Literary Meaning in the Translation of Classical Texts
Dr. Chris Wen-Chao Li
August 11, 2015, 7:40-9:00pm at City of Ten Thousand Buddhas
Classical Chinese texts oftentimes contain turns-of-phrase whose meanings are opaque, resulting in obscure passages that pose a challenge for the translator. In this talk we tackle this particular issue, teasing through the layers of obsolete lexis, historical syntax, socio-biographical markers, reader reception and bias, literary logic and rhetoric, and classical commentary, in the process showing how literary meaning is for the most part multifaceted and that the translator must select those facets of meaning that (s)he wishes to preserve while at the same time discarding others, rendering the act of translation one which shines on the source text a particular interpretation and point-of-view. We show furthermore how, unlike real-time interpreting or translating from a contemporary language, the multiplicity of meaning embedded in classical texts is compounded with time, and how the traditions of different readerships complicate the translator’s task. In the end, we show that, with the inevitable loss of aspects of meaning, translations of texts of a literary nature are less about producing a “correct” or “perfect” version and more about highlighting a particular aspect that is deemed pivotal or that is hitherto underexplored in previous renditions.
In this session we put the principles introduced in the previous talk “Literary Meaning in the Translation of Classical Texts” into practice by translating short Classical Chinese passages and discussing the multitude of interpretations as well as strategies for rendering the texts into English. Participants will be encouraged to produce multiple translations for the same text (some more source -oriented, some more target -oriented) and critique each version, pointing out their strengths and weaknesses so as to develop the ability to evaluate the efficacy of different translation strategies. Participants will also be trained to produce consistency in language and cohesion in register so as to avoid the abrupt register shifts that often characterize translationese and translations into a second language.