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Archive for the 'Asian fiction' Category

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Thursday Fiction Corner: My Father, by Hwang Sunwon

Lost Souls

“What a fine son I had turned out to be, so enamored of Seoul that I had uprooted my parents from the ancestral home and dragged them here, and now look at me! For their part, Father and Mother made sure that this fine child of theirs understood that when times were difficult it was even more important to do the right thing.” — Hwang Sunwon

In addition to distributing Dalkey Archive Press, one of the leading publishers of avant-garde fiction and literature in translation, Columbia University Press also boasts a strong in-house list of Asian fiction in translation. In today’s Father’s Day-themed Thursday Fiction Corner, we are happy to present “My Father,” a short story from Korean author Hwang Sunwon’s collection, Lost Souls: Stories, translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton.

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Thursday Fiction Corner: The Library of Korean Literature Series

Yi Kwang Su

We are proud to be distributing Dalkey Archive Press, one of the leading publishers of avant-garde fiction and literature in translation! Today’s Thursday Fiction Corner comes courtesy of Esther Kim, a publicity assistant at Columbia UP who works with many of the books on the Dalkey Archive list, including the books in Dalkey’s much-discussed new Library of Korean Literature series.

The Library of Korean Literature and Us
Esther Kim is a new publicity assistant at Columbia University Press. She is interested in fiction, Korea, clients, and presses.

In the fall of 2013, Dalkey Archive Press published its “Library of Korean Literature” series, an ambitious, unprecedented project designed to introduce Korean writing to English-language readers. The “Library of Korean Literature” was created in collaboration between Dalkey Archive Press and Seoul’s Literature Translation Institute of Korea, and the series totals twenty-five volumes that feature a range of Korean writers from the colonial 1930s to the present day. Like much of Dalkey’s fiction, the writing in the series demonstrates proclivities for the controversial and avant-garde.

While Japanese and Chinese writing of the twentieth and twenty-first century, such as the work of Nobel-prize winners Kenzaburō Ōe or Mo Yan, has garnered international praise and attention, Korean writing receives relatively little attention. A small nation surrounded by ‘giants’ on all sides—China, Russia, and Japan—the Koreas are easily overshadowed. Popular Western understanding of Korean culture is limited to journalistic horror stories, ‘Gangnam Style,’ and Kim Jong Un’s hairstyle. Dalkey Archive Press’s series “Library of Korean Literature” amends this oversight by bringing forth English-translations of literary works to a broader audience. As the first English-language series of major Korean stories, the Library of Korean Literature series provides a more nuanced, literary venue for understanding Korea. (more…)

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Excerpt from Natsume Soseki’s Light and Dark, Part II

Light and Dark

This week our featured book is Light and Dark: A Novel by Natsume Sōseki, translated with an introduction by John Nathan. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book, its author, and its translator on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have an excerpt of short chapters ten through fifteen of Light and Dark. Read chapters one through nine here.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Light and Dark!

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

John Nathan’s Introduction to Light and Dark

Light and Dark

This week our featured book is Light and Dark: A Novel by Natsume Sōseki, translated with an introduction by John Nathan. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book, its author, and its translator on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. John Nathan is an internationally renowned translator and schoalar who has brought the novels of Yukio Mishima and Kenzaburo Oe to English-speaking audiences. Today, we provide his Introduction to Light and Dark, in which he puts the novel into historical and literary context.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Light and Dark!

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Excerpt from Natsume Sōseki’s Light and Dark

Light and Dark

This week our featured book is Light and Dark: A Novel by Natsume Sōseki, translated with an introduction by John Nathan. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book, its author, and its translator on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have an excerpt of the first nine short chapters of Soseki’s novel.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Light and Dark!

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Book Giveaway! Light and Dark: A Novel, by Natsume Sōseki

Light and Dark

This week our featured book is Light and Dark: A Novel by Natsume Soseki, translated and with an introduction by John Nathan. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book, its author, and its translator on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Light and Dark. To enter our Book Giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on December 13th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Interview with Michael Emmerich, author of The Tale of Genji: Translation, Canonization, and World Literature

The following is an interview with Michael Emmerich, author of The Tale of Genji: Translation, Canonization, and World Literature. In the interview, Emmerich discusses, among other subjects, how The Tale of Genji became a classic of Japanese literature, how it changed reading habits, its place in world literature, and his first experience with the novel:

The Tale of Genji, Michael EmmerichQuestion: We tend to think of The Tale of Genji as a kind of immortal classic but in fact its history is more complicated. How did it become a national classic or emblematic of Japanese culture and literature?

Michael Emmerich: Genji was written in the early eleventh century, so of course the story of how it achieved its present status as one of the preeminent classics of both national and world literature is very long—a millennium long, in fact—and very complex. I argue that while Genji came to be regarded as a “treasure” very early on at an elite level, ordinary readers had little or no interest in the tale until surprisingly recently. The work that first managed to interest a truly popular readership in Genji—if only indirectly—was a sort of early modern graphic novel called A Fraudulent Murasaki’s Bumpkin Genji that was published over the course of thirteen years, from 1829 to 1842. The way I see it, Bumpkin Genji was crucial because it inspired for the first time in a popular readership the desire to know more about Genji, and then offered itself up as an enjoyable means of satisfying that desire, without actually having to read Genji itself. In other words, Bumpkin Genji popularized the notion of the complete translation of Genji into vernacular Japanese. Then, almost exactly a century later, from 1939 to 1941, the novelist Tanizaki Jun’ichirō published a translation into the Japanese of his day that became a best-seller. That was when Genji really came to be re-canonized not just as a celebrated but unread “treasure,” but as a “national classic” in the sense of “a classic of the Japanese people”—as a work for which, and to which, Japan and its citizens were somehow responsible.

Q: What has been the role of The Tale of Genji in the popularization of Japanese literature in English?

ME: Scholars have long recognized the importance of Arthur Waley’s translation of the tale, The Tale of Genji, which was issues in six volumes from 1925 to 1933. Waley’s version was widely read, and was praised by reviewers from the time its first volume appeared as one of the great works of world literature. In my book, though, I explore the role an earlier partial translation that has now been largely forgotten played in making Genji known—though less as a literary classic than as a portrait of eleventh-century Japan, and as a work by a woman writer. This translation, published in England in 1882, was done by a young Japanese named Suematsu Kenchō. At the time, the publication of a work translated from Japanese was such a rarity that it was actually considered newsworthy, and the notion that women writers had played such a crucial role in creating what is now known as classical Japanese literature made its appearance even more sensational. It’s hard to say how much of an effect the attention Genji garnered, first in 1882, then in 1925, then in 1976 with the publication of Seidensticker’s translation, and again in 2001 when Royall Tyler’s appeared, has had in popularizing Japanese literature more broadly, but I do think it has helped give people an image of Japanese literature as something worth paying attention to.

Q: How has the reception of The Tale of the Genji changed over time?

ME: To tell the truth, I’m somewhat skeptical of the notion of “reception.” In the case of Genji, hardly anyone reads it in the original classical Japanese these days, and even fewer people read it in the form in which it was originally circulated—in calligraphic manuscript rather than typeset book. Instead, most people come into contact with Genji through what I call “replacements.” Translations are perhaps the paradigmatic form of replacement, but there are all kinds of other replacements, too: digests, guides, movies, manga, artworks, designs on kimono. So many people have created so many different kinds of replacements of the tale over the millennium since it first appeared that it would take a book even to begin to explore the trajectory they have followed—as it happens, Columbia University Press has published just such a book: Envisioning the Tale of Genji, edited by Haruo Shirane—but I think one might at least say that, over the centuries, the forms Genji’s replacements take have moved further and further away from the forms in which it was first circulated.

(more…)

Friday, September 13th, 2013

Julia Lovell on Zhu Wen

The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: More Stories of China, by Zhu Wen

We conclude our week-long feature on The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: More Stories of China,with an excerpt from Julia Lovell’s Translator’s Preface to Zhu Wen’s earlier collection of short stories, I Love Dollars.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan! Today is the final day of the giveaway!

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Interview with Writer and Filmmaker Zhu Wen

The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: More Stories of China, by Zhu Wen

In keeping with our featured book this week, Zhu Wen’s The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan, we cover today a 2011 interview of Zhu Wen, conducted by the Wang Ge of Timeout Beijing.

In the interview, Wang discusses the multitude of Wen’s creative personas, namely as a novelist, engineer, philosopher and film-maker and he interviews Zhu about his upcoming movie release, Thomas Mao.

Wang first heard of Zhu Wen in 2002 when the bad-boy writer-film director was a guest on a radio talk show where the interviewees had been asked to bring along a book, a film and an album to represent themselves. According to him, Zhu was automatically painted as some kind of anarchist:

Ge: In 2002, he [Zhu] was still better known as a novelist, having quit his factory job in 1994 to become a writer. He didn’t join the directorial ranks until 2001, with cultish debut Seafood. The film chronicles the story of a Beijing prostitute who travels to Beidaihe to kill herself, and it flew under the radars of most film lovers. It wasn’t until his second feature, South of the Clouds (2003), the tale of a doleful-eyed retiree’s journey of self-discovery to Yunnan, that Zhu announced himself to the world. Then he disappeared. Many thought the director had quit filmmaking for good, but now he’s back with Thomas Mao – and it’s every bit the head trip you’d expect.

The film [Thomas Mao] is divided into two parts. The first half shows the cultural clashes between an Inner Mongolian yurt owner (played by artist Mao Yan) and a foreign artist (played by Thomas Rohldewald), who shares his tent for a night. The twist comes in the second half, where fiction transforms into ‘documentary’, and Zhu turns his camera on the real-life Mao Yan and his working relationship with Rohldewald, a long-time artistic collaborator.

Zhu: Both of them are good friends of mine, but it all came together when I finally figured out how the two artists are connected in their own separate realities. There was this ancient Chinese philosopher called Zhuangzi, and he dreamt of becoming a butterfly. Then he woke up and was confused as to whether he had dreamt he was a butterfly, or if he was a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. The boundaries between reality and dreams can blur together so easily that I can only explain them through their different incarnations.

The plant I worked in was built to produce machine parts, but then the Soviet Union was gone, production was stranded. So I spent my days and nights gathering my colleagues together to play poker. The factory authorities found out about this and threatened to fire me for gambling, which is illegal. Then, all of a sudden, the plant recovered, production began and skilled engineers were needed. So they called me back when I’d already packed my bags. But one day, when I finished work for the day, I looked at all these assembly lines and thought: What am I doing here?

(more…)

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

An Interview with Translator Julia Lovell

The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: More Stories of China, by Zhu Wen

In keeping with our featured book this week, Zhu Wen’s The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan, we cover today an interview with the book’s translator Julia Lovell, conducted by the Los Angeles Review of Books.

In the interview, Lovell discusses the compelling points of translating The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan, especially as the book compares to both Zhu Wen’s previous collection of short fiction, I Love Dollars, and other prominent contemporary Chinese writers.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan!

On Zhu Wen’s Stories and Other Works of Chinese Fiction: A Q & A with Julia Lovell

Jeffrey Wasserstrom: In an endorsement of the new collection, Jonathan Spence, who praised I Love Dollars in the London Review of Books, says that this “second volume of short stories” is “both darker and denser than the first.” Does that fit with your feeling about the new book or would you characterize the contrast differently?

Julia Lovell: I think that’s a perceptive comment by Jonathan Spence. There was plenty that was shocking and dark about the first collection – in particular, the kind of careless amorality that some of the stories diagnosed in 1990s China. But there was also, I think, a strand of humor, a strong appreciation of the farcical, running through some of the pieces. That’s less dominant in the new collection. Two of the stories that take a more conversational, absurdist take on life in the People’s Republic – “Da Ma’s Way of Talking” and “The Apprentice” – are also overtly tinged with sadness. The relaxed, humorous narration of the first story contrasts with its ending; in the second piece, the lightly sardonic tone blurs into the narrator’s sense of despairing melancholy as he feels increasingly trapped by his future in the socialist economy. At the same time though, I think that the new volume offers more thoughtful insights into human relationships, and into the impact of political pressures on day-to-day life.

But I’m still very drawn to work that showcases the more relaxed side of Chinese culture. At the moment, I’m working on a new abridgement of Journey to the West, a book from the imperial Chinese canon that fizzes with humorous irreverence. Stodgy Neo-Confucians, covetous Buddhists and libidinous Taoists – all are mocked in the novel; at one point, the book’s hero, the Monkey King, even urinates on the hand of the Buddha.
(more…)

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Excerpt: “The Apprentice,” by Zhu Wen

The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: More Stories of China, by Zhu Wen

This week our featured book is The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: More Stories of China, by Zhu Wen, translated by Julia Lovell. Today, we have an excerpt from one of the eponymous stories of the collection: “The Apprentice,” a tale of the comic vexations of life in a more-or-less planned economy, as an enthusiastic young graduate is over-exercised by his table-tennis-fanatic bosses, deprived of sleep by gambling-addicted colleagues, and stuffed with hard-boiled eggs by an overzealous landlady.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan!

Monday, September 9th, 2013

Book Giveaway! The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan, by Zhu Wen

book cover

This week our featured book is The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: More Stories of China, by Zhu Wen, translated by Julia Lovell. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book, its author, and its translator here on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan. To enter our Book Giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on September 13th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Atlas by Dung Kai-cheung wins Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Award

“It is the task of literature to make visible the invisible.”—Dung Kai-cheung

Atlas: Archaeology of an Imaginary City, Dung Kai-cheung
We don’t publish a lot of science fiction, so we hope you will indulge us in our excitement in announcing the news of Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City, by Dung Kai-cheung (translated from the Chinese by Anders Hansson, Bonnie S. McDougall, and the author), winning the Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Award.

In praising the book jurist Alexis Brooks wrote, “Dung Kai-cheung’s amazingly yearning creation of short chapters toys with conceptions of place and being, with feeling and mythmaking, centered in the fictional story of one of the most painfully politicized cities still in existence in the world.”

While Kathryn Morrow, co-chair of the competition, praised the translation: “A masterwork on the nature of translation itself. The prose is beautifully rendered into English, and the author’s essential subject is the process by which myth, legend, and fact translate themselves into human cultural artifacts.”

For more on the book here is an excerpt from the book’s preface:

There are enough fictitious Hong Kongs circulating around the world. It doesn’t matter so much how real or false these fictions are but how they are made up. The Hong Kong of Tai-Pan and Suzie Wong, a mixture of economic adventures, political intrigues, sexual encounters, and romances; the Hong Kong of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li kung fu fighting their way through to the international scene; the Hong Kong of John Woo’s gangster heroes shooting doublehanded and Stephen Chow’s underdog antiheroes making nonsensical jokes. And yet, in spite of these eye-catching exposures, Hong Kong remains invisible. A large part of the reality of life here is unrepresented, unrevealed, and ignored. Hong Kong’s martial arts fiction, commercial movies, and pop songs are successful in East Asia and even farther abroad, but for all the talents, insights, and creativity of its writers, Hong Kong literature attracts minimal attention—not just internationally but even in mainland China. I am not claiming that literature represents a Hong Kong more real than the movies, but it has its unique role and methods and thus yields different meanings. It is not just a different way of world-representing but also a different way of world-building, that is, creating conditions for understanding, molding, preserving, and changing the world that we live in.

(more…)

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

The Epic of King Gesar

Sources of Tibetan Tradition

This week our featured books are Sources of Tibetan Tradition, edited by Kurtis R. Schaeffer, Matthew T. Kapstein, and Gray Tuttle, and The Tibetan History Reader, Edited by Gray Tuttle and Kurtis R. Schaeffer.

Today, we have a few excerpts from the Epic of King Gesar, “often described as the Tibetan national epic and as the longest poem in the world,” taken from Sources of Tibetan Tradition.

The Epic of King Gesar, excerpted from Sources of Tibetan Tradition

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Read an excerpt from Kiku’s Prayer, by Endō Shūsaku

Set in the turbulent years of the transition from the shogunate to the Meiji Restoration, Kiku’s Prayer embodies themes central to Endō Shūsaku’s work, including religion, modernization, and the endurance of the human spirit. Yet this novel is much more than a historical allegory. It acutely renders one woman’s troubled encounter with passion and spirituality at a transitional time in her life and in the history of her people. A renowned twentieth-century Japanese author, Endō wrote from the perspective of being both Japanese and Catholic. His work is often compared with that of Graham Greene, who himself considered Endō one of the century’s finest writers. Today we have an excerpt from the first chapter of Kiku’s Prayer.

Kiku's Prayer: A Novel, by Endo Shusaku by Columbia University Press

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Japan Embraces Donald Keene

“[W]hat is perhaps most remarkable about Dr. Keene is that Japan, a racially homogeneous nation that can be politely standoffish to non-Japanese, has embraced him with such warmth.”

Chronicles of My LifeDonald Keene began teaching Japanese literature at Columbia University in 1955. Over the course of the second half of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first, he has written and translated over thirty books (many with Columbia University Press), has been awarded the Japanese Order of Culture (the first Westerner to be given this prestigious honor), and was an instrumental figure in bringing the classics of Asian literature to the attention of Western academia. Already a beloved figure in Japan, Keene earned “status approaching that of folk hero,” according to Martin Fackler in a profile in the Saturday New York Times, when he applied for and gained Japanese citizenship in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident after last year’s earthquake and tsunami.

Fackler and Keene agree that the most important factor in Keene’s popularity in Japan is his genuine affection for that nation:

Dr. Keene has spent a lifetime shuttling between Japan and the United States. Taking Japanese citizenship seems a gesture that has finally bestowed upon him the one thing that eludes many Westerners who make their home and even lifelong friendships here: acceptance.

“When I first did it, I thought I’d get a flood of angry letters that ‘you are not of the Yamato race!’ but instead, they welcomed me,” said Dr. Keene, using an old name for Japan. “I think the Japanese can detect, without too much trouble, my love of Japan.”

That affection seemed especially welcome to a nation that even before last year’s triple disaster had seemed to lose confidence as it fell into a long social and economic malaise….

BUT what is perhaps most remarkable about Dr. Keene is that Japan, a racially homogeneous nation that can be politely standoffish to non-Japanese, has embraced him with such warmth. When he legally became a Japanese citizen this year, major newspapers ran photographs of him holding up a handwritten poster of his name, Kinu Donarudo, in Chinese characters. To commemorate the event, a candy company in rural Niigata announced plans to build a museum that will include an exact replica of Dr. Keene’s personal library and study from his home in New York.

He says he has been inundated by invitations to give public lectures, which are so popular that drawings are often held to see who can attend.

“I have not met a Japanese since then who has not thanked me. Except the Ministry of Justice,” he added with his typically understated humor, referring to the government office in charge of immigration.

(more…)

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Chek Lap Kok Airport — From “Atlas” by Dung Kai-cheung

Atlas, Dung Kai-cheungIn his novel, Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City, Dung Kai-cheung writes from the unified perspective of future archaeologists struggling to rebuild a thrilling metropolis. In the following excerpt, Dung mixes the real-life Chek Lap Kok airport with a fictional plan that would make the airport itself mobile:

The secret of the Chek Lap Kok Airport plan is now beyond the reach of anyone to uncover. The only clue that remains to us is a blueprint drawn up in 1990 of Hong Kong’s seaport and airport development, called “Construction for the Future.” This blueprint, which displays the development of port facilities in Hong Kong at the end of the twentieth century, includes sea-lane plans, container wharves expansion, and harbor reclamation projects. It also outlines the so-called new airport plan in documents and records, that is, the enormous concept that begins with the new Chek Lap Kok location of the airport on the north shore of Lantao Island and includes a range of developments such as the airport railway and residential, industrial, and commercial sites along the shoreline. It is worth pointing out that this blueprint emphasizes the importance of Hong Kong as a seaport and airport, by hinting at its two possible exits—by sea and by air.

(more…)

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

Public Square Street from Dung Kai-cheung’s “Atlas”

Dung Kai-cheung, Atlas

In the third section of his novel Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City, Dung Kai-cheung describes the streets of the fictional city of Victoria (based on Hong Kong) in the following excerpt he recounts the strange history of Public Square Street:

Yau Ma Tei’s Public Square Street is now called Jung-fong Gai (literally, “people’s quarter street”) in Cantonese, but before the 1970s it was known as Gung-jung Sei-fong Gai (public square street, that is, “square” as in an equal-sided rectangle). Some commentators have said that gung-jung sei-fong was a mistranslation of the English term “public square” and that the correct translation should have been Gung-jung Gwong-cheung (literally, “public plaza”). The name in English referred to an empty space in the street popularly known as Banyan Head. Itinerant performers would gather there at nightfall, casting divinations and telling fortunes, or singing and storytelling. Afterward, when street names were being revised, it was called People’s Quarter Street in Cantonese, taking on the meaning of a space where the populace at large would gather….

The only way of finding one’s way in the square street seems to have been by determining the direction. The four sides of the square street were fixed according to the four points of the compass, north, south, east, and west, but because there were no door numbers along the street (for no one could say where the street began and where it ended), it was rather difficult to determine if one were proceeding along the east street, the west street, the north street, or the south street. To be sure, this was not a problem for the local inhabitants, because whatever side of the street they lived on made no difference to them. Another special characteristic of the square street was that there was a flight of steps at each corner. It was said that if you kept turning right as you walked, the steps would lead upward, but if you went in the opposite direction, to the left, the steps would lead down. But whether you went up or down, you would still return to your original place by way of the four flights of steps and the four corners. Experts in cartography maintain that such phenomena can occur only on the surface of maps, or in pictures with fanciful optical illusions.

(more…)

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Dung Kai-cheung on Atlas and History as Fiction

Atlas, Dung Kai-cheungDung Kai-cheung sets Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City in the long-lost City of Victoria (a fictional world similar to Hong Kong).

The novel, which fuses history and fiction is written from the unified perspective of future archaeologists struggling to rebuild a thrilling metropolis. Dung reimagines Victoria through maps and other historical documents and artifacts, mixing real-world scenarios with purely imaginary people and events while incorporating anecdotes and actual and fictional social commentary and critique.

In the book’s preface, Dung explains his “history as fiction” approach:

It is the task of literature to make visible the invisible. (Or, as is sometimes said, to articulate the unarticulated.) Curiously, in contrast to visual art forms like film, literature has a special capacity for rendering visibility. Words are nonvisual signs and many steps removed from the actual and the visible. By virtue of this removal, however, words invoke an imaginative power that is not bound by a photographic image. Telling and writing play on the dialectic between the visible and invisible, and that is the true meaning of “making visible.” This making is no less than the work of an artisan, in whose hands a world of objects is made and an abode of dwelling is built. What is more, it is not an abode of bricks and tiles but an abode of meanings.

It was in this spirit that I wrote Atlas, a verbal collection of maps. It was written and published in 1997, in the year the colony of Hong Kong was returned by its British rulers to become a Special Administrative Region under Chinese sovereignty. Nevertheless I chose not to write directly about the event or the contemporary situation in the narrow sense. The perspective was set in an unknown future time but with a retrospective, archaeological orientation, inquiring into the origin and the long-lost past of the city. The city is supposed to have vanished, and efforts are made by scholars to re-create its history through imaginative readings of maps and documents unearthed only recently. The city is literally rebuilt by relics and fragments, casting a shadow on the question of reality and authenticity and in turn making way for the introduction of fiction into the process of history making.

(more…)

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Interview with Dung Kai-cheung

Dung, Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary CityEarlier this summer, Dung Kai-cheung, author of Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City was interviewed by Christopher Mattison in a wide-ranging discussion. Among the issues discussed were translation, the impact of English on Dung’s writing, Hong Kong as a “fiction,” and Hong Kong literature.

The interview begins with a conversation about the translation of Atlas, which was both self-translated and done in collaboration with Bonnie McDougall and Anders Hanson. Dung mentions how his knowledge of English shapes and benefits how his Chinese writing is translated:

The influence [of English] is not just in terms of subject matter and literary forms but also of sentence structure and diction. My Chinese has been regarded by some language purists as “Europeanized,” which is meant to be a criticism for not writing in a proper Chinese. It is in this sense that I said the language of Atlas “lends itself to translation.”

Moving on to Hong Kong itself, Dung views the city as a fiction, an idea that shapes his “archaeology of an imaginary city.” Dung explains:

The truth is, Hong Kong was created by the British, at least at the very outset. I am not placing a value on that; it is simply a fact. And the fictitious or created nature of Hong Kong has its advantages. It has made this city wonderfully open to change and innovation. It is mirrored in the creativity of its people. Ironically, this advantage has been on the decline since the return of Hong Kong to China, a historical event which was supposed to have ended the city’s rootlessness.

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