The public life of contemporary Chinese poetry in English translation
School of Oriental and African Studies
This essay is an exploration of some of the social and cultural factors that have played a role in the production, publication and reception of English translations of contemporary Chinese poetry, from the beginning of the 1980s to today. The aim is to link translations to the broader context, highlighting modalities and expectations of reception that have evolved within the social structures through which the translation of contemporary Chinese poetry has been circulating: the publishing industry, universities, the periodical press, public intellectual debates, and the market. The article does not try to establish if this or that expectation are either real or perceived features of the source texts. Nor does it deal with translators’ individual interpretations, their private readings. Instead, adopting a wider sociocultural approach, the analysis proposes to shed light on the industrial and commercial dimension—the public life—of contemporary Chinese poetry in English translation.
Since the early definition of descriptive translation studies (DTS) as that branch of translation studies with a tripartite concern for translation as product, translation as function, and translation as process (Holmes 1972: 176–177), the study of translation as a complex sociocultural phenomenon has been establishing a conspicuous curriculum, producing a wide corpus of works. While commenting that ‘function-oriented DTS’ shifts attention from text to context, Holmes explains that this area of research pursues “such questions as which texts were (and, often as [ p. 254 ]important, were not) translated at a certain time in a certain place, and what influences were exerted in consequence”. He concludes by saying that focusing attention on these aspects of translating activities “could lead to the development of a field of translation sociology” (1972, 177).
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