Rethinking Cultural Relation: Sinophone and Anglophone Translation Poetry

Talk by Jacob Edmond, University of Otago

Photo for Rethinking Cultural Relation: Sinophone and
Friday, November 22, 2019
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
Bunche Hall 10383

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Make It the Same: Rethinking Cultural Relation through Sinophone and Anglophone Translation Poetry

This talk urges a fundamental rethink of the view that the desire to “make it new” propels literary and cultural change and exchange around the world.

We often assume that literature and culture are driven by innovation, and this privileging of the new leads to accounts of global culture and comparative and world literature that explicitly or implicitly imply a story of innovators and followers, originality and derivativeness, centers and peripheries. This story all too often merely reinforces the power imbalances of our unequal world.

This account is, however, not only ethically questionable but factually wrong. The history of global modernity is as much one of copying and repetition as innovation, and Ezra Pound’s injunction to “make it new” is, after all, itself a translation, a copy of a centuries-old Chinese text that was probably mistranscribed from a far more ancient source.

This talk will suggest how the history of modern and contemporary literature can be retold as a history of such copy practices, as is evident from the example of contemporary Sinophone and Anglophone translation poetry. Such translation poetry includes works by Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese, and US poets such as Brandon Som, Yi Sha 伊沙, Hsia Yü 夏宇, Jonathan Stalling, Tan Lin, and the Garbage School of Poetry (Laji pai 垃圾派). The work of these poets exemplifies the iterative poetics of textual processing, networking, and translation. Just as languages like Chinese and English derive their global currency from their accessibility, these writers value not the singularity of the word but linkages and exchange.

Drawing on their example, the talk urges a reconceptualization of our theories of comparative and world literature and cultural globalization. It shows how the old hierarchies of original and derivative, center and periphery are overturned when we recognize copying as the engine of literary change.

Jacob Edmond is associate professor in English at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He is the author of Make It the Same: Poetry in the Age of Global Media (Columbia University Press, 2019), A Common Strangeness: Contemporary Poetry, Cross-Cultural Encounter, Comparative Literature (Fordham University Press, 2012), and of numerous essays, which have appeared in journals such as Comparative Literature, Contemporary Literature, Poetics Today, Slavic Review, and The China Quarterly.

Sponsor(s): Asia Pacific Center, Center for Chinese Studies, English Department