Transcultural Translation/Transference
in Contemporary Chinese Poetry

By Yang Xiaobin

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 42-85

Almost all major Chinese poets in the post-Mao era (including Duo Duo, Yang Lian, Hai Zi, Xi Chuan, Bai Hua, Chen Dongdong, Wang Jiaxin, Zhang Shuguang, Xi Du, Zhang Zao, Ouyang Jianghe, Sun Wenbo, Zang Di, Xiao Kaiyu, among others) have been enthusiastic in writing about their western (post-)modernist forerunners (Kafka, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Yeats, Yesenin, Mayakovski, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva, Gide, Breton, D’Annunzio, Brecht, Pound, Nabokov, Borges, Elytis, Brodsky, Ginsberg, etc.). In a way, this can be understood as translation of the great Western minds into the Chinese context. But if translation is etymologically synonymous to transference, we can discover that the process of translation can also be seen as that of transference in the psychoanalytic sense that links the Western masters (as texts) and their Chinese followers (as readers): the latter, nevertheless, transfer back feelings onto the former. This paper examines, with the help of the Lacanian theory of transference, how various attempts of the Chinese poets address, in different ways, to the presumably authoritative other, whom Lacan calls the “supposed subject of knowledge” (sujet supposé savoir). The major trends of transcultural transference in recent Chinese poetry correspond to the three Lacanian registers of the imaginary, the symbolic and the real: (1) imaginary identification with the other as the ideal-ego to create an intact, narcissistic, albeit illusionary, mirror image; (2) symbolic identification with the big Other as the ego-ideal that is expected to construct a modern(ized) cultural subject; and (3) transformation of the Other into an objet petit a as the way to invoke the ever-eluding desire and approach the traumatic core of the impossibility of identification or self-identity, a sensibility deeply embedded in the cultural symbolic in contemporary China.