MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Benjamin Ridgway’s review of The Organization of Distance: Poetry, Translation, Chineseness (Brill 2018), by Lucas Klein. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/ridgway/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.
Kirk Denton, editor
The Organization of Distance:
Poetry, Translation, Chineseness
By Lucas Klein
Reviewed by Benjamin Ridgway
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright November, 2020)
To disuss the contributions of Lucas Klein’s The Organization of Distance, Poetry, Translation, Chineseness, as well as its flaws, one needs to start at the ending. Klein draws on the insight made by Friedrich Schleiermacher in 1813 that translators tend to either leave the writer of a work alone and endeavor to move the reader toward the unfamiliar culture of that work, in an act that Klein terms “foreignization,” or move the work closer to the reader’s horizon of expectations, making it more familiar and palatable, in an act he calls “nativization.” These two terms, informed by his understanding of debates on translation and translingual practice in the study of both modern and premodern Chinese literature, form the critical fulcrum for his interrogation of the “Chinesenss” of poetry written in both modern and classical Chinese. To grasp what Klein means by “Chineseness,” one needs to link points raised in the conclusion of his book back to the introduction. On the one hand, Klein intends to upset the binary between modern and premodern Chinese poetry through a reinterpretation of poetry of the Tang (618-907). His resistance to a static notion of Chineseness is deeply informed by the 1990s debates spurred by Stephen Owen’s article “What Is World Poetry.” In his introduction, Klein discusses the range of reactions to one of Owen’s most controversial claims—that modern Chinese poets wrote under the assumption/anticipation their poetry would be translated into Western languages. Klein notes that in this debate both those critics who, like Owen, disparage modern poets for cutting themselves off from a rich “native” classical poetic tradition and those who praise the radical clashing of the modern with the staid “Chineseness” of this tradition share a common blindness. He keenly observes that “For both of them, upholding premodernity as the seat of Chineseness lost, mournfully or gleefully, to a changing world is afforded by the fact that neither side looks very closely at the cross-cultural and translational elements of premodern Chinese poetry” (pp. 12-13). Continue reading