Julia Lovell's translation of the novellas of Zhu Wen will be published next year by Columbia University Press
曾记否,到中流击水,浪遏飞舟?
M. Henri Day
Grand Panjandrum
 
Posts: 1142
Joined: Tue Feb 15, 2005 8:24 am
Location: Stockholm, SVERIGE

Postby Brazilian dude » Thu Jun 16, 2005 9:47 pm

Banana Yoshimoto

Is that the guy's real name? :shock:

Brazilian dude
Languages rule!
Brazilian dude
Grand Panjandrum
 
Posts: 1464
Joined: Tue Feb 15, 2005 3:31 pm
Location: Botucatu - SP Brazil

Postby Flaminius » Thu Jun 16, 2005 10:53 pm

You might call her lass but never guy. She is a daughter to Takaaki Yoshimoto, a critic. Her real name is Mahoko Yoshimoto (?????).

I have never read hers.
Last edited by Flaminius on Sat Jun 18, 2005 9:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Flaminius
Lexiterian
 
Posts: 408
Joined: Fri Feb 18, 2005 4:36 am

Postby Brazilian dude » Fri Jun 17, 2005 10:04 am

Hers what?

Brazilian dude
Languages rule!
Brazilian dude
Grand Panjandrum
 
Posts: 1464
Joined: Tue Feb 15, 2005 3:31 pm
Location: Botucatu - SP Brazil

Postby anders » Fri Jun 17, 2005 3:22 pm

The one Chinese author I recognized in that article was Lu Xun. I have read The True Story of Ah Q. When Gao Xingjian had cooled down a bit a few years after his getting the Nobel prize for literature, I bought three books of his at a fraction of the original price. Some day, I might even read them. How do people rank Li Rui? He, too, has been translated into Swedish.

No, no Japanese author on my shelves. Yet.

Yet, the professor of Japanese in town is a very kind, helpful and positive lady, and as soon as I have passed the last parts of 2nd semester Chinese, ... we'll see. So many languages, so little time.

In a serious effort to deviate even more from the thread heading, I'd like to mention that this professor was quite intrigued when I told her of a person holding a Swedish doctorate degree in Chinese, and linked that to the shakuhachi.

Still further away, there's a woodcut reproduction in my Atlas of Religions. I think it is No. 40 of Hiroshige's 46 (sic!) views of Mt. Fuji. On its right edge, I read "36 views of Mt. Fuji", and then, I think, 相列仲原. Could that mean "Encounter in/at Nakahara"? Nakahara seems to be sufficently close to Fujisan to fit that interpretation. Not too far from Kamakura, eh, Flam?
Irren ist männlich
anders
Lexiterian
 
Posts: 405
Joined: Wed Feb 16, 2005 7:46 am
Location: Sweden

Hokusai!

Postby Flaminius » Sat Jun 18, 2005 6:40 am

Anders, if you meant the picture below, your mention on Hiroshige sets me into epiplectic mood.

Image

相州仲原 is todays 平塚市中原, which is 30 minutes by my snail driving on the coast line from 鎌倉 Kamakura. 相州 (sooshuu) is short for 相模之国 (sagami-no kuni). 相 was pronounced by Nara dynasty's hip Sinophiles as saGa where the capital G in the second syllable represents velar nasal. Original Chinese pronunciation at the time was something like saG (pinyin might have it sang but I didn't want saGa mistaken with [-ngg-] as in English "finger") but the obsession with open syllables that have been hauting Japanese ears for millennia dictated that a supporting vowel should be added.

相模之国鎌倉の住人 相田龍太郎 之を記す
Flaminius
Lexiterian
 
Posts: 408
Joined: Fri Feb 18, 2005 4:36 am

Re: Hokusai!

Postby anders » Sat Jun 18, 2005 12:50 pm

Flaminius wrote:Anders, if you meant the picture below, your mention on Hiroshige sets me into epiplectic mood.

Of course.
相州 (sooshuu)

Using a good copy, my Chinese teacher and the Japanese professor were sure that they read 相列, and the prof suggested the reading Airetsu, implying an encounter or similar if I understood her correctly.

Any way, I am impressed but not surprised by your swift response. Many thanks indeed!
Irren ist männlich
anders
Lexiterian
 
Posts: 405
Joined: Wed Feb 16, 2005 7:46 am
Location: Sweden

Postby M. Henri Day » Sat Jun 18, 2005 1:24 pm

Thanks, Flam for reproducing 広重 's wonderful prints - and for the information concerning the influence of Tang dynasty pronunciation on the 訓読み pronunciation of the Nara elite of the time ! One minor caveat - the 拼音of 相 is, of course, xiang, with the initial sibilant [hs] produced a little more forward (dentally) in the mouth than the English apicoalveolar [s]. Then there's the little matter of the word «*epiplectic», of which the denotation escapes me (BD can't be allowed to exercise a monopoly on nit-picking ; as we all know, monopolies lead inevitably to inefficiencies !)...

Anders, see if you can't find something by one of my favourite authors, 永井 荷風 (Nagai Kafû). I remember borrowing his great 《腕くらべ》 from a girl who worked in a ちゃんこ鍋 restaurant frequented by 相撲取り, the police, and 柔道家 like myself. She maintained that if I wished to understand the 浮世 (which at the time I very much did), this was the book to read....

Greetings to your friend, the professor of Japanese !

Henri
曾记否,到中流击水,浪遏飞舟?
M. Henri Day
Grand Panjandrum
 
Posts: 1142
Joined: Tue Feb 15, 2005 8:24 am
Location: Stockholm, SVERIGE

Postby Brazilian dude » Sat Jun 18, 2005 3:06 pm

Then there's the little matter of the word «*epiplectic», of which the denotation escapes me

I don't know squat about epiplectic.

Brazilian dude
Languages rule!
Brazilian dude
Grand Panjandrum
 
Posts: 1464
Joined: Tue Feb 15, 2005 3:31 pm
Location: Botucatu - SP Brazil

Postby M. Henri Day » Sat Jun 18, 2005 5:07 pm

Just possibly, there isn't squat to be known about «*epiplectic»....

Henri
曾记否,到中流击水,浪遏飞舟?
M. Henri Day
Grand Panjandrum
 
Posts: 1142
Joined: Tue Feb 15, 2005 8:24 am
Location: Stockholm, SVERIGE

Postby Flaminius » Sat Jun 18, 2005 9:05 pm

Explaining the word (emphasis author's):
Epiplexis/Epiplectic

We are mistaken if we see the root "plex" in epiplexis. If that were the root, it would remind us of a number of ways it is used in English (such as "apoplexy," "solar plexus" and "plexiglass" or maybe, increasingly, a "multiplex" theater) and would mean "weave" or "plait" or "combine." But the word behind epiplexis is epiplessein, meaning "to rebuke" or "punish" or "chastise." Epiplexis is then a Greek word meaning "criticism" or "rebuke." It was taken over into English, however, in a rhetorical context and first defined in 1678 as a "figure in Rhetorick which by an elegant kind of upbrading, endeavours to convince. [Flam: this definition is adopted in OED]"

An epiplexis then would be a gentle chiding, or possibly a statement that seeks to shame the hearers into performing better next time or to spring into action right now. "His epiplectic address to the crowd backfired on him." Or, "epiplexis is one of the strongest motivators known to us." Or, to use words that we might be more familiar with, "Don't get apoplectic over his epiplectic fit." Also you need to distinguish epiplectic from epileptic. The latter literally means to "take over" or "take upon," and refers to a disease of the nervous system characterized by serious paroxysms. The condition just "takes upon" a person and often leads to falling on the ground and passing out. It was known in English of a few centuries ago as the "falling sickness."

Ultimately, it seems to me that epiplexis is really a form of asteism--a gentle way of trying to persuade others to see things your way and act accordingly.


Explaining myself:
Hiroshige? Yeah, kinda begins with H. . . .
Last edited by Flaminius on Sat Jun 18, 2005 9:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Flaminius
Lexiterian
 
Posts: 408
Joined: Fri Feb 18, 2005 4:36 am

Postby M. Henri Day » Mon Jun 20, 2005 6:44 am

Flam's gentle (as always, when he's the one dishing it out) chiding of my ignorance of this most excellent term has brought a mild flush to my cheeks.

どうも済みませんでした !...

Henri
曾记否,到中流击水,浪遏飞舟?
M. Henri Day
Grand Panjandrum
 
Posts: 1142
Joined: Tue Feb 15, 2005 8:24 am
Location: Stockholm, SVERIGE

Postby Flaminius » Mon Jun 20, 2005 9:51 am

Oh no, I did it again. Playing nice to cause more embarassment for those who made innocuous faux pas. Fellow Agorites, my whole point in haranguing on epiplectic mood and all the other gibberish was that the painter of the wood print is not Hiroshige but Hokusai.

I should have said that several posts ago. I am sorry. Not exactly a pleasant experience to realise that one has a curmudgeon inside oneself.

Flam
Flaminius
Lexiterian
 
Posts: 408
Joined: Fri Feb 18, 2005 4:36 am

Postby M. Henri Day » Mon Jun 20, 2005 2:41 pm

Flam, we need curmudgeons to keep us on the strait and narrow. Just keep correcting those errors !...

Henri
曾记否,到中流击水,浪遏飞舟?
M. Henri Day
Grand Panjandrum
 
Posts: 1142
Joined: Tue Feb 15, 2005 8:24 am
Location: Stockholm, SVERIGE


Return to Res Diversae

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Yahoo [Bot] and 1 guest

cron