The Organization of Distance

Poetry, Translation, Chineseness


Author: Lucas Klein
What makes a Chinese poem “Chinese”? Some call modern Chinese poetry insufficiently Chinese, saying it is so influenced by foreign texts that it has lost the essence of Chinese culture as known in premodern poetry. Yet that argument overlooks how premodern regulated verse was itself created in imitation of foreign poetics. Looking at Bian Zhilin and Yang Lian in the twentieth century alongside medieval Chinese poets such as Wang Wei, Du Fu, and Li Shangyin, The Organization of Distance applies the notions of foreignization and nativization to Chinese poetry to argue that the impression of poetic Chineseness has long been a product of translation, from forces both abroad and in the past.

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Lucas Klein (PhD Yale) is Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong. In addition to translations of Xi Chuan, Mang Ke, and Li Shangyin, he has published critical and scholarly work in LARB, CLEAR, Comparative Literature Studies, and PMLA.
‘The introduction’s theoretical framework will surely be a contribution to translation studies, the modern chapters are as astute as they are powerful, and the conclusion on the role of transformation in the construction of Chineseness carefully articulates the political implications of the book. (…) More scholars would do well to work as ambitiously as Klein in this book, to write across the gaps of China and the West, modern and premodern, sinology and comparative literature – gaps that can only be bridged by translation.’

Thomas J. Mazanec, Journal of Translation Studies, New Series, 3: 2 (December 2019)

List of Figures

Introduction: The Great Wall and the Tower of Babel: On Chinese Poetry as Translation
Part 1
1 Discerning the Soil: Dual Translation and the World Poetics of Bian Zhilin
2 By the Brush: Yang Lian and the Translated Poetics of Ethnography
Part 2
3 Indic Echoes: Form, Content, and Contested Chineseness in Six Dynasties and Tang Regulated Verse
4 Composing Foreign Words: Canons of Nativization in the Poetry of Du Fu
5 An Awakening Dream: Borders and Communication in the Translation of Li Shangyin
Conclusion: Realms of Transformation: Chinese Dreams and Translational Realities

Character Glossary of Names, Titles, and Terms
Works Cited
All interested in modern and/or medieval Chinese poetry, as well as translation, translation studies, and comparative literature.