The self is that which gets lost in translation: A sociolinguistic view of Chinese poetry translation through modernity & parataxis

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Abstract

How has the translation of Chinese poetry into English contributed to the reconsideration of the self - or "the lyric ego" - in contemporary and avant-garde Anglophone poetry? Examining the micro-history of avant-garde English presentations of Chinese poetry, and the shifting configuration of China in the politico-economic sphere and the Anglophone imaginary over the last hundred years, this paper will offer a socio-linguistic reflection on the notion of the self. Specifically, I will approach the divergence between so-called "avant-garde" and "Unmarked Case" (my term for "establishment" or "mainstream") poetic communities by interrogating whether such a distinction is sociological or linguistic. Through the lens of Chinese poetry translation, I will trace the development of "Classical" Chinese poetry in English translation from its former association with English experimentation (Pound, Rexroth, Snyder, etc.) to being upheld by stalwarts of "Official Verse Culture" (Milosz, Merwin, Wright, Young, etc.), leaving avant-gardists (Hejinian, Padgett, Waldrop, etc.) to entertain their current predilection for the contemporary in Chinese poetry. This examination will yield conclusions both about our definitions of "modernity" and "tradition" as well as about how we deploy language and rhetoric to signify those concepts. Finally, looking at the few current poetic avant-gardists - John Cayley, Kit Kelen, Jonathan Stalling, and Jeffrey Yang - who work both with modern and pre-modern Chinese poetry, I will conclude with an appeal for a view of translation that can work to reconcile the socio-linguistic divisions between the avant-garde and the "unmarked. ".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-185
Number of pages21
JournalForum for World Literature Studies
Volume4
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2012
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Avant-garde
  • Parataxis/hypotaxis
  • Self
  • Transcendence/immanence
  • Translation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory

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