Why The Better Chinese Writer Is Often the Harder Sell in the West: Musings on Wang Zengqi 汪曾祺

 

 

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http://solo78.deviantart.com/art/Broken-Bridge-Scene-252501731

 

Here are some personal reaction, cum brief background, about the writer of “The Connoisseur,” a short story I translated. Wang Zengqi (1920-1997) is, in my opinion, one of modern China’s best writers. He belongs to that last flowering generation of intellectuals who, steeped in an uninterrupted cultural tradition that assimilated every successful invader of China, took up the challenge and clarion call from the West. As a young writer, he counted Woolf and Faulkner among his influences. Li He, an 8th-century poet (imagine a Coleridge who fulfilled his promise with 220 poems), inspired Wang with his gorgeous desolation. Wang represented the best hope of a China that died young.

 

The post-1949 dystopia destroyed the promise of China’s writers. When the Party permitted them to write again, they no longer knew how. Having had it hammered into them that Western literature was a pernicious colonialism and Chinese culture a tool of class exploitation, they had nowhere to turn. Servile to political goals for decades, their stunted genius saw a second burial. Wang was one of a handful of exceptions. 

 

What makes Wang stand out among those chosen few is his purity and freedom. He writes as if the Communist devastation has never been. There is no more remarkable act of writerly rebellion. His language, now nourished by a brawny vigor from years of folk theater work, is of a lovely simplicity. A Chekhov who has finally reached peace with himself, he reimagines a China at once panoramic and exact, its struggles, injustices and beautiful things ordered by an ineluctable humanity. That goes against the grain of everything the Party upholds. His classical learning, effortlessly wielded without ostentation, defies and undoes the harm of Newspeak. To this day the Chinese remains largely robbed of their capacity to envision a world and future other than what the Party wills, because their language itself has become so corrupted. In writing like Wang’s, where what is human and universal from China’s enduring past is distilled and fit into the present, the hope for another renaissance beckons. 

 

Wang has not been translated much, perhaps in part because of what makes up his genius. I hope to change that in what small way I can. The Western reader has very little knowledge of the cultural backdrop which informs Wang’s writing. What makes him so valuable to the Chinese makes him a harder sell here. It struck me that the Internet is our best friend when it comes to bridging those gaps. I try to illuminate the lost world of his writing through web links to Chinese architecture, paintings, calligraphy and cartoons of the inside of a 1920’s Beijing clothier. They are easier to get to and less disruptive to the flow of reading than footnotes. I’m hoping to get reader thoughts from my DC Literature meetup, if I can lobby the folks there to hold a discussion session on the story. My goal is to turn reader feedback into revisions to this translation. Whether a story from a foreign land leaves readers baffled, irritated, bemused or hungry for more, their response shines a bright light on where the two cultures collide and coincide, in ways slowly revealing to us. 

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鬼祟沒品的譯者:挑揀汪曾祺

著手翻譯汪曾祺的短篇。

緣起,參加華府這邊一個經典讀書會,他們從三四年前創會至今,西洋認做邊陲之地的日本蘇俄都到了一到,只沒選過一篇中文。我放在心上,想想阿正傳用來啟蒙未免,嗯,太阿Q了。《奔月》極發噱,《采薇》哀樂交加,但典故是障礙,姑且放棄。馬上接下來想到汪曾祺。

谷歌上粗略一翻,汪在英語網上似乎甚是冷落。Paper Republic英譯中文當代文學的群英會上,汪老只掛了個名。《陳小手》有英文版流傳。《受戒》也有洋人在自己博客上稍提了提,說是“抒情風景還蠻美的,也介紹了好些角色和當地民俗,然而不是把這些加起來就算故事了。”您哪位?沒聽過契科夫麼?想必這個洋讀者嫌棄的是“受戒”看似情節推進寥寥。我猜他以為末了少男少女划進蘆葦裡是拍MV

美國就是這樣。前一陣子去圖書館借契科夫,一看導讀叫理查福特,李小明張大軍之流的洋名,我照例瞠目結舌:您哪位?然而看書的封套推介,正是福特先生大樹下好乘涼,要推他多賣幾本書短篇小說終結者契科夫的書!這什麼世道?終於我這現世廢人也不得不上網翻了翻,原來福君寫過遭好萊塢電影改編過的小說。想到有人說笑兼說情:“Don’t judge a book by its movie,”“不以電影論原著好壞,”套的自然是“毋以貌取人,不以封面論書”的老話,用在福特先生身上,不知合適與否,讀過的朋友請賜教一二。(後記:蒙傅月庵指點,福先生才氣頗有餘,是我書看得太少,自慚淺陋。)

既然急切沒看到好的譯文,那就挽袖子自己動手了。

挑起來煞是費事。《黃油烙餅》? 集體公社引來大饑荒,祖母寧肯餓死,將松花般鵝黃的兩瓶奶油留貽子孫,催淚是催淚,怕太長。數歲孩童敘事的文字霎看稚拙,也最難。這一口氣要提著不鬆,我沒把握裝假裝那麼久,也怕洋人耐性燒光。招偶像作者附上我的身,跳神說英文,整件事先就荒謬到不行。

要雨果和契科夫並肩加持,方能傳出汪那淵博雅潔背後勃勃之氣的本色。莎翁說得好,“此念不息,萬劫不復,” 無濟於事。

盡量精悍短小,討好多動症的外國讀者,要不《茶乾》?身為吃貨,這篇我偏愛,而且“有些東西,沒有,也就沒有了”每次都打我一悶棍,拿來說整個中國文化不過分。但在外國人眼裡多半水鬼尿那麼淡。奧斯丁的象牙好歹還有個二寸見方呢,挑篇幅長一點的作品,才得窺汪老功力堂奧。在《徙》門口徘徊了一會,那個夠悲慘夠普世,打掉一半剩一半,女主只是可憐深愛她的男主,一死一瘋的愛情故事吊在後半,遠水救不得近火。《徙》一開頭“浩翠寫國門”迎面攔著一段震鑠中外的《莊子》,追加一首小學校歌,頭兩句:

西挹神山爽氣,
東來鄰寺疏鐘…

洋人等不到豐姿楚楚的美人上場,訝異又高興她戴漂白細草帽,白紗手套,感覺很親切,已經陣亡異鄉。我覺得翻譯就是一個無限倒賠的勾當。“西山爽氣”的典故裡不屌上司的才子王獻之有多颯爽讀起來有多爽,面臨翻譯的時候就有多想對牢八國聯軍下跪求饒。沒有一點點美麗優雅蘊藉的東西不叫你十倍百倍的付出代價。

看過美國譯會有人孤憤不合時宜道:“譯者總有點鬼祟沒品,seedy,” 其實還不止,應該是“羶腥,”差“下作”也就拐個街角而已。看我這迎合的心理。可不這樣又能如何?樓上我吐槽嫌棄汪的那位西洋讀者,至少肯看,已經是萬裡挑一了——得扳著他的臉,激光筆打進他瞳孔裡,才好叫他讀懂東方的夾縫文章。說什麼嚼飯哺人,翻譯是心肺復甦。

但我畢竟還是動手了。祝我好運吧。至於挑了哪篇,又如何霹靂蓋頂,請看下回分解。