Victor Mair/Howard Goldblatt syndrome

Rap, then make it chinese rap, then add translation, then add victor mair = disaster.

It seems every time I read something by victor mair there's always something new for me to cringe about.


Where to start? Who knows.

It's kind of like the train wreck feeling I have when I'm forced to look at 林语堂's 'dictionary.'

Obviously Victor isn't that bad, and 林语堂 isn't either, but they're just off on so many fronts that you don't know where to start.

When you grow up kids, don't be a translator in the vain of these three men. They mean well, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. 周恩来, I think. I think one thing I want to say is, don't translate like that. As for other things, oh, where to start

4 条评论:

  1. I can see where you're coming from with the Victor Mair translating rap thing, but I'd be interested to hear on what 'fronts' they are 'off' on, in general.

  2. Let's not get into Goldblatt becuase I want to see him next week maybe at Bookworm. As for Mair's 'translation', I will say this: there is a reason why to be a quality translator one must not only have a good command of of the target language, one must also have a excellent command of the target language's usage in said area (in this case, 'rap'). Additionally, the translator must also be well versed in his native tongue's usage in the field he is translating. Example: If you want to be a quality translator of rap from chinese to english, it probably helps if you not only know the chinese rap (and music scene very well), know chinese very well, but also know rap in english very well, and the language and usage. This is why lawyers in foreign countries get other lawyers to be their translators, or bankers get bankers from other countries to be their bankers. You have to know how things read and come across in both languages. I'm not saying you have to be a rapper to know how rap comes across in english to an american audience, but what we get from what Mair is a "meaning transfer" or a 'meaning translation', and still an iffy one at that. This is about what your average chinese national would produce if they were forced to translate chinese rap into english. You get lots of things that just read horrible and are eyesores. The related goldblatt phenomenon is this kind of 'sinicization' or 'ethnicization' or 'ghettoization', whatever, where one fails to put two languages with vastly different standards and colloquial natures into proper comparison. Actually, Goldblatt I think makes stuff up and makes things too english sometimes, there are some words that you'll probably never translate into english from chinese. I'm right now thinking of the word 'dude' as used in colloquial english, but then again, i could be convinced that 哥们 might be translated that way. But that is neither here nor there.

    With Mair you get a tinges of a chinese where every 'look' is a 'glance' and every 'walk around' is a 'wander', and there is no red, but only vermilion. But, I shouldn't be too hard on him, it is outside of his research field (I imagine), and it probably just was written up to get the 'meaning' across.

    There is accuracy and then there is readability and there is translation. English can only be pulled so far until it becomes something else. You can't write translate a lot of chinese into english without a lot of sacrifice. If you don't sacrifice you get shit like, "Sister, Is the private car still not ready?" You shouldn't read a translation and say, ok, this comes from a language where the usage is really different and the translator brought just close enough to english to be readable without crying. I think translation should be to the point where you can just pick out that it is a translation, and that should come from the content, nouns, locations, etc, not necessarily because the language is so jarring.

    Some examples:

    1 .glutinous cakes. To me, under no circumstances acceptable in any translation other than a reference book explaining the meaning of the original term.

    2. There's a photo of Ma Sanliiv displayed at the teahouse nearby.

    'displayed'. Mair doesn't seem to grasp how clunky this word is in english and how unncessary it is.

    3. Dregs of oil scented with malt heave in porcelain jars with floral design

    Just look at that sentence.

    4. A hawker at the entrance of a hutong alley is stringing candied haws

    hawker? Really? Hawker? Let's meet up Szchewan while we're at it.

    Seeing words like 'basin' and 'seeped' every third word are enough to drive me crazy. Yes, these are the correct literal concepts that the chinese expresses, and chinese in general may be more specific and 'formal' with a lot of nouns, verbs, or adjectives, but you have to accept that they all can't come in, especially not in this context.

    Not every chinese piece of writing or speech is a some high level piece of poetry, but if you have every rapper spitting out vermillion this, glutinous rice that, you clearly have a problem.

    Even words choices lie 'weary', when added up with everything else start to cause eruptions.

    "Why do I feel so weary today?"

    I think there is a failure large split between what I think of as the Wade-Giles set (or perhaps the early pinyin set) and the new class, gen-x (the new mutants, not the kurt cobain crowd). They seem to place chinese and china in the 'china box' it all fits into the china category and its language and culture is all 'other.' I think its important to get past this and understand the cabbie screaming is actually saying 'what the fuck/hell are you talking about?" and not "What in heavens is this?" despite one's best effort to preserve 'literal and faithful' translation. You have to fill in the gaps and realize chinese is really often times saying the exact same thing and doesn't have to be put in the everything is 'wafting' or 'seeping' category, regardless of what the original chinese states. I'm done here. I hope that clears up things a bit.

    And if you are Victor asking this or reading this, don't think we don't appreciate your work. Translating is hard to do.

  3. Wow, thanks for the really involved answer. And no, I'm not Victor, just an interested passer-by.

    I think it's obvious that Victor Mair belongs to the “'auspicious' instead of 'lucky'” set as you have so aptly described, where it's all about 赤县神州 and not 中国; and every hackneyed hip-hop generation x-er is the reincarnation of 苏轼.
    However it works the other way too - I was reading some god-awful translation of the 封神演义, in which someone said "I'll kick your ass"; or something to that effect, and I thought, well, I'm not entirely sure this fits with the register of the semi-文言 semi-白话 ming novel. So, obviously all kinds of translation have their place.
    I was interested why you think the same with Lin Yutang - remember he's from a different era and wasn't translating hip-hop lyrics in his dictionary. To me Lin belongs on a pedestal next to 钱钟书 and 胡适 and the like.

  4. Just look at Lin Yutang's dictionary. Really look through it. If it were just another dictionary by another random publishing house I wouldn't care, but if you are going to put out a dictionary, it better be good, and his is not, even for its day. On the other hand, it would be useful for its day if one wants to translate things into english like 'mental worker'. I know he must have had an english editor, but I think the mentality was the same, chinese gets to create mush and fake english and no one gets to say a damn thing about it.

    I think Lin Yutang falls in the category that believes all chinese 'wanders' do mean 'wander in english, and can be translated that way, a reverse Mair, we can say. I should go easier on Lin, he was much older and had to deal with Waley-like translations or worse, Ezra Pound like 'ruminations.'

    As for the 'kick your ass' in older texts, you get it both ways, like you said, you get the literal translations of 'curse words', even in the Shapiro 'Outlaws of the Marsh' or sometimes old-timey english 'curse words'. Either way it makes the entire thing totally inaccessible. It's a translation, make it readable.

    It's not merely that Mair and and Lin Yutang are auspicious and not lucky, its that they don't seem to grasp how this is received in the language, and how it affects how works for that language and that language and culture are received. It's real easy to orientalize or exoticize things if you hold a certain attitude about the world being full of these distinct cultures and languages.

    I think the chinese thoughts about their language and their whole writing tradition can really mess people up if they don't have a real good grasp of their ideas about language and translation and culture before tackling chinese head-on.

    As for the major chinese intellectuals of the 20th century, and their works, and contributions, and my opinions of those things, that's probably best saved for another post, or perhaps a different blog.