SPORADICALLY-PUBLISHED "MAGAZINE" OF POETRY AND POETICS
Christopher W. Alexander and Linda Russo, eds.
Yunte Huang, TRANSPACIFIC
DISPLACEMENT: ETHNOGRAPHY, TRANSLATION, & INTERTEXTUAL TRAVEL IN 20TH
CENTURY AMERICAN LITERATURE
TRANSPACIFIC DISPLACEMENT is the latest and most ambitious work by Yunte Huang, whose publications already include an array of highly original works ranging from the first Chinese translations of Ezra Pound's Pisan Cantos (1998), A slender volume entitled SHI: RADICAL TRANSLATION (1997) - a provocative book that blurs translation theory, poetics, and cultural criticism - and "Writing Against the Chinese Diaspora," a work that contests several trends in contemporary Asian American studies. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that this work likewise addresses a broad range of literature explored through a nuanced methodology that draws its formidable energies from many disciplines. Investigating figures like Ernest Fenollosa and Maxine Hong Kingston in the same work, positioning Ezra Pound next to Earl Derr Biggers' character Charlie Chan, locates transpacific intertextuality at the very heart of both American literature and pop culture. Yet the originality of Huang's work resides not only in his provocative pairings, but also in the range of disciplines he brings to bare upon them: namely, the theoretically sophisticated ethnography of Dennis Tedlock and James Clifford, the politically charged work of scholars of Asian American Studies like David Palumbo-Liu and Lisa Low, the innovative criticism of Charles Bernstein and Marjorie Perloff, and the translation theories of Lawrence Venuti. Drawing from these critics, Huang relentlessly collapses the positivist presumptions that underlay both the social sciences and the identity politics that have sought to challenge them.
While this work will no doubt be a seminal work in Asian American studies, its effect will also be felt within areas of literary criticism largely dominated by Anglo-American centered scholarship. Toward the end of his conclusion, Huang calls for an investigation of American literature drawing form both ethnic/cultural studies and critical theory/poetics, "In order to expand the parameters of such a national literature and to explore its international dimensions, it is certainly indispensable to speak of the nation's imperialist past and its effect on the literature we are reading; but it is equally important to take stock of the linguistic appropriations that physically make up the body of literature" (186). For "texts do not just document history; their own movement is, I stress, history itself" (25).
The chapters unfold in response to his assertion that the fundamental goal of anthropological, poetic, and hermeneutical practices is the desire to know the Other. In chapter one, Huang investigates the shared assumption of three early 20th Century ethnographers (Ernest Fenollosa, Florence Ayscough, and Percival Lowell) all of whom believe that the essence of Asian cultures can be grasped through the study of Asian languages. This chapter uniquely contributes to the growing scholarship on Ernest Fenollosa's work by exploring the ramifications of his reading of Japanese ethnographic scholarship on Chinese poetry for Fenollosa's notions of Chinese language and literature. In chapters two and three, Huang shows how the work of these ethnographers played a foundational role in the development and success of Imagism, specifically in the work of Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell, whose greater poetic projects are shown to be not only indebted to ethnography, but intertextual ethnographic productions as well.
In chapter four, Huang compares the mimicry of Asian linguistic and cultural elements in Imagism with the racist ventriloquism of pop icons like Charlie Chan and Dr. Fu Man Chu, pidginization as it had been explored by the mid-century essayist Lin Yutang, and, lastly, what Huang calls the "double ventriloquism of imagism's ventriloquism" in the work of the contemporary poet John Yau. In chapter five, Huang begins to foreground issues surrounding translation theory as championed by Lawrence Venuti. For example, he argues that Maxine Hong Kingston's fiction is canonically "American" because it erases any trace of its intertextual translations through recourse to rhetorical transparency that furthers the idea of "universal human experience" so coveted by mainstream literary production. While this chapter practically inaugurates the application of translation theory to Asian American literature, it remains too filial to Lawrence Venuti's work and doesn't provide nearly the close reading and flexible analysis found in his other chapters. Finally, in chapter six, Huang further explores issues of translation theory as they apply to the translation of China's Misty Poets (menglong shi). He examines how the formal innovations of poets like Bei Dao and Shu Ting have been subordinated to both their translators' and critics' thematic approach to their work. Huang argues that the political contexts these poets are supposedly situated within perpetuate an essentializing ethnography.
Rarely does a work of criticism pull one forward as Huang's does - not only because the prose is lucid and intelligent and the project nakedly honest and compelling, but because the critique is so fresh and far reaching that you know, closing the back cover, you will return to your fields of study to find them changed.
This site designed and maintained by Chris Alexander
Copyright © 2005
Copyright for individual works returns to contributors upon publication.