The Rest of the World: Inoperative Modernism and the Conditions of Translatability Open Access

Teo, Tze-Yin (2015)

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In "The Rest of the World," I study modernist texts united by the difficulty they pose to translation when they braid the Chinese and English languages. At the same time, I show how transnational, global, and comparative critical paradigms depend on and are forestalled by difficult translations between two hegemonic languages in the current globalized world. Where critics of Anglo-American and Chinese modernism have affirmed both translation and untranslatability as enabling, generative, and ethical limit-encounters, I argue that the work of translation in modernist literature is necessarily and always incomplete. This incompletion then calls attention to the conditions of translatability. I situate the theoretical problem of translatability in the intersecting genealogies of modern western philosophy and discourses of Chinese modernity: where the former reposes itself on the putative illegibility of Chinese writing, the latter is legitimized through ready assimilations of western thought. Poised between the two traditions, my non-dialectical account presents a poetics of weak translatability: a minimal gesture politicized by its resistance to both appropriative conventions. To do so, I hone in on the epistemological and contextual constraints on translation in modernist literature: literary and cultural modernity from the west as embodied and rejected by Eileen Chang; event, history, and Yang Lian's excision of "European time" in his theory of Chinese poetic translation; a universalized materiality of language rendered as metaphor in Ezra Pound's revision of Ernest Fenollosa's essay on the Chinese ideograph; and a transnational affect between "America" and its others radically erased in Gertrude Stein's late writing. In these moments, translation is neither an instrument nor a process that creates anew. Rather, it brings a respite from the world-making labor at the encounter with alterity: I have sought to theorize this weak translatability as a means of thinking without force, bound to its conditions of possibility and figured in my title as a plural rest of the world.

Table of Contents

Note on Translation, Script, and Romanization

Introduction: From Work to Work; or, Translation without Force

1. Modernity: Eileen Chang and the Exception from History

2. Event: Yang Lian's History without Time

3. Matter: The Petals of Ernest Fenollosa and Ezra Pound

4. Affect: Building a Steinese Wall

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