Translating Science Fiction, Translation in Science Fiction : Chinese and English

Le Centre for Translation Technology de la Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) organisera, le 1er juin 2018 de 9h à 17h30, un workshop qui aura pour but d’étudier plusieurs questions liant la science, la science-fiction, la traduction, et la relation entre la science-fiction chinoise et américaine. Le programme est disponible ci-dessous :

9h30-9h45 : Pr. James St. André (CUHK) : Opening remarks

Groupe A

  • 9h45-10h15 : Lorenzo Andolfatto (Heidelberg University) : « The Productive Distortion of Looking Backward. On the Hybridization of Languages and Discourses through Translation in Early Modern Chinese SF »

    Science fiction played an important part in the definition of the early modernity of Chinese literature as a transitional period when—in the words of David Wang—“the old literary order was falling apart and a new one was yet to be established.” In fact, since its emergence during the late Qing, Chinese SF developed as a hybrid literary product that intercepted and intertwined with discourses of different and varying scope, such as the modernization of literary praxis; the epistemological shift from traditional gezhi to Western “science”; and the overarching narrative of national reform and salvation. As such, the late Qing kexue xiaoshuo aptly qualifies as a by-product of those transcultural and translingual practices of “productive distortion” that, according to Lydia Liu, marked the definition of China’s colonial modernity. Among the most telling examples of SF as a product of such distortive practices is the case of Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, 2000–1887 and its translation(s) into Chinese. The history of Looking Backward’s translation and circulation in Chinese is a composite one that very well reflects the early developments of the SF genre in China, the transformation of Chinese literature at the turn of the twentieth century, as well as the progressive adoption of vernacular Chinese as its main expressive outlet. By examining the early Chinese renditions of Bellamy’s novel and attempting a reconstruction of this text’s coming to be into Chinese, this paper aims at foregrounding translation and science fiction as two emblematic and entangled factors in the definition of China’s early (literary) modernity.

  • 10h15-10h45 : Liu Yi (CUHK) : « Travelling through Time and Space – Translation of Airships and Submarines in Science Fictions from Late Qing to Republican Period »

    The emergence of science fiction translation in the late Qing period expanded people’s imagination of flying in the sky and diving in the ocean with the introduction of various airships and submarines. Looking at the science fiction works from late Qing to Republican period as a whole, while in translated science fictions airships were more frequently used for travelling than attacking and submarines just began to appear, in native science fictions airships were mainly used for colonial domination and submarines gradually became an important weapon for defending against foreign enemies. This study is going to describe and explain such different choices of vehicles and their functions proposed by translators/authors in science fictions from late Qing to Republican period, to see how airships and submarines were translated and what role translation played in this process.

Groupe B

  • 11h15-11h45 : Ye Jia, Michelle (CUHK) : « Frau Im Mond (1929). Translation and Moon-inspired Periodical Writing in China. 1903-1949 »

    Translation has been considered as a key impetus for the emergence of science fiction in China in the early 20th century. The enthusiasm for early Chinese translations of the works by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells has generated valuable scholarship, which accentuates the role of translation in the birth of sci-fi in China, but which inevitably masked the complexity of the emergence of the genre that took place in the vast text landscape of periodical press in the pre-Communist era. The study offers a sketch of this process, focusing on moon-inspired texts and images in magazines in the period 1903-1949. It sees the writing of science fiction as a practice intertwining with the popularization of scientific knowledge, the growing impact of scientific advancement on global politics, and the interpretation and presentation thereof in both verbal and visual media, which were translational in the most general sense. To gain an overview, the study tracks the production of the moon-inspired periodical writings, and looks for possible “stimuli” – texts with a subsequent surge of more texts on the same topic – in two full-text databases of early modern Chinese journals. The most influential piece observed so far is the first coverage of German sci-fi movie classic Frau Im Mond [Women in the Moon, 1929] that appeared the Shanghai film magazine Silverland in 1929. In the decades surrounding its first screening in Shanghai in 1933 via Paramount’s global reach, the film was costly advertised, elaborately reported and synopsized, and frequently alluded to in later scientific and sci-fi texts in not only science or film magazines, but also comic, students’ and children’s magazines. The big picture thus sheds new light on the emergence and development of the theme of Moon-landing in science fiction in China. Moreover, the translations in these texts point us to sources in American magazines about the global Moon-landing ambition, and prompts us to view the translation of science fiction as an intrinsically cross-media practice when discussing the birth of the genre through translation in this period of China.

  • 11h45-12h15 : James St. André (CUHK) : « Chinese and Other Aliens : How European Writings on Chinese Have Helped Shape Conceptions of Alien Languages in Science Fiction »

    This paper explores the ways in which Western conceptions of China, the Chinese, and especially the Chinese language have influenced the development of science fiction in English. I argue that, as the ultimate earthly “Other,” Chinese civilization was conceived as utterly alien to Europe and America. Whether viewing China through rose-tinted glasses or with a distempered spleen, Europeans and North Americans have long treated China as different, not just in degree but also in kind. When it came to trying to imagine extraterrestrial Others, China and the Chinese thus naturally functioned as a model. While this was true in regard to a wide variety of aspects of Chinese culture, this paper focuses on language and the ability to communicate with the Chinese as a template for later descriptions of contact with extraterrestrial alien civilizations. I will demonstrate that this holds true for both the written and the spoken language, and is bound up with the search for a universal language, discussions of pidgin English, the invention of Basic English in the early twentieth century, and the prevalence of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in twentieth century science fiction.

Groupe C

  • 14h-14h30 : Gwennaël Gaffric (Université Libre de Bruxelles) : « Chinese Dreams : A Study of (Self-)Orientalism in the Translation and Reception of Liu Cixin’s the Three-Body Problem Trilogy »

    After receiving the Hugo Award in 2015, the English translation of Liu Cixin’s first volume of the Three-Body Problem Trilogy has been a massive success, prompting many reactions and much praise. A similar editorial phenomenon can also be observed on a global level, with the translation of the trilogy into a large number of languages. In this intervention, I will attempt to discuss the reception of this trilogy in the English-speaking, French-speaking, Spanish-speaking and Italian-speaking worlds and try to decipher the reasons for such a success. I will particularly focus on the orientalist imaginary conveyed by the publication of the different versions of this trilogy, at a time when Chinese science-fiction is destined to become a tool for a Chinese soft power strategy based on the culturalist and nationalist discourse of the “Chinese Dream”. I will also examine the reception in China of the success of Liu Cixin’s translations, and the way in which Chinese media and officials are also engaging in a process of self-orientalization. In these analyzes, I will rely on the study of the “paratext” (in Genette’s sense) of the novels and of the journalist reviews of these translations. In a second phase, I will try to question the task and the strategy of the translators when confronting these orientalist projections: how does the translator make himself an accomplice of these fantasies? and how can he put his translation into an post-orientalist or anti-orientalist approach? This reflection will be illustrated by concrete examples from my own French translation of Liu Cixin’s trilogy.

  • 14h30-15h : Nicoletta Pesaro (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice) : « Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction : The Translation of a Genre »

    China seems to be nowadays one among the few countries and complex cultural systems in the world that is still endowed with a performative vision of the future. Science fiction naturally envision possible future scenarios, and thus could represent best contemporary China’s conundrum and growing self-awareness in managing the destiny of millions of people, in a way that could affect and already affects the rest of the world. The flourishing of an internationally recognized science fiction literature in China has been much discussed recently as a new field of cultural expression and communication, which nonetheless is rooted in late 19th century and early 20th century’s Chinese search for modernity, and carries also a profound political significance. A genre whose history and development has been indisputably dominated by Western literature, science fiction is now becoming a space of cultural and ideological confrontation, both inside and outside China. Translation can be a powerful consecrating act. Not only Ken Liu’s brilliant English translation of prominent Chinese sci-fi writers, such as Liu Cixin and Hao Jingfang, allowed them to win prestigious international literary awards, but the hectic atmosphere surrounding Chinese SF in terms of publishing and academic projects as well as political endorsements reveals that this genre is at the very centre of an interesting process of soft-power building or nation-branding. Drawing from Venuti’s theories on domesticating/foreignizing translation strategies and from Casanova’s views on the appropriation of literary capital, my presentation will take into account the main elements which constitute this translational process: first of all the concept of genre as a performative act and as a translatable object. Indeed, genres’ transfer or translation may be described as a “foreignizing” act, which inscribes an alien system of literary values in the domestic one in order to discard it or to change it, but in this case it results also in a “domestication” of a typically Western genre into the Chinese repertoire as a reflection of national policies and ordinary people’s expectations.

  • 15h-15h30 : Jon Solomon (Université Lyon 3 Jean Moulin) : « Becoming-Majority : Colonial Science, the Apparatus of Area, and the Modern Regime of Translation in Cixin Liu’s Sci-Fi Trilogy, Remembrance of Earth’s Past »

    Taking as its point of departure a reading of Cixin Liu’s acclaimed science fiction trilogy, Remembrance of Earth’s Past, this presentation will tease out the links among the modern regime of translation, aesthetic humanism, and the metaphysical unity of colonial science that have collectively generated some of the most powerful dualisms characteristic of the colonial-imperial modernity: East and West, tradition and modernity, science and literature. As a parable of the modern regime of translation and the logical economy of species and genus, Remembrance of Earth’s Past presents a history of disenchantment, or more precisely, the notion of history as a process of disenchantment. Yet unlike the type of disenchantment characteristic of modernity described by Max Weber, which is defined in relation to religion, the form of disenchantment advanced by the Trilogy is defined in relation to politics and species difference. In typical post-socialist, neoliberal fashion, the disenchantment is dialed in around the political, associated in its entirety with evolutionary immaturity. Translation is conspicuous in the narrative precisely because of its absence. Two details about the approach of the alien species that eventually annihilates Homo Sapiens, the Trisolarians, to interspecies communication are key: first, they use a prosthetic technology to project their enunciations onto the retina of recipient Homo Sapiens, enabling a mode of inter-species communication that is literally transparent; second, the Trisolarians cannot engage in prevarication of any kind. Semantic transparency wedded to an involuntary regime of truth epitomizes the ideology of communication upon which the modern regime of translation is built. Effacing the essential basis of communication in failure, this ideology associates translation with a logical economy of genus and species. Hence, translation appears in the Trilogy under the utopian sign of the return of the repressed. It is precisely what does not take place when techno-science displaces the political and species difference becomes a form of irrevocable destiny and absolute alienation. The Trilogy, in other words, is a manifest rejection of the notion of minor literature developed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

Groupe D

  • 16h-16h30 : Loïc Aloisio (Aix-Marseille Université) : « Translating Chinese SF : the Importance of Neologisms, Coined Words and Paradigms »

    Recently, Chinese science fiction literature seems to gain unprecedented visibility in Western countries, since it is translated in many Western languages, in particular in English. The question of the translation of this literature seems therefore to be a topical issue with several potential difficulties, such as the translation of neologisms and coined words, as well as that of encyclopedias (Eco ; Saint-Gelais) and paradigms (Angenot) which are very different from one culture to another — from the Chinese culture to the Western one, in particular. Hence, this paper aims to discuss the transition from Chinese written neologisms and coined words to Western alphabetic languages, as well as concepts of paradigms and encyclopedias, which are of paramount importance to properly understand a text. For this purpose, I will base my reflection on previous research on science fiction, literature in general, and translatology, in order to suggest fitting solutions to the translation of Chinese written science fiction into Western languages.

  • 16h30-17h : Nathaniel Isaacson (North Carolina State University) : « Estrangements of Translating Chinese Science Fiction »

    This paper examines the process of translating Chinese science fiction in terms of a series of case studies exploring challenges unique to rendering Chinese SF into English. First, I contrast Istvan Csicsery-Ronay’s notion of “fictive neology” with Chinese SF’s capacity to make use of syntactic and semantic allusions from the classical corpus. Labeling the use of allusive language in Chinese SF “fictive archaism,” I examine the challenges in rendering these allusions readable to an English language audience. Second, I use the notion of the “death of the translator” to examine approaches to translating SF that describes the ineffable, or that which is beyond human comprehension. While translation would seem to demand a thorough understanding of the text, does translation have the potential to freeze multivalent meanings that emerge from the original text? Third, through an examination of “cruel and unusual sentences,” I examine the task of the translator in terms of fidelity to grammatical structures. Put simply, I ask: should one replicate sentences so overly long that they appear to violate basic rules of English grammar, or attempt on the other hand, to preserve sentences so short that they risk rendering the text pedestrian and stilted? Finally, in “three body translation,” by comparing Hao Jingfang’s original work, “Invisible Planets” (Kanbujian de xingqiu,) and English translations by myself and Ken Liu, I argue that one way to achieve Benjaminian “transparency” in translation is by seeing a single work through the lens of multiple translators.

17h-17h15 : Pr. James St. André (CUHK) : Closing remarks


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