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Guy Davenport’s translation of Mao

(From The Paris Review. Link to the complete article given below)

In 1979, Guy Davenport’s second book of “stories” appeared: Da Vinci’s Bicycle. He was fifty-one. I put quotation marks around the word stories because almost nothing happens in any of them. When they’re good, they’re good for other reasons. 

Davenport was a disciple of Ezra Pound and James Joyce, and like everyone answering that description, he was a supreme crank. The main problem with all of these guys is that they vastly overestimate the value of literary allusion. And I know all about it, ’cuz I was ruined in my youth by these lizard-eating weirdos. Davenport certainly did his part.

They were all brilliant. They could write sentences that stick with you forever. Most people never write even one; these guys could practically cut them off by the yard. Yet, none of ’em knew when to stop. They always, always got carried away. My hypothesis is that too much of their motivation for writing was to enshrine their crankitudes. They were always trying to get away with something.

Zoom in on Davenport. Let me ask you: How much Chinese do you suppose he knew? I think the smart money is on “very little.” He probably knew about as much as I do—which is to say, as much as can be learned from one semester of study, augmented by the eager observation of one or two native speakers reciting a handful of classic poems. 

But a supreme crank knows how to exploit every little drop of whatever he or she knows. Davenport, who really did know all about poetic meter in English, must have listened very actively when he got somebody to recite Li Bai (or whomever) to him. Davenport knew what he was not hearing. Chinese meter was not about vowel quantity, nor stressed and unstressed syllables. What Chinese poetry almost certainly sounded like to him was clusters of five syllables, all of them stressed. That’s what mile after mile of Tang- and Song-Dynasty poetry sounds like to an English speaker.

Armed with this thought, he did a translation of a famous poem by Mao Zedong. The form of his translation is unique in American letters: The text is set up as quatrains (that’s normal enough), but the individual lines have only three syllables each. Davenport knew that this did not accurately reflect the original Chinese, but—and this is where the brilliance comes in—it does get across (like nothing else available in English) the collapsed syntax and staccato pacing of classical shi poetry.

Read more at the Paris Review link here

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Book Review: A trilogy of Maoism, one of the worst tyrannies of the 20th century

By Ryle Dwyer

Ryle Dwyer reads a trilogy that traces the life and crimes of the tyrant responsible for the deaths of millions of his fellow countrymen.

The Tragedy of Liberation

Mao’s Great Famine

The Cultural Revolution

Frank Dikötter

Bloomsbury, £10.99 each

‘Mao actually toasted unfolding civil war’

ALTHOUGH Mao Zedong is the central character in Frank Dikötter’s trilogy, it is not a biography but a fascinating history of China during Mao’s years in power, from 1945 to 1976.

The three books were not published in chronological order. Mao’s Great Famine — covering 1958 to 1962 — was the first published. That is a ground-breaking horror story of which most people on this side of the world are probably unaware. The insightful account undoubtedly sparked interest in what actually happened during the rest of Mao’s career.

The insightful account undoubtedly sparked interest in what actually happened during the rest of Mao’s career.

As a professor at the University of Hong Kong, Frank Dikötter casts an informed outsider’s eye on the story. Originally from the Netherlands, he was reared in Switzerland and the United States. He writes in a fluent style with an eye for interesting detail.

The Tragedy of Liberation, covering the communist victory in the Chinese revolution, provides in-depth insights into human depravity. Read more

Source: Irish Examiner


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China writ large and small

There are two very different ways of retracing China’s tumultuous years before Mao, when the disintegration of the foreign Qing dynasty opened the doors to both wondrous and disastrous possibilities, for individuals and their families, and for the Chinese world as a whole: Rowan Callick in The Australian

The more optimistic options were of course slammed shut by Mao Zedong’s three disastrous decades, from which the country still has not fully recovered. But individuals could make a difference even within such a teeming stage.

Craig Collie’s book The Reporter and the Warlords focuses on a remarkable Australian, William Henry Donald. A case might be made that he had more influence over more lives than any other Australian since Federation. Donald’s story is painted within a massive canvas, with a vast supporting cast of colourful players. Continue reading


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Unlike India, idea of China defined by fear of being threatened: Pankaj Mishra

Writer Pankaj Mishra’s A Great Clamour: Encounters with China and Its Neighbours explores a country of considerable interest. Speaking with Srijana Mitra Das, Mishra discussed the idea of China, films, freedom, Narendra Modi – and whether he’ll be at lit fests soon: TOI

Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra

Is there an idea of China?

Well, there’s a grand narrative of the ruling elite which the new Chinese leader Xi Jinping invokes – the China dream. There’s been a dream of Chinese regeneration through the last century, repeated by Mao Zedong. Deng Xioping’s reason for liberalising was, we must develop – or be bullied.

That remains important in how the Chinese perceive themselves and the world. It’s a defensive idea, unlike the idea of India which accommodates pluralism, diversity, etc. The idea of China is defined against a fear of being encircled, threatened – you see that in Chinese nationalism.

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