China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This paper interrogates the intersection of machine translation and artificial language in the experimental translation practices of Taiwanese poet Hsia Yu, with a focus on her 2007 collection Pink Noise (fenhongse de zaoyin). This slender book of self-published poetry quickly became a cult sensation within Taiwan, but lacks critical attention outside of the Taiwanese context. This collection consists of 33 pairs of bilingual poems, produced by feeding lines of spam emails and other internet jargon into translation software and translating from English to Chinese back to English until they morph into ‘poems.’ This presentation explores Hsia Yu’s conscious manipulation of machine translation in creating a highly playful and irreverent bilingual text.
My paper probes the role of the machine translator in the creative process, confronting the way that readers interpret poetry that is said to be devoid of authorial intent. Through a close reading of the English and Chinese language poems, I explore the agency of the translation software, looking at the ways that meaning is configured in different linguistic contexts. While the Chinese verse is rendered nearly unreadable in the process of translation, the English retains what the author deems to be a ‘prosaic fluency.’ Yet a closer inspection of the English text reveals a sinister strangeness that is likely to be skimmed over or ‘autocorrected’ by the reader. This paper explores the ways that readers process artificial language before proposing what it might look like to take machine translation seriously as poetry.