Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lydia He Liu: translation perspectives, Chinese women, and feminisms

David Frank at BBB has written a post that is getting a lot of attention.  He's asking, "What is Your Translation Metaphor?"  And he's referenced, and he credits me elsewhere for referencing, "a Chinese perspective [by which] translation involves 'host' and 'guest' languages. Another metaphor."

I'd like to give credit where credit is due.  Lydia H. Liu is the one who's articulated this perspective.  She's a scholar, Chinese, a woman, feminist.  Here are some of the things she's said:

As I [Lydia H. Liu] have argued elsewhere, one does not translate between equivalents; rather, one creates tropes of equivalence in the middle zone of translation between the host and guest languages. This middle zone of hypothetical equivalence, which is occupied by neologistic imagination, becomes the very ground for change. (Tokens of Exchange: The Problem of Translation in Global Circulations: Post-Contemporary Interventions, 137)

I am interested in theoretical problems that lead up to an investigation of the condition of translation and of discursive practices that ensue from initial interlingual contacts between languages. Broadly defined, the study of translingual practice examines the process by which new words, meanings, discourses, and modes of representation arise, circulate, and acquire legitimacy within the host language due to, or in spite of, the latter’s contact/collision with the guest language. Meanings, therefore, are not so much “transformed” when concepts pass from the guest language to the host language as invented within the local environment of the latter. In that sense, translation is no longer a neutral even untouched by the contending interests of political and ideological struggles. Instead, it becomes the very site of such struggles where the guest language is forced to encounter the host language, where the irreducible differences between them are fought out, authorities invoked or challenged, ambiguities dissolved or created, and so forth, until new words and meaning emerge in the host language itself. I hope the notion of translingual practice will eventually lead to a theoretical vocabulary that helps account for the process of adaptation, translation, introduction, and domestication of words, categories, discourses, and modes of representation from one language to another and, furthermore, helps explain the modes of transmission, manipulation, deployment, and domination within the power structure of the host language. (Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity-China, 1900-1937, 26)

If it is always true that the translator or some other agent in the host language always initiates the linguistic transaction by inviting, selecting, combining, and reinventing words and texts from the guest language and, moreover, if the needs of the translator and his/her audience together determine and negotiate the meaning (i.e., usefulness) of the text taken from the guest language, then the terms traditional theorists of translation use to designate the languages involved in translation, such as “source” and “target/receptor,” are not only inappropriate but misleading. The idea of source language often relies on concepts of authenticity, origin, influence, and so on, and has the disadvantage of re-introducing the age-old problematic of translatability/un translatability in the discussion. On the other hand, the notion of target language implies a teleological goal, a distance to be crossed in order to reach the plentitude of meaning; it thus misrepresents the ways in which the trope of equivalence is conceived in the host language, relegating its agency to secondary importance. Instead of continuing to subscribe to such metaphysical concerns perpetuated by the naming of a source and a target, I adopt the notions “host language” and “guest language” . . . (. . . radically alter[ing] the relationship between the original and translation) , which should allow me to place more emphasis on the host language than it has heretofore received. (Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity-China, 1900-1937, 27)

The unmarking of the male gender as a gendered position… has the function of masking the true condition of gender politics in the universalizing discourse of modern literary criticism. This is the condition that concerns me most as I continue to ponder the meaning of national literature from a gendered point of view....  Her observation [Ms. Rey Chow’s observation] is timely and important, because it shows us that feminist gender criticism is not just about real women and sexuality – critics whose work is not theoretically informed by feminist gender criticism invariably express an interest in the so-called images of women or women writers – but rather, as Joan W. Scott, whom Chow quotes here, would put it, it is a way of reading and intervention into the dominant theoretical and critical practices.
(Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity-China, 1900-1937, 195)

Is there a female tradition in modern Chinese literature? By asking this question, I intend to bring to critical attention a number of interesting claims put forth by women.... 
("Invention and Intervention: The Female Tradition in Modern Chinese Literature," in Gender Politics in Modern China: Writing and Feminism, 36, edited by Tani E. Barlow)

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