Thursday, October 19, 2006

ALTA conference keynote speech - rough notes

The keynote speaker this evening is Göran Malmqvuist, professor emeritus of Sinology at Stockholm University. He's speaking on Pound and Chinese translation, on ideographs and pictographs.

I missed a bit of the talk, and came in again to find Malmqvist trashing the "happy ending" version of Rickshaw Boy. I've read both versions and completely agree - what a travesty of what translation should be - to completely change the ending of a novel!

Malmqvist is mentioning the names of many writers... the author of "The Red Fields" "To Live" and one by a "woman writer", "Starving Daughter".

His own poetry goes back to ancient poetry - two of the traditional Chinese novels, one paraphrased into English, "All Men are Brothers" - and the 16th century, The Journey to the West. (Into Swedish.) Modern Writers - Shen Congwen - greatest novelist of his time - his autobiography, and short stories. And two great modern poets... An anthology of 42 poets... and now, contemporary writers, and the Nobel Laureate ... and by Li Rui... "When night falls I can't help longing for you" a gruesome tale of poor mountain villagers leading up to revolution. The novel by a policeman...

Prof. Malmqvist continues listing the many works he has translated...Then describes his process. First he reads & re-reads many times, without taking notes, to get the flow and the feel, articulating the text silently. He acquaints himself thoroughly with the milieu of the writer... loving and hating them. He also mentions that he refuses to see movies based on anything he's translated - or maybe anything he's read - to avoid the collision between his imagined work and the movie's vision.

Problems he has encountered as a translator:
in translating a plain colloquial language of Northern China, 16th century - In a review, a critic posed the question of style - should the novel sound like it was written in Swedish in the mid-1970s? Or should it attempt to be closer to popular language of the time - in Sweden?

A poem by a T'ang dynasty writer, Liu Zongyuan - 4 verses. Here is the asyntactic translation into English. "Alone fish cold river snow" Translating classical Chinese into a Western language like Swedish or English, forces the translator to decide on definite or indefinite, plural or singular, tenses, etc.

Then, some questions from the audience, some about translation and Chinese, but more questions about the Swedish Academy and its protests or non-protests of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, and I think another scandal, the details of which I didn't quite grasp.

I talked to a new member who is a translator of Korean to English, who was very excited to meet Prof. Malmqvist and was here hoping to meet someone from the Swedish Academy. ALTA can be great for networking that way!

(thanks to Geoff Waters, and, for corrections on names.)

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The Mandarin said...

Shen Zhongwen should read Shen Congwen. The four-line poem about the old man fishing in the snow is by Liu Zongyuan. In the line you quote, "gold" should be "cold." Corrections offered in a spirit of friendship.

Sorry you missed our panel on Erotic Chinese Poetry on Thursday afternoon - I would have loved to read you take on tthat one.

Geoff Waters

Liz Henry said...

I'm sorry I missed it too! You could join the blog and write up the Erotic Chinese Poetry panel. At least let us know something interesting about the books or authors we should be putting under our pillows.

Thanks for the corrections, and I fixed them in the post!