“You’re stepping on my shadow, please back off,” she said.

Sun Yisheng / Nicky Harman

Lucas Klein

柯夏智

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Lucas Klein--a former radio DJ and union organizer--is a writer, translator, and editor of CipherJournal.com. His translations, essays, and poems have appeared at Two Lines, Jacket, Drunken Boat, and PMLA, and he has regularly reviewed books for Rain Taxi and other venues. A graduate of Middlebury College (BA) and Yale University (PhD), he is Assistant Professor in the School of Chinese at the University of Hong Kong. With Haun Saussy and Jonathan Stalling he edited The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry: A Critical Edition, by Ernest Fenollosa and Ezra Pound (Fordham University Press, 2008), and he co-translated a collection of Bei Dao 北島 poems with Clayton Eshleman, published as Endure (Black Widow Press, 2011). His translation Notes on the Mosquito: Selected Poems of Xi Chuan 西川 (New Directions, 2012; for more, see http://xichuanpoetry.com) was shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award in poetry, and he is at work translating Tang dynasty poet Li Shangyin 李商隱 and seminal contemporary poet Mang Ke 芒克.

 

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Poems (93)

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Tibet's True Heart

By Lucas Klein, May 18, '09

In a comment to my post on May 4th & Chinese Literature in Translation, talking about disparities in how different genres of Chinese literature are represented in English, I wrote:

find me one English translation of a single-author collection of poems by a poet living in China.

I was thinking that someone might mention books by Taiwanese poets Shang Qin 商禽 or Hsia Yu 夏宇, both translated by Steven Bradbury (and published by Zephyr Press, a great small press with a large repertoire of translations from the Chinese). And I knew of other works in progress of mainland authors, still awaiting publication.

But I didn't expect that another answer would come from Tibet. This morning I opened my mailbox and found a package sent by A. E. Clark, with a book of his translations of Tibetan-Chinese poet Woeser, Tibet's True Heart, published by Ragged Banner Press.

Woeser writes in Chinese and now lives in Beijing, but her writing is infused with the complexities of her Tibetan cultural background. I haven't yet read Tibet's True Heart, but I look forward to reading Andrew Clark's English versions of her poems.

Sample poems and more recent writing of Woeser can be found on the Ragged Banner website.

5 comments

May 4th & Chinese Literature in Translation

By Lucas Klein, May 4, '09

To commemorate the 90th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement, the South China Morning Post runs an article investigating

Left on the Shelf: Ninety years after the May 4 movement spawned a host of Chinese literary giants, Ben Blanchard examines why mainland writers remain largely unread internationally

As a tribute to the May Fourth Movement goes, it's no last-year's Sunday New York Times Book Review, featuring four new translations of Chinese literature, but then again, May Fourth doesn't fall on a Sunday this year.

What the South China Morning Post article does raise, implicitly at least, is the question of World Literature and its relationship to Chinese literature.

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Publishing Translations

By Lucas Klein, March 20, '09

The discussion following my post on footnotes descended, as discussions involving translations often do, into guesses at the world of publishing, and why English-language publishing might be so averse to translations. I called them cowardly (though I can think, especially in the smaller presses, of many brave exceptions); a commentator said they were overworked.

Whatever the reason translations are kept out of the American book market, I was impressed by how translations are marketed in other countries. A novel written by a college friend of mine, Red Weather, recently came out in German, and the publishers have produced a trailer for its release.

I don't understand German, but the trailer is pretty easy to follow.

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PEN American Center Translation Slam

By Lucas Klein, March 20, '09

Check this out:

Inspired by live translation slams that proved to be audience favorites at the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival, and again at PEN World Voices, PEN’s online Translation Slam aims to showcase the art of translation by juxtaposing in a public forum two “competing” translations of a single work. For the inaugural installment, we asked translators to test their linguistic mettle on 暮色, a poem by Chinese writer Xi Chuan.

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Footnotes

By Lucas Klein, March 16, '09

In the comments following the recent and ongoing discussion on book reviewing, Paper-Republic contributors have raised the issue of footnotes. Cindy Carter first wrote,

I've often wondered if it might not be a good idea to return to endnotes in fiction translation. Readers who want to crack right through can do so and not get hung up on the fine print at the bottom of the page, but those who crave more cultural or historical background can flip to the back and read what could well be some fascinating tidbits.

Bruce Humes responded in the affirmative, but also asked,

But how are the footnotes presented? Where they are placed -- on the page itself, at the end of a chapter, or at the back of the book -- what sort of information do they contain, and how they are written are all very important.

Bruce's questions are certainly essential to deciding whether we want to allow footnotes into our translations. Likewise is his admonition against those who would "argue that it is the translator's job to remain 'invisible.'"

The issue seems to be centered around "academic" versus "popular" translations, or publications of translations, and how footnotes have been conceived as a hallmark of academic writing. But while that's certainly true, I wonder if a look at publishing history in Chinese can't help us figure something out about how to use the footnote when we translate.

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Bookstores

By Lucas Klein, February 13, '09

An article from The Economist titled “The Little Red Bookshop” was recently emailed to subscribers of the MCLC List (the email listserv of the Modern Chinese Literature & Culture resource center, and the source of a good deal of the announcements we make on Pap-Rep). The article notices a possible resurgence of leftist thought in China, centered around a bookstore called Utopia, “the term used to describe those nostalgic for Mao Zedong’s rule and worried that the country is abandoning its communist principles.” For anyone familiar with Marxist ideology, though, “Utopia” is a strange name: wouldn’t those really nostalgic for the pre-Reform & Opening-up era believe that Marxist-Leninist Mao Zedong Thought was the only outcome of the capitalist class struggle, and therefore an embodiment of Scientific, not utopian, Socialism?

But “Utopia” attracts attention not only because of its false poli-sci consciousness. Following the posting of the original Economist article, somebody sent in a reply about the translation:

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Chinese translation in Romania

By Lucas Klein, February 5, '09

Last night I met the translator of Mò Yán’s 莫言 Red Sorghum 紅高粱家族 (English translation by Howard Goldblatt) into Romanian. Copping to the Translator’s Invisibility I’ll leave the Romanian translator unnamed—I hesitate to speak with that authority when I haven’t conferred with him about what I’ll be writing, and I’m not sure I could spell his name correctly anyhow—but I will say that he’s primarily a scholar on the Wénxīn diāolóng 文心雕龍 (Carving Dragons from the Literary Mind) and his previous translations into Romanian include the Lǎozǐ 老子, or the Dàodé Jīng 道德經.

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Happy Niu Year

By Lucas Klein, January 26, '09

I’ve received plenty of emails from people wishing me a “happy niu year.” The phrasing represents a kind of translation that I can’t imagine having happened much twelve years ago: since 1997 Chinese and pīnyīn have become much more pervasive and available in the English-speaking world, while knowledge of and the importance of English has grown in China.

But translation, or something like it, also happens within languages. I guess I mean the misfiring, the falling offs, and the avoidance of them that make some people say translation is impossible. In Chinese, homophones and puns take on a sometimes cosmic significance: fish and bats are auspicious because [fish] sounds like [plenty] and biānfú 蝙蝠 [bat] contains the sound of the word [fortune] (I’ve been translating a poem recently in which a certain transition hinges on the notion of bats as good omens). But it cuts both ways: sometimes you don’t want to say something because something sounds like something else. These days, a kind of prohibition has arisen, given the bosses’ propensity for layoffs amidst the current global economic slowdown, against saying gōngxǐ fācái 恭喜發財 [“happy new year,” but literally “congratulations on how much money you’re getting”], because cái [“wealth”] sounds like cái [“to get fired”]? And especially against saying cáiyuán gǔngǔn 財源滾滾 [“may your wealth and resources come rolling”], since it sounds like cáiyuán gǔngǔn 裁員滾滾 [“may you get laid off and may your head roll”]. These phrases, and their homophonic evil twins, are hard to translate, but they exist as their own kind of translation—belles infidèles, or beautiful infidelities—already.

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Politics of Translation

By Lucas Klein, January 22, '09

Is translation an inherently political act? I suppose that depends on your definition of "inherent."

But if nothing else, though, translation--like so much else--provides an opportunity for censorship. One latest example, as many have noticed, is a certain government's censorship of Obama's inaugural speech. Here's the New York Times article about the issue, and here's the China Digital Times report, including a clip.

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No "Fooling Around"

By Lucas Klein, January 19, '09

As my first post on Paper Republic, I want to be very serious. No "fooling around," indeed.

As a follow-up to an earlier post on 折騰, here's what my dictionary has to say:

折騰 zhē teng 1. (翻來倒去) turn from side to side; toss about 2. (反復做某事) do sth. over and over again 3. (折磨) cause physical or mental suffering; get sb. down

Based on this definition, this entry--and Paper Republic in general--seems to be an example of def. 1, because we're certainly 翻來倒去, or, to mistranslate that phrase, "translating over and over."

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