Review

Wrestling with the Text

Eleanor Goodman reviews The Reciprocal Translation Project

One hardly knows where to begin with this tangle. Here we have poets who have “translated” each other’s work, despite largely not knowing each other’s languages. This is done grâce à people mysteriously labeled “bilingual specialists,” who put together something called “literal translations, including several options for words that have multiple meanings.” That is to say: they translate the poems. So why are these “bilingual specialists” not the “translators”? The point, as I take it, is to save that particular appellation for “the poets” involved in the project, an issue which I will return to below.

Translation is a notoriously tricky business, and no one really agrees on what it is and what it is not.

Review

Republic of Letters

Eleanor Goodman reviews A New Literary History of Modern China, edited by David Der-Wei Wang

One evening this summer as I was waiting for a table at a restaurant, I overheard a well-dressed woman describing a bike trip she was planning to take to Japan. “I’m so excited about it,” she told her companion, “that I just picked up Memoirs of a Geisha.” That literature is a window onto a culture – a point of access that can be utilized even from afar, a safe mental space in which one’s own attitudes, prejudices, preconceptions, and expectations can be challenged and even altered – is an idea that is not only true but important. In an era in which globalism is a simple fact and travel to previously remote places is easy and ordinary, while simultaneously xenophobia and racial fear-mongering are on the rise, there is an increasing need for exposure to other cultures in many forms. Then again, reading a book written by a white man about sex workers in the 1930s and 40s does not necessarily offer the most accurate picture of Japan as it exists today.