The translator as cartographer: Cognitive maps and world-making in translation

Leonora Min Zhou

The concept of a cognitive map has been borrowed from psychology by literary scholars to denote the mental representation of the spatial layout of (a) storyworld(s). The classic Chinese novel 紅樓夢 HongloumengThe Story of the Stone’ (also known as The Dream of the Red Chamber) is particularly well-known for its topographic representation of a storyworld of self-contained totality and detailed veracity. Using David Hawkes’s English translation of the novel and various materials from his notebooks, this article demonstrates the translator’s (mental) cartographic effort to conjure up ‘maps in mind’ in response to the textual spatial cues. I argue that Hawkes’s cognitive maps offer explanations to some translational performances that have been too readily glossed over as insignificant. The article also aims to chart a new path forward for systematic investigation into the significance of the translator’s imaginative participation in ‘the world inside the text’, for the sake of an enriched understanding of translation, both as a product and a process.

Publication history
Table of contents

Anyone who reads China’s greatest eighteenth-century novel 紅樓夢 HongloumengThe Story of the Stone’ (also known as The Dream of the Red Chamber) will be impressed by the detailed and extravagant description of the Jia family’s luxurious mansions and gardens. Although all the major events in the novel take place in a confined domestic environment, the result of the novel’s descriptive richness is a world of self-contained totality, a world that is as tremendously realistic as it is imaginary and fictional. Reader after reader has drawn on the novel’s detailed textual information and their own creative imagination to produce the many paintings, drawings, and maps of the novel’s mansions and gardens. This speaks to readers’ deep infatuation with this unique dream-like world, or what Patrón (2007) calls “the seduction of seeing a world that is not our own” (260; italics in the original).

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