This collection of essays in the field of translation (perhaps more accurately ‘trans-translation’) is composed of contributions by noted scholars as well as emerging creative voices from China and the West, discussing strategies, texts, and contexts in translation practice in particular and cross-cultural exchange in a broad sense. As pointed out in the Introduction, most essays can be categorized as excellent examples of close reading while the final one represents a wider possibility—cultural study. As far as the topics are concerned, the collection consists of three major realms: James Legge’s translation of Chinese texts (5 out of 12), comparative comprehension of Chinese and Western classics, and others. Without doubt, James Legge played a major role in promoting Western people’s understanding of Chinese ancient culture, and, therefore, of China. However, the actual evaluation and individualization of his contribution has been ‘largely unnoticed’ (p. 159), knowingly or unknowingly, by Western scholars, some of whom felt uncertain about Legge’s interpretation, and by Chinese scholars who have been delayed in interacting with the international academic circle until the past two or three decades. This collection changes all that. Nearly all essays agree that when carrying out the two-side (author and reader) task of translation, James Legge tried his best to place himself in the Chinese register linguistically and culturally, whether the action being termed as ‘poetic desire’ (p. 26) or ‘understanding of its own central axis’ (p. 90). With Legge’s translation of Confucian classics being the target of discussion, two essays investigating his translation of Taoism and Buddhism (essay 5 and essay 8) are of exceptional value by studying prefaces and introductions which are marginal compared to body chapters and by probing into a field which Legge himself ‘did not hold much in esteem’ (p. 161), respectively. Besides putting Legge’s translation in close reading, comparing his work with that of H.A. Giles can not only discern their different translation strategies (more ponderous and precise versus more brittle and modern, p. 173), but also reflect cultural changes from the later stage of Victorian era to the beginning of the 20th century. Although endeavouring to engage in conversation, James Legge did not forget his missionary stance of conversion, which is one of the two main approaches for Westerners to have an intimate understanding of recent China (another being diplomatic). As for this approach, B.H. McLean’s essay on two tri-metrical Christian tracts modelled on Confucian classic, Sanzijing (three character classic), targeting Chinese school children in late imperial China, is as literarily important as archeologically significant by presenting the reader the rare full original texts and by exquisite explication. The conversion approach seems to prevail in recent China’s encounter with the West, including Christian-oriented interpretation of such classics as The Journey to the West, in which John T.P. Lai confirms Timothy Richard’s contribution and text conversion and Eric Ziolkowski compares the special narration in it with that of Hamlet and Don Quixote. The latter is a wonderful example of comparative reading which is at the heart of the field of comparative literature, at present and in the future and, in my view, the most fruitful bridge in cross-cultural understanding and exchange. For that, Ezra Pound presents an unmistaken image, which in Professor Geng’s words is a reflection that the poet ‘uncover[s] new resources from Confucianism to deal with the problems and crises in the West’ (p. 186). Contemporary China witnessed a heated discussion about the possibility and feasibility of comparing Chinese classics with Western counterparts, with some totally dismissing the potentiality by claiming the absolute different formation backgrounds and some positively supporting the probability by proclaiming creativity caused by employing the absolute different other approach. By applying concepts of Blanchot the radicality of Wu Wei (doing nothing) in Daoism can be rediscussed and rediscovered, which can be quoted as a proof of the supportive some, thus shedding light on the genius of employing Western theory in understanding original Chinese text. One hermeneutic approach, receptive aesthetics, requires that the readers be considered as foremost figure in the process of writing, reading, and more importantly translating, for which Laura M. White’s rendering of Merchant of Venice serves sufficiently to show the adaptation to the target readers’ ‘reading context’ (p. 209). As a famous line in ancient Chinese poetry collection Shijing (Book of Songs) says: stones from other hills can be used in polishing stone of this hill. We may take a further step in understanding the line as theories or concepts from other cultures can be used in helping us to understand our own culture more deeply and the radical formations in contemporary Chinese art would not seem so radical in the light of Western art appreciation. Though with survey of text translation as the focus, the collection transcends text translation at the same time, thus realizing a sort of transliteration visuality (p. 237) finally. In the Preface to Discussion of Poetic Arts (2008) Qian Zhongshu says: East or West, people’s minds can think alike; South or North, academic researchers are not so different as incomparable. A Poetics of Translation is such a key text in the field of comparative study between Chinese and Western literature, especially English literature as the subtitle entails (with one exception Don Quixote, which is quite insignificant in number compared to other works in the whole volume). The collection, I am certain, will become an indispensable text, for study or for reference, in the field of cross-cultural study between Chinese and Western scholars, particularly the essays expounding Legge’s and Giles’ translation and interpretation and the essays on undiscovered texts before. As the title implies, in translation or in interpretation, the process or the practice is of more importance as the ancient Greeks would prefer to name their action of writing or composing poetry as poiein not graphein. As for George Steiner, translation is the process of understanding and to fulfil this understanding the translator needs to go through the process of trust, aggression (the term which gains the most controversy for its ambiguous inappropriate reference), incorporation, and restitution. To complete this process is also a kind of poiein, and then we would not be perplexed by what is happening after Babel. After all, trying to reach to the other and to understand each other is such a universal aspiration for which communication is made possible, and that is wonderfully achieved in this to some extent experimental and tentative (p. 1) collection. © The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press 2016; all rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Literature and Theology – Oxford University Press
Published: Dec 16, 2016
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