restricted access Between the Lines: Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation by Cosimo Bruno (review)
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Reviewed by
Cosimo Bruno. Between the Lines: Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2012. 184 pp. Hardcover $160.95, isbn 978-90-04-22399-8.

This book is a unique comparative translation study that uses contemporary Chinese poet Yang Lian as a case study. It is premised on the notion that “poetry translation is an interactive process of reading and writing, and that a study of such a process increases our understanding and aesthetic appreciation of the source text” (p. 1). Informed by modern hermeneutical approaches to poetry translation, translation is regarded as a form of critical reading and rewriting that “selects and organizes profiles of the source text in the target text” (p. 1). Rejecting the commonly held belief of critics and even the translators themselves that a [End Page 575] translation is subordinate or inferior to the source text, Bruno places translation in a pivotal position in this study of Yang Lian’s poetry.

The fact that Yang Lian writes in the Chinese language makes this a pioneering study on the process of poetry translation. Furthermore, for the specific aims of this investigation into the process of poetry translation from Chinese into English, the choice of Yang Lian is difficult to surpass. After leaving China in 1988, he lived in Australia and New Zealand before relocating to London in 1991. His charismatic presence as a performance poet instantly turned him into a global traveler who attended literary and poetry festivals several times each year. Most important and perfect for this study, since 1983, a significant part of his poetry has been translated by a number of different translators into English.

Bruno states that chapter 2 outlines the theoretical structure of the study. Informed by developments that have taken place over past decades in poststructuralist thought; reader-response theory and semiotics; and turning to instrumental texts by Barthes, Benjamin, Eco, Frey, and others, Bruno states that her aim is

to raise more questions about the complexity of cross-cultural understanding and substantiate the notion that reading is a creative and critical act and that translation, like reading, engages with the text and comments on it … [and to examine translation] as an activity that, coming to terms with the mechanisms of meaning production and aesthetic effects in the source text, is the depository of a comprehensive critical understanding of the original text. As such it can constitute a heuristic tool that enriches the act of reading the source text.

(p. 3)

Acknowledging that some scholars have addressed facets of the process of poetry translation, Bruno notes that these studies are concerned with Western literature and “never with contemporary Chinese poetry,” and theoretical models that have been presented so far “cannot always be applied to other poetic contexts” (p. 4). Bruno notes that the model of comparison between original source and target texts has been found to be conceptually problematic because of the dichotomous nature of the two. To overcome this difficulty, she adopts the unique strategy of comparing different English translations of the original Chinese text. In this way, she argues that it is possible to isolate how certain profiles in the source text have been prioritized over others, and how compositional devices have oriented individual translators. This triangular comparative analysis of comparing the source text with two translations provides “empirical data that enhance the act of reading the source text, simultaneously allowing insights into the dynamics of literary reading” (p. 5).

Bruno explains that chapters 3 and 4 attempt to show how “studying translation as a linguistic act and a creative enterprise illuminates certain mechanisms of the writing and reading processes, reactivates specific nuclei of the original text and illustrates how the original has worked with or against the prejudices, assumptions and values of its own linguistic and cultural context” (p. 7). She furthermore maintains that the approach she has adopted “enriches the experience of the poetic [End Page 576] text and shows that the translation and the original, far from being characterized by the insurmountable distance of two natural languages, two literatures and cultures, entertain a much more interactive relationship” (p. 7). The ambitious project summarized in the foregoing paragraphs, is...


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