Writ­ers tackle role of en­vi­ron­ment in lit­er­a­ture

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By LI NA in Toronto re­nali@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

The chal­lenges of trans­lat­ing lit­er­ary works, and the role of the en­vi­ron­ment in lit­er­a­ture got Chi­nese and Cana­dian writ­ers talk­ing at two panel dis­cus­sions.

The Univer­sity of Water­loo Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute (CI) co-or­ga­nized the first China Fo­rum at the 35th In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val of Au­thors at the Har­bourfront Cen­tre in Water­loo and Toronto Oct 25-26.

In Found in Trans­la­tion, the group dis­cussed is­sues that arise when trans­la­tions are mis­in­ter­preted.

“When you read a novel trans­lated from another lan­guage, the sense of the lan­guage is dif­fer­ent; we only get the ba­sic idea of the story, while the last­ing ap­peal and feel­ing of the lan­guage has de­clined,” said Jin Yucheng, deputy ed­i­tor of Shang­hai Lit­er­a­ture.

Tashi Dawa, chair­man of the Ti­betan Writ­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, said: “I feel very strange when I read my works trans­lated into other lan­guage.”

“My ex­pe­ri­ence is that I will not put my works to oth­ers’ hands, as I don’t know how the trans­la­tor will deal with my works,” said Li Yan, a bilin­gual nov­el­ist who per­son­ally trans­lated her first English novel into Chi­nese.

“I re­al­ize the way the lan­guage is con­structed is dif­fer­ent, and maybe that will lead to dif­fer­ent un­der­stand­ing,” said au­di­ence mem­ber David Wein­berg. “On the other hand, it re­ally de­pends on your ex­pe­ri­ences. Thus, you can get dif­fer­ent ideas of the lan­guage.

“The lan­guage can be trans­lated, while the ex­pe­ri­ences of life can­not be trans­lated,” he said. “What made it dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand is not lan­guage; it is the cul­tural dif­fer­ence. The sim­i­lar prob­lem ex­ists among any other lan­guages.”

A con­cern raised by the Chi­nese writ­ers is that with glob­al­iza­tion, some Chi­nese au­thors try to write in an in­ter­na­tional style, in­flu­enced by English phrases and ex­pres­sions.

Although that ap­proach may be eas­ier for in­ter­na­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tion, it can di­min­ish the dis­tinct cul­tural fea­tures of the orig­i­nal lan­guage.

More than 2,000 for­eign works will be trans­lated into Chi­nese ev­ery year, said Shi Zhan­jun, ed­i­tor in chief of Path­light, an English-lan­guage lit­er­ary mag­a­zine pro­duced by the Peo­ple’s Lit­er­a­ture Mag­a­zine in China.

The pub­li­ca­tion aims to in­tro­duce the best new writ­ing and po­etry from China to for­eign­ers. Shi said that not many Chi­nese au­thors are known out­side of their home coun­try.

Many of the Cana­dian writ­ers and schol­ars were cu­ri­ous about free­dom of ex­pres­sion in China be­cause they have of­ten heard that there is no free­dom of speech and writ­ing there.

“Cana­dian friends can take a look at the works writ­ten by Mo Yan, the Nobel Prize-win­ner,” said Dawa. “There are ac­tu­ally so many crit­ics of Chi­nese so­ci­ety in all of his works.”

“We should try to avoid dis­trust based on mis­un­der­stand­ing, and bring a peace­ful en­vi­ron­ment for ev­ery­one who lives in the same globe,” said Li Yan, CI di­rec­tor at the Univer­sity of Water­loo. “The more you know each other, the bet­ter you un­der­stand each other.”

“All of us share a common en­vi­ron­ment on the planet, yet as in­di­vid­u­als we cre­ate, shape and ex­pe­ri­ence our own unique en­vi­ron­ments,” said Li, when she spoke at A Sino-Canada Lit­er­ary Fo­rum: Lit­er­a­ture and Our En­vi­ron­ment.

“We have seen lit­er­ary crit­i­cism delve into the ways in which our en­vi­ron­ments help shape lit­er­a­ture as well as how lit­er­a­ture re­sponds to a vast va­ri­ety of in­flu­ences from our po­lit­i­cal, cul­tural and nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ments,” Li said.

“The en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sue has be­come a ma­jor is­sue faced by all hu­man races, and that is why this con­fer­ence fo­cused on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween lit­er­a­ture and en­vi­ron­ment,” said Dr Dar­rol Bryant, dis­tin­guished pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Reni­son Univer­sity Col­lege.

In North Amer­ica, the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment can be traced back to the pub­li­ca­tion of the book Silent Spring in the late 1950s. The book dealt with the im­pact of chem­i­cals on the life of birds, an­i­mals and the en­vi­ron­ment and raised aware­ness about the im­pact of hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties on the en­vi­ron­ment.

“In China, there has been a long and con­tin­u­ous tra­di­tion of writ­ing and think­ing on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween na­ture and hu­man be­ings,” said Shi, the Path­light ed­i­tor.

“From Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi in an­cient times, to the con­tem­po­rary writ­ers and even younger gen­er­a­tions, all of them have put their deep thoughts about na­ture in their lit­er­ary works,” Shi said.

Shi said that in tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween hu­man­ity and na­ture is de­scribed thusly: “Hu­man fol­lows up the earth; the earth fol­lows up the sky; the sky fol­lows up the dao (ob­jec­tive law), and the dao fol­lows up the na­ture. The an­cient Chi­nese put them­selves in a hum­ble po­si­tion in the re­la­tion­ship with na­ture and treat it with high re­spect.”


Chi­nese lit­er­ary critic Shi Zhan­jun, sec­ond from left; Li Yan, the di­rec­tor of the Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute at the Univer­sity of Water­loo; mod­er­a­tor Jonathan Camp­bell; lit­er­a­ture ed­i­tor Jin Yucheng and Ti­betan writer Tashi Dawa dur­ing the talk Found in Trans­la­tion co-or­ga­nized by the In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val of Au­thors at the Har­bourfront Cen­tre on Oct 25 in Toronto.

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