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reading translated literatures from other shores 43 43 “Take it with a Grain of MSG”: Reading Translated Literatures from Other Shores Yunte Huang In this age of globalization, transcoding is prevalent, ranging from adopting Unicode as the universal standard for digitizing all the scripts in the world to thematizing a foreign literary text as if it were a local story but scripted in a different language. In both cases, the other’s mode of inscription or structure of meaning is regarded as dispensable or secondary to the content, or data, to be processed and distributed by the megamachine that levels out all the differences of codes, temporalities, and localities. Against such a technocultural background, I propose in this essay that literatures translated and read in contexts radically different from the ones in which they were composed may teach us important lessons about the perils of transcoding and may prepare us, in the words of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “for a patient and provisional and forever deferred arrival into the performance of the other” (13). Between impatient transcoding and patient response, Spivak reminds us, “there is a world of difference” (13). Because my expertise in foreign literature is limited to Chinese, I will confine my discussion in this essay to two kinds of Chinese literary work: classical poetry and transnational literature. In both cases, I suggest that it is not enough for North American instructors and students simply to look for and rely on a good translation that reads elegantly and smoothly in English. The more important tasks lie in teaching and learning the ideographic quality ofChinesecharacters,thehistoryofliterarygenres,and the culturalfunctions of these genres in given historical contexts. Better still, in the case of classical Chinese poetry, there is in North America a very long history of translation and reception that has literally made Chinese poetry part of the Englishlanguage literature. Similarly, some of the Chinese literary works produced by immigrants to North America have made their way into the literary canon 44 literature in translation hereafterbeing translated.Eventhough this canon stillmaintainsan imperial English-only policy, the multilingual view of North American literature has gained increasing currency in recent years and will create a double imperative for us not just to read those immigrant texts in translation and to know their literaryandculturalspecifics,butalsotoregardthosespecificsaspartofNorth American literature.1 Aware of the importance of shifting contexts, I will now discusshowtoreadtranslatedclassicalChinesepoetryinlightoftheentangled historyofreceptionandappropriationbyAnglo-Americanmodernism,andI will address what to look out for when we read a text such as one of the Angel Island poems discussed below, which were originally written in Chinese but are now known almost exclusively in English translation. In the history of cross-cultural literary appropriation, nothing may sound as outrageous as T. S. Eliot’s assertion that Ezra Pound was “the inventor of Chinese poetry for our time” (xvi). Seen in a different light, however, Eliot may be right: he does qualify his claim by calling Pound the inventor of Chinese poetry “for our time.” That is, Pound did not invent Chinese poetry as such, but rather Chinese poetry in English translation. This is not the place for a full account of the invention to which Eliot refers, but it would be impossible , or at least delusional, for us to believe that we could come face to face with a Chinese poem directly or through translation without knowing the basic premises of that invention, because our understanding of poetry in general has been shaped by Anglo-American modernism, which in turn was shaped partly by its translations and appropriations of other poetic traditions, such as the Chinese. Take, for example, the following poem by Wang Wei (701–761), titled “Wei City Tune”: Translated literally, the poem reads: Wei City’s morning rain wets the light dust The guest-inn blues with new willow hue reading translated literatures from other shores 45 Asking you to drink one more round West of Yang Gate, not friend to be found Ezra Pound, in Cathay (1915), renders it as: Light rain is on the light dust. The willow of the inn-yard Will be going greener and greener, But you, Sir, had better take wine ere your departure, For you will have no friends about you When you come to the gates of Go. ThelibertyPoundtookwiththeoriginalhasmadehisversionquitecontroversial , and scholars are divided as to how to evaluate the reliability of his translation . But I think his so-called mistranslations or errors are more interesting and may teach us more about Chinese poetry than a “faithful” translation. As I have...

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