Feb 9, 2022·edited Feb 10, 2022

Incase it’s helpful to anyone, here is how you can bookmark interesting or lengthy comments that you may wish to return to.

> Each comment or thread has it's own direct link.

> The link is in the date or time next to the name of commenter.

> Right click date or time.

> Or, if using ipad > Press and hold date or time.

> A multi choice menu will pop up and offer you organisational options.

> Select option: ‘add link to bookmarks’, ‘add link to reading list’, ’copy link’ etc.

> If you copy and paste the link it will look something like this ‘https://georgesaunders.substack.com/p/a-bonus-post/comment/4979964 ‘ or this ‘17 hr ago' so if you store it you may wish to rename or label it.

> If you select ‘add link to reading list’ or ‘add link to bookmarks’ you may also need to rename it because it may have the same name as George's original post (eg.’ A Bonus Post… with George Saunders’)

Different browsers (Safari, Chrome, Firefox, etc) will use different language and offer other options.

A bit clunky but it works and helps me to keep up with so many great comments.

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Thank you so much for this, George and everybody who contributed to the discussion. I have to admit that the Yang version of the story didn't really do it for me. I could appreciate the skill of the author but the human being behind the narrator was not someone I wanted to meet. I'm not sure why. The Lovell version throws the whole thing into a completely different light. Not being able to read the original, I have no idea how much of that is due to the translators' personalities, which would necessarily influence their reading of the intent behind the original words and how much to their skill in writing English words that evoke the original best, but it sure is fun to to think about it.

Anyone who has grown up bilingual in languages that are a long way apart (Croatian and English in my case) will remember moments of exquisite embarrassment when a seemingly reasonable translation turns out to be entirely off, or worse still, hilarious. Great translators are truly exceptional people, who can take us to another place and time and and show us aspects of other cultures that we could never otherwise experience in any other way. Wonderful stuff.

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As someone who is intensely overwhelmed by the amount of commentary here, I really appreciate having this interesting conversation brought to my attention and collated into an easier read. Many thanks!

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This is ridiculously fascinating. The 'new' translation provided is SO much better. Frankly I thought it was a poor choice - sorry George! - until I read the Lovell translation. Good work from the community.

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Ha, well, joining the conversation two weeks late, I commented on the original story post and shoulda realized that the Lovell translation would surely have been noted by someone else somewhere. And sure enough not only was it mentioned but the whole thing was posted... I am no expert on Lu Xun, nor on Chinese lit in general, but I am proficient in Chinese, and I can't help reading Lu Xun through a political lens since he is always introduced as the writer who "diagnosed" the illness he observed in the Chinese character in the early 20th century (insecurity and obsequiousness toward the rich, to put it simply). People who know anything about Lu Xun -- which would include just about any educated Chinese person older than 30 -- know his most famous story "The True Story of Ah Q", about a lower-class character who is desperate to ally himself in any way with the upper classes, to the extent that at one point he slaps himself in the face after a gambling loss, but believes that because he is doing the slapping, he's the winner (of the slapping, at least). Ah Q is sort of the Huckleberry Finn of modern Chinese lit -- the character who everyone knows of, and who is believed to symbolize something important about the culture. Anyway, reading "A Minor Incident", I can't help thinking about the class relations, and one simple reading of the story, I suppose, is that the upperish-class narrator appears to have learned something from his encounter -- that he should be more compassionate and feel more solidarity with the stressed-out working folks of Beijing. And that such compassion is more important than any of the huge political events of the day (which would be, the overthrow of the emperors and the violent struggle to figure out what would come next). I could be totally wrong of course, but I'd be curious to know if any Lu Xun scholars feel this makes sense. I'll have to go back and read the introduction in the Lovell book. I recall that Yiyun Li has an afterword in that volume...

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Thank you so much for this discussion on translation - it really helped to see the Julia Lovell version for me to understand the story better and see the nuances. I couldn't get the collision with the rickshaw out of my mind after reading the first version because the description of the collision seemed awkward and then for the narrator to be so convinced that the woman wasn't actually hurt felt odd. I also was thinking of translators and their place in time and their understanding of the local zeitgeist. The part where Lovell translates and mentions the 6th year of the Republic of China, for instance, feels more relevant to the context. Those touches throughout add so much context to the story. I also thought it interesting how a translation done in one period may need a new translation a few decades later to reflect the current language/style preferences. I am trilingual (English + Hindi/Urdu + another Indian language) - when I read translations of short stories from Hindi/Urdu to English, so much context seems lost at times - sometimes because of the translator/translation itself and sometimes because some words and phrases cannot be translated to communicate the same feeling in another language. For instance, the other day I was trying to explain to my 11 year old son that in Hindi/Urdu there is a phrase for someone staring unblinking or wide-eyed. The phrase is 'aankhen phaad-phaad kar dekhna' - which literally translates to watching by ripping one's eyes which wouldn't make any sense in English. And then there is the repetition of the word for rip/tear 'phaad' that adds to the effect. Onomatopoeia with nonsense words is also common in Indian languages that doesn't translate as effectively. So instead of saying someone was running fast, someone would say 'fur-fur bhaag rahe' - or running 'fur-fur' which would again be odd in translation. I found this exercise of reading this story closely very helpful at many levels - for the story itself but also for this wonderful discussion on what gets lost in translation based on when and by whom the translation happens. Thank you!

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Recommend Te-Ping Chen's "Shanghai Murmur" (2021) as a complement to Lu Xun's "The Incident" from an earlier generation. I used George's outlining method from this conversation to look at the escalating structure of this story. The story is about a changing China in its movement from a rural society to the urban, especially about class and the status of women.

From the Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/01/shanghai-murmur/617269/?utm_source=email&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=share

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Ok, well, since I mentioned it, here's what Yiyun Li (who grew up in China) says about Lu Xun in her afterword in the Penguin volume. I think it's likely in my addled brain this is/was the source of my view of Lu Xun as a fundamentally "political" writer: "...in my opinion, Lu Xun’s ambition to become a spiritual doctor, and his intention for his fiction to become cultural medicine for the nation’s diseased minds, in the end, limited him as a storyteller; the long shadow he cast in Chinese history has allowed the proliferation of many mediocre works while ending the careers of some of the most brilliant writers."

She also has a brief comment on "A Minor Incident", which, if I'm reading her right, she praises as one of her favorites by Lu Xun:

"... in ‘A Minor Incident’, an epiphany occurs towards the end, where a rickshaw-puller ‘suddenly seemed to loom taller, broader with every step he took, until I had to crick my neck back to view him in his entirety. It seemed to bear down on me, pressing out the petty selfishness concealed beneath my fur coat’ – in retrospect, I think that moment of epiphany was repeatedly copied out in our own essays in secondary schools and, more damagingly, it became a successful mode of storytelling for a generation of mediocre writers after Communism took over China."

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George, thanks for collating all these comments for us. I fell behind and wouldn't have been able to pick apart this fascinating discussion. Comparing the two versions, it does seem that Lovell added a lot of context that certainly does make the story more intelligible to me. At the same time, it makes it much less mysterious. While I didn't really get the first translation we read the couple of times I read it, our subsequent discussion here was like a path I walked down. I don't think I would have had that experience if we'd read the second, more "obvious" translation.

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This was wonderful to receive, thankyou George, Paul, Mark ,Darren and everyone who contributed, I feel lucky and inspired to be involved in this group- it is teaching me to read more carefully!

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The “bonus” post was indeed very welcome. For all of us non-native English speakers (I wonder, how many are we in Story Club?), the issues translation brings to a literary text can be devastating. I am sure this comment doesn’t concern the majority of participants here, you may skip reading it with no real loss.

Over the years, I’ve learned to live with the added set of problems a *series* of translations poses. What I mean? My mother tongue is Greek. Let’s assume I have an exceptionally good command of English (having attended college in the US) —I still *think* in Greek (most of the time). So, at least part of what I read in English is automatically translated by my brain into Greek. I cannot be certain which language the comprehension part occurs in, I suppose a combination of the two, I am almost certain though that the vast majority of the literary “dust” slowly covering my memory receptors (whatever they’re called) does so in Greek. So, I am presented with a Chinese story, translated in English. Several people have pointed certain inadequacies of the translation; even if the translation was somehow “perfect” I must assume it would be perfect for the intended audience, the native English speakers. I am bound to miss some nuances, to misinterpret some words or lines, because as I read the English it’s natural there are gaps in my comprehension and I also cannot help but to unconsciously, automatically translate things into Greek: I can feel this happening. When it so happens we’re discussing some text written in a language of some completely different culture and/or addressing issues which characterize a long past historical conjuncture, things can (will) run wild. The matter of context immediately becomes very important. Truly, I have found that a good amount of research is required on my part before I can begin addressing narratives originally written in a completely distant cultural or socio-political context. Research about the author, of course, but also research about the period, the events, the fate of the text/story/book. Helps me immensely.

Let me add my first encounter with George’s writings as an example. I was in a creative writing seminar in Athens and the instructor gave us “Sticks” by George Saunders to read, in Greek. He had done the translation himself and it was absolutely appalling! The story didn’t make any sense, had to read it in English to begin to understand. The translator had absolutely no experience of life in the States, no notion of what Veterans Day, Halloween, Fourth of July, Super Bowl actually signify. I could tell only because I had lived for some years in the US. Had I not bought George’s book to prove my points to the class, I would probably not be here with you today. A bad translation would have "condemned" that Saunders guy.

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A bonus that is fascinating to read.

So unexpected. So rich. So scholarly.

A bonus pebble that sends ripples out.

So far. So many ways. So stretching.

A bonus that breaks pond boundaries . . .

. . . not just those of 'An Incident'

Which translation is 'best'?

Why that 'take', not this 'take'?

Will today's 'best' be tomorrow's?

Was Lu Hsun's original bettered, yet? . . .

. . . isn't all writing, in several senses

Translation? Take two fine incidents

Lu Hsun's rickshaw collision on a road

Morse's heady long limbed river dive

Dangerous moments, published fruits

Of the translation of a story spark, first

To seed, then sown to seedling, so on

Through cycles of reviews, revisions

Twiddlings, tweakings, 'fine-tunings'

Some would say, until at last beyond

That final "Bah! Humbug!" the story

Is arrived, "What the Dickens!", ready

To be processed on to publication . . .

. . . 'Translate' has synonyms such as

> relocate ·

> transfer ·

> move ·

> remove ·

> shift ·

> convey ·

> transport ·

> transplant .

. . . every one of which Dickens does to my eye

Seem to deploy, in classily chamfering his raw

'Christmas Carol' from a rough tale in mind

To tale set on pages, framed fine in five staves . . .

. . . how do the doings of Scrooge, Cratchitt, Marley

Spirits of Past, Present, Future translate from English

Into Chinese I wonder, would words such as 'Christmas'

As 'Carol' present particular challenges and choices?

Just jots of passing thought,

Lapping lightly at the limits

Of this new-worlding pond

That riding outward ripples

{Set rolling, incidentally, by

Translations of one Lu Hsun

Short story, just one, story}

On my cerebral surf board

Has imaginatively shipped

Me up, upon on the shores of . . .

. . . In English, as it happens

'Translate' and 'Tsunami'

Each begin with Tea, Earl Grey

For me, Darjeeling for thee?

"And, 'nuff said, all that remains

For me to do is to press 'Post' . . . "

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I recently read this fascinating essay by Jennifer Croft on the challenges of translating Olga Tokarczuk from Polish into English:


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Credo in unum Deum,

Patrem omnipotentem,

factorem caeli et terrae,

visibilium omnium et invisibilium, . . .

This was the Latin Version of that part of a Catholic Mass in which The Faithful reaffirm their belief in The One True God which I, as a child and as an altar boy, grew up with in my attendances and also in serving at Mass. It was only when something known as a Vatican Council decided way back in the day that it made sense for Mass to be celebrated in the language spoken by those who attended Mass at their local church that I heard the English translation of what had been a Latin Mass.

This Bonus Post really has made me realise that a great proportion of the great stories which have profoundly influenced my life as a male born in England in the mid-1950s actually came to me in translation. Aesop was not a native English speaker, no more than the Brothers Grimm were. My first encounter with Geoffrey Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales' was facilitated by one Neville Coghill's translation if Old Geoff's English in Young Rob's English and it is only when I read Emile Zola's 'Germinal' in, I think a fantastic translation in, I think, a Penguin paperback edition by a translator whose name has long since escaped me that I began to comprehend that while France was, and is, a different country it and its people are not so different as some would have me believe. Without translator's Irene Nemirovski's marvellous, posthumously collated, edited and translated 'Suite Francaise' would never have crossed my reading radar no more than Bernard Schlink's marvellous 'The Reader' could have done. And without George having so enjoyed those 19th Century Russian Greats in translation well which of us would be here taking regular dips to swim and dive about a bit here in Story Club?

Makes a body think this Story Clubbering, and long may it continue to do so, " Cogito ergo scribo"?

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So helpful, thanks for sharing. While I can only accept other people's word for its being more accurate, Julia Lovell's translation definitely reads much better to me. Part of it is the specificity ("Confucian primers," e.g.). Part of it is her wonderful translation of the passage in which the driver begins to loom larger. Things that had left me scratching my head in the first translation (which I liked very much) somehow were clearer and thus more meaningful. I'm going to seek out that edition. But all of the comments by readers fluent in Chinese helped in understanding Lu Xun's intent.

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The last 3 posts (our 2 pauses) and this wonderful compilation of comments on translation are, in my weather world, perfect late winter gifts --- thank you, George, and all of those who contributed their knowledge of the Chinese language to the conversation --- so very enlightening. I happen to love the title "A Minor Incident" which adds to any confrontation with one's moral fiber the insight that even the smallest exchange or occurrence can ripple all the way out to the edges of oneself.

I heard Galway Kinnell give a talk about his own efforts at translation -- year ago -- and he started by saying (I'm paraphrasing) "Any translation is already a failure." This was sobering, but I thought, also wise, ---

Meanwhile, my day job kicked in to high gear (another benefit of the "pause") -- so back to it, but Sherman Alexie, if your still out there, we'll be screening clips from "Smoke Signals" in class today so the Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven lives on!! --- also in translation.

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