China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This paper develops the idea of translation as a dialectic response in a target language to a work written in a source language. This is done using a hands-on approach, based on my own rendition of four concrete poems from Chen Li’s The Edge of the Island. The purpose of this reflexive exercise is to experience first-hand the embodied affect of Chen Li’s poems, to produce our response to them in English, and to theorise on this experience.
The idea of translation-as-response moves us away from a source-centric notion of translation as verbal-semantic transference toward a functionalist stance that foregrounds the aesthetic agency of the translator. This paper pushes the translator’s autonomy further by advancing a dialogic view of translation premised on the notion of stimulus-and-response: translation responds to its source text (the stimulus), ‘talks back’ to it, by developing and extrapolating the memes built into the latter, and it does so by way of mobilising the signifying resources of the target language.
Memes are abstract; they constitute the aesthetic logic or conceptual motif underlying a piece of writing – the DNA of the text – and are instantiated by concrete discursive units, i.e. the actual words or linguistic structures we encounter in the text. Using concrete poetry as an exemplary case, this paper proposes a model of translation premised on reproducing the meme that informs the source text, not its surface-level manifestation; or: discarding the ‘fossils’ of a text and extracting, transmitting, and transmutating its DNA in the target language.