- Proust, China and Intertextual Engagement: Translation and Transcultural Dialogue by Shuangyi Li
Shuangyi Li has produced an engaging, distinctive work of scholarship that makes a welcome addition to Proust studies while also contributing to a range of other fields. It brings a critical assessment of Proust's reception in China into dialogue with theoretical thinking about diaspora, translation, canon-formation, intertextuality, and the transcultural. It is a stimulating read, enriched by the use it makes of existing critical writing on Proust's novel as well as a wider spread of work in translation studies, world and comparative literature, and intertextuality. The author sets out to consider Proust 'through a cross-cultural and comparative prism' (p. 8); in doing so as a reader of French and English, with a native command of Chinese, he brings a rare set of critical capacities to bear on his objects of study. Part One of the book deals with the reception of Proust in China, first via a detailed historical account of the competing translations that exist (since 1989), then via an engagement with fictional works by three mainland Chinese writers considered as examples of Proust's 'postmodern hypertexts' (p. 85). The second, longer part of the book deals with the relations—intertextual and paratextual, structural and thematic—between Proust's novel and the writings of François Cheng, a generation older than the writers examined in Part One, and resident in France since 1948. While the younger writers (Wang Xiabo, 19 52–1997; Yu Hua, b. i960; and Wei Hui, b. 1973) read Proust in translation and in some cases in abridged or bowdlerized versions, and tend to appropriate a notion of Proust to 'enhance the cultural prestige of their works' (p. 12), L shows a more discriminating engagement with A la recherche du temps perdu on Cheng's part. For Cheng, Proust is not a commodity to be consumed but a point of departure, a sort of training that complements and enriches other modes of being and seeing (predominantly Daoism but also Buddhism and Confucian thought), such that his major novel Le Dit de Tianyi (1998) can be seen as a fascinating hybrid, an exemplary transcultural artefact, neither wholly 'French' nor wholly 'Chinese'. As Li puts it, Cheng's 'démarche proustienne [is] an aesthetic of reorientation and rapprochement (p. 154). It is a pity, given the discussion of Tianyi's 'livre à venir' (p. 134) and of Cheng's (and Proust's) handling of the Orpheus myth (pp. 207—19), that Maurice Blanchot is omitted from the critical framework. This said, in its final chapter the book feels in places to be somewhat overburdened [End Page 306] by substantive illustrative quotations, followed by translations, which take up space that might better have been given over to discussion and reflection. The cumulative overall effect of the book's argument, however, is persuasive. Li's brief conclusion turns to well-known voices in the field of world literature (such as David Damrosch, Wai Chee Dimock, Mads Rosendahl Thomsen) to restate the case for his 'constellation constructed around Proust and China' (p. 238). This is a lively work from which Proust scholars will learn and which indicates new possible avenues for research at the juncture of reception studies and global modernism.