TRANSLATION AND THE PRODUCTION OF LOCAL LITERATURE

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    TRANSLATION AND THE PRODUCTION OFLOCAL LITERATUREYu-lin Lee aa National Cheng Kung University , TaiwanPublished online: 05 Jan 2009.

    To cite this article: Yu-lin Lee (2006) TRANSLATION AND THE PRODUCTION OF LOCAL LITERATURE,Perspectives: Studies in Translatology, 14:1, 73-78, DOI: 10.1080/09076760608669019

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  • TRANSLATION AND THE PRODUCTION OF LOCAL LITERATURE

    Yu-lin Lee, National Cheng Kung University, Taiwanyulinlee@gmail.com

    AbstractThis article looks at Taiwans appropriation of literary modernism and the novelist Wang

    Chen-hos writing, seeking to understand the mode of translation in the production of local lit-erature. Wangs writing demonstrates a peculiar blending of heterogeneous languages. Strad-dling multiple linguistic and cultural realms, it can be argued that the author is a translator. Wangs composition evinces the practice of expressing self-differentiating difference. From this perspective, translation not merely points to a liminal writing space in which subjects inscribe their own subjectivities; it also becomes a vital mode of writing that inspires literary creation and transformation.

    Key words: Taiwanese-Chinese and translation; modernist literature; translation and lit-erary studies.

    Translation and cross-cultural studiesLydia H. Liu views translation as a shorthand of adaptation, appropriation,

    and other related translingual practice and takes it as a theoretical framework for her investigation of the discourse that legitimatises translated modernity in the Chinese context. Instead of seeking originality or fidelity in translation, Liu turns into hypothetical equivalence between concrete languages, which she considers a vital key to understanding the operation of translation and its politics. She focuses on the process by which equivalents travel from one lan-guage into another, or in her own words, their manner of becoming (1995: 16). Lius vision of translation is of interest for cultural and translation studies, for it emphasises transformation and becoming rather than authorship and fidel-ity. Accordingly, the focus is shifted to the process by which new words and concepts of representation travel across linguistic boundaries and exist in a con-crete language. Viewed in this fashion, the study of translation becomes a study of conditions of possibility, or as Liu puts it, the dynamic history of the rela-tionship between words, concepts, categories, and discourse (1995: 20).

    Liu distinguishes her perspective from Edward Saids notion of traveling theory widely circulated in literary criticism and cultural studies. Saids traveling theory provides a scheme for the understanding of the creative bor-rowing and appropriation of ideas and theories in an international environ-ment; however, Liu finds that it affirms the primacy of Western theory and consequently fails to account for the vehicle of translation (1995: 21). View-ing translation as a constantly contested territory in national and international struggles, Liu insists that one must seek first the hierarchical power relations in the confrontation of dominant and dominated languages and cultures. For similar reasons, Liu also criticises a postcolonial concept of translation, e.g. Tejaswini Niranjanas project to retranslate and rewrite Indian history by re-reading Benjamin, de Man, and Derrida. Liu argues that Niranjanas post-colonial perspective privileges European languages and neglects the previous history of anti-imperialist struggle (1995: 24). After all, as Liu puts it, regional discourse is a performative discourse that seeks to legitimate a new definition of the frontiers (1995: 29). At this point, Lius vision of translation enables us to

    0907-676X/06/01/073-6 $20.00Perspectives: Studies in Translatology

    2006 Yu-lin LeeVol. 14, No. 1, 2006

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  • 2006. Perspectives: Studies in Translatology. Volume 14: 1

    suspend the Western origin and direct our attention to the manner of becom-ing in regional discourse.

    Wang Chen-ho and the appropriation of literary modernism Following Lius conception of translation, this study investigates the Taiwan-

    ese appropriation of Western modernism in the 1960s, examining the condition of translation, specifically the process whereby new words, narrative strategies, and modes of representation were introduced and circulated in the Taiwanese context during a specific historical moment when it was confronted with the West. Translation here has both linguistic and cultural implications. In this arti-cle, I shall focus on the novelist Wang Chen-ho who straddles multiple linguis-tic and cultural realms in his writings so far that they become actual texts of translation. In his Mandarin Chinese, there is an abundance of words or phrases borrowed and translated words from English, Japanese, and Taiwanese (includ-ing local dialects). It has been argued that the hybrid nature of Wangs writing reflects Taiwans complex history in which the local culture interacts with for-eign ones (Chiu 1995: 182). Wang has been widely recognised by local critics as a major nativist writers as his writing is loaded with local tongues. Wang launched his literary career during Taiwans modernist literary movement and his celebrated novel, Rose, Rose, I Love You (1984) is considered a major modern-ist work in Taiwan.

    Taiwanese acceptance of Western modernism began with the publication of a literary magazine Hsie-tai wen-hsueh [Modern Literature] (1960). It was found-ed by a group of young writers who were undergraduates at National Taiwan University.1 In addition to local writers, the magazine published translations from the Western modernist canon (e.g. Thomas Mann and James Joyce). Chang argues that the modernist literary movement in Taiwan had a great impact on local literature in both form and subject matter (38). The young Taiwanese writ-ers explored new forms and techniques in their experimental writings. They also drew on Freudian psychoanalysis and existentialist philosophy, to express human experience in depth. They played with unconventional language and themes in modern literature: psychological turmoil, existential angst, and sexu-al desire. Western modernist literature offered an alternative inspiration to the strict cultural policy at Taiwan at the time and it also provided the young artists with a powerful means for exploring the complex world of the self.

    A Taiwanese critic, Chiu Kuei-fen, has argued that this appropriation is a double betrayal, betraying, first, Western modernism, and second, the nar-rative Chinese tradition in which socialist and nationalist rhetoric plays vital parts (2005: 51-52). The first betrayal relates to translation and has led to the questions: are the Taiwanese translated modernism and translated moder-nity doomed to bad copies of the Western original? It is said that Taiwanese modernism is a degenerate translation of the Western one both in literary achievement and in the spirit that underlies modernity.

    Chiu argues that the young writers embrace of Western modernism marks a second betrayal, a failure of translation that fails to translate the national rhetoric of the Chinese May Fourth movement into Taiwanese terms (2005: 52). Others argue that Taiwanese modernists have shown their social and political concerns in different spheres (Chang 1993: 154) and this seems to apply to Wang

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  • Chen-ho in his great concern about contemporary Taiwanese social life. And yet, Wang commits a betrayal in the linguistic domain when he turns away from Mandarin Chinese by introducing other languages into it. Wangs experimen-tal writing thus presents a double turning away; first, there is the translational betrayal of Western modernism, and then his translation, in turn, betrays the Chinese narrative tradition for cultural reformation. Translational betrayal is unavoidable; and yet, the double turning away expressed in Wangs writing enables us to see the process by which foreign vocabularies migrate into new linguistic domains.

    Wangs writing is thus in itself an act of translation.2 There is translation eve-rywhere in Wangs writing according to Roman Jacobsons classification of trans-lation into three classes: (1) Intralingual translation or rewording, an interpreta-tion of verbal signs by means of other sign of the same language; (2) Interlingual translation or translation proper, an interpretation of verbal signs by means of some other languages; (3) Intesemiotic translation or transmutation, an interpre-tation of verbal sings by means of signs of nonverbal sign systems (1971: 261): to help his readers follow verbal twists and turns in his novel, the author inserts parenthetical definitions, clarifications, even foreshowing of changes to come (Goldblatt 1998: ix), indicating how it is distinct from the original. Interlingual translation is of course Wangs most important tool for the elements that sustain the comic exuberance of his work. The main instances of interlingual translation occur between classical and colloquial Mandarin Chinese, between Taiwanese and Mandarin Chinese, and so on. Many (original or translated) words marked by special features (including foreign letters, phonetic symbols, etc,) suggest visible gestures show the authors efforts to translate non-verbal signs into ver-bal ones.

    In most cases, Wang and characters in his works are bad translators, since many foreign words remains untranslated or mistranslated, which also helps create his peculiar linguistic hybrid narrative style. Wangs use of dif-ferent languages creates comic and parodic effects, which have social, politi-cal, and national significance. This, however, is subsumed to the commanding interest of the linguistic network and the passages in-between languages, the liminal writing space created by translation. Through the act of translation, the author draws a linguistic map in which he fills these passages with signs. They reveal the authors intention of juxtaposing different languages, and his contin-ued play with the impossibility of translation. The original and translation, the translatable and untranslatable, resemble and set in relief each other, as seen in the puns, spoonerisms, mangled foreignisms, malapropisms (Goldblatt 1998: ix) and indicated by capitals, boldfaces, etc.3 The incommensurability between languages and signs forces readers to confront the irreducible multiplicity of languages and the nomadic character of the translator.

    Translation as a mode of literary creationA glimpse at Naoki Sakais discussion of translation in Translation and Sub-

    jectivity would help us to understand the routes along which foreign words travel till they reside in a new linguistic realm, as well as the liminality in which the translator is engaged. Sakai views translation as a mode of address and points out that the translator occupies an extremely ambiguous and unstable

    Lee. Translation and the Production of Local Literature.

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  • 2006. Perspectives: Studies in Translatology. Volume 14: 1

    positionality (1997: 11) and always speaks a forked tongue, whose enuncia-tion must necessarily be one of mimicry (12). Sakai then describes the transla-tor as a subject in transit due to the oscillation or indeterminacy of personality in translation (13). More significantly, Sakai warns that translation as repetition is often exhaustibly replaced by the representation of translation (14). This re-placement, according to Sakai, transforms difference in repetition into species dif-ference (diaphora) between two specific identities, and constitutes the putative unities of national languages (15). It is also in translation, in which language unities are resembled and contrasted, that one can inscribe linguistic and cul-ture difference and further construct national identities. To rescue translation from its representation, Sakai notes, that we may return to translation itself, to remind ourselves of the untranslatable to which translation gives birth (14).

    Sakais advice applies to Wangs writing which shows tremendous labor of writing in translation. In Sakais view, Wangs writing speaks multiple languag-es, reflects the multiplicity of languages, and the ambiguous positionality of the translator. It destabilises the hierarchy of dominant and subordinate languages, inducing a disequilibrium as the translator moves among the addresser, the addressee, and the arbitrator. Wang produces many passages which, inscribing heterogeneous languages, deploy a network of transversals in which the writ-ing subject migrates with signs. The translator thus occupies a liminal space between linguistic unities and cultural realms on a threshold between the famil-iar-unfamiliar, inside-outside, and dominant-subordinate.

    In Rose, Rose, I Love You, the...