more good news & "how many Western cultural imperialists does it take to plunder wang wei" 2


this weekend was very much filled with happy news. just found out that a poem (from my new manuscript) was accepted at PARTHENON WEST REVIEW and a new review at THE COLORADO REVIEW. i’ll tell you more about the review later.


for now, wanted to point to this column by Joseph Bednarik titled “The Law of Diminishing Readership” (linked to from ron silliman). yes, that’s the same Bednarik that wrote the initial letter to the editor describing Marilyn Chin’s translation as “noodling around in the margins of someone else’s book.”

in his column, he talks about how “we’re faced with a bloated ‘writership’ vying for the attention of an anemic readership.” one wonders if Bednarik’s letter about Chin was partially fueled by an anxiety that Chin might, in the words of Mitsuye Yamada, “come out with a book that is better than theirs,” thus competing with John Balaban’s Copper Canyon book Spring Essence for the “attention of an anemic readership.” oh, did i mention that Bednarik is Copper Canyon’s Marketing Director?

two posts down, bill knott makes a similar point by pointing out the marketing strategies of works in translation (that the new one is always better, more nuanced and concise, etc). he asks: “Copper Canyon wants to claim priority for Balaban’s book so they can sell more copies of it, no?”

i def agree with knott and would add (after reading Bednarik’s column) that they want to be the sole proprietor of Ho Xuan Huong‘s work into english. they want their translation to be definitive.

with that said, we must also deal with the racialized and racist / sexualized and sexist elements of the exchange. this is not simply about selling books and claiming authority.

we must also ask: how has the fear of an expanding ‘translatorship’ (especially that of a non-white ‘translatorship’) inflected this exchange?

more soon, and your comments are most welcome 😉



4 thoughts on “more good news & "how many Western cultural imperialists does it take to plunder wang wei" 2

  1. I still like this letter:

    “Dear Editor,

    Marilyn Chin had reason enough to be offended at Joseph Bednarik’s self-serving criticism of her translations without wheeling up the big siege engines of anti-racism, anti-sexism, and anti-imperialism. “Noodling” has nothing to do with pasta, either of the Asian or European variety, but is, rather, jazz slang, dating back to the late thirties, meaning “to improvise. . .in an informal or desultory manner.” Bednarik, as I read his criticism, seemed to be expressing the sentiment not that Chin’s translations were excessively “Oriental,” but that they were insufficiently literary—at least compared to those published by his employer. Racism, sexism, and imperialism are, sadly, very much still with us; but disposing of Bednarik’s criticisms—as Chin so ably did in her first paragraph—was, it seemed to me, a job better suited for a flyswatter than a battering ram.

    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania”

    I keep wanting to add to that somehow–I know it’s tacky to just copy and paste someone else’s comment as my own comment…but I really can’t think of a better way to put it!

  2. hey matt,

    tho i was only going to focus on the letters written by the Cop Canyon peoples, since you posted this twice i will respond.

    first, anti-sexism, anti-racism, anti-imperialism are not “big siege engines.” these kinds of critiques are everyday critiques for those who suffer, everyday, from sexism, racism, and imperialism. they are not simply reserved for special occassion such as thanksgiving day or columbus day, etc.

    second, ‘noodling’ has many connotations and is not limited to jazz slang. words take on racialized meanings and yes these meanings change depending on their context. in a sense, dictionaries dont tell the whole story.

    third, chin offered a sufficiently literary reason why she chose “boo hoo.”

    in conclusion, bruce grant is an idiot.


  3. Ok, I’m an idiot too then.

    I know words have connotations–I tell people that all the time myself. I just think it’s important to take the intent into consideration. When I first read that “noodling around” thing, it honestly did not occur to me that he was being racist. (When I think of noodles, the first thing that comes to mind is Italian food, or German food anyway). But hey, if that means I’m a racist, I’m sorry. I guess I’ll just go blow my brains out. Sorry for taking up your time.

  4. hey matt,

    you’re not an idiot! i also think it’s important to take intent into consideration, and i personally don’t think bednarsick *intented* to racially offend chin (tho it seems clear he did want to insult her). obviously he didnt anticipate how chin would interpret ‘noodling’–but really, it’s one thing to question the quality of her translation with specific evidence, but why the unnecessary (and unintentionally racist) insult?


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