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《北京周刊》对李继宏版世界名著的英文报道  

2014-01-16 21:03:14|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Debating Translating
Young 'genius' Li Jihong talks shop
By Yu Yan
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《北京周刊》对李继宏版世界名著的英文报道 - 李继宏 - 李继宏的博客

NOVEL APPROACH: Baz Luhrmann, director of The Great Gatsby, with Li Jihong (left), translator of the book's new Chinese edition, at the film's release in Shanghai on August 31 (CFP)

Thirty-three-year-old translator Li Jihong caused much controversy when he was recently crowned as a "genius translator" for his version of Henry David Thoreau'sWalden, a universally regarded classic.

《北京周刊》对李继宏版世界名著的英文报道 - 李继宏 - 李继宏的博客

SPINE FRESH: Li Jihong's newly published translation of Walden (FILE)

This was his fifth undertaking for Guomai Culture and Media Co. Ltd., all four of his previous translations—including The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)—becoming bestsellers, for which the publisher has cast him as the best translator of all time..

Earlier this year, when Li's translation of The Little Princewas published, he suffered a wave of criticism due to the advertisements of "best translation so far" and "young genius translator" printed on its cover, and for which he was criticized as being arrogant and disrespectful of the previous generation of translations.

Li said that he always found reading foreign literature difficult as a child, a problem shared by many of his peers.

"My difficulties were mainly caused by poor translation. Foreign classics embody some of the essence of human civilization. In the past, translators were restrained by their time and conditions, and unable to provide good works," Li explained. "But today, we have the resources for a complete, correct and wonderful adaptation of such works," he said in an interview with Western China Metropolis Daily.

Technological advantage

The online backlash he suffered at the beginning of this year has done little to frighten the translator or stop him from producing new publications.

"Li's four previous works all ranked No. 1 in sales. This strengthens our belief that his translations of world classics are the best," said Qu Hongbin, President of Guomai, at a book fair where Walden was debuted.

Since its publication, Walden has been regarded as a difficult book to read, meaning it must have also been hell to translate.

Written by American philosopher Henry David Thoreau (1817-62), Walden was listed alongside The Bible as one of "25 books that have shaped people's lives," a list produced by the U.S. Library of Congress in 1995. The work is known as combining a personal declaration of independence, social experiment, a journey of spiritual discovery, satire, and a manual for self-reliance.

In the eyes of many readers, being able to translate such a difficult work demonstrates a translator's profound knowledge. However, Li owes his success to online resources.

"We live in an information society. The Internet has greatly helped improve the process of literary translation," Li said.

As he sees it, mistakes and omissions must become fewer.

Li took the experience of famous Chinese translator Fu Lei (1908-66), who introduced a number of French classics to China, as an example. When the latter came across confusing passages during a translation, he wrote a letter to Paris, consulting the local expert directly. However, such correspondence took months, with resources still few and far between.

Today, conditions have changed greatly. Many problems can be solved with the help of online encyclopedias. When faced with rare questions, it only takes one or two days to receive an answer via email.

In the case of Walden, in which the writer mentioned more than 1,600 animal and plant names, Li holds that in previously translated versions, only familiar names such as horse, cattle and sheep were right, while others were almost all wrong.

Dozens of years ago, the sciences of zoology and botany were relatively immature in China, which meant it was next to impossible to understand related English terminology or find local equivalents.

In addition to mistakes, another problem faced when translating foreign classics pertains to fluency.

"Previous translators received education during a time when the Chinese language was still antiquated. According to modern standards, their language was weird. Accordingly, old Chinese versions of Pride and PrejudiceThe Old Man and The Seaas well as The Great Gatsby all suffered the same problems," Li said.

Staying humble

"I just wanted to help Chinese readers truly understand some foreign classics," he said. "There are only eternal originals, not translations."

The young man said that the title of "genius translator" was a publicity stunt initiated by the publisher. "I guess they used this slogan because I am only 33 years old, but have already translated a number of works."

So far, Li has translated up to 30 types of books covering religion, philosophy, sociology, novels, prose and poetry.

The young translator started publishing newspaper articles during middle school. Then at college, he got an article into Sociological Studies, a core bi-monthly magazine run by the Institute of Sociology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Before choosing to become a translator, he once worked as a journalist and then an editor at a publishing house. Since starting translation in 2004, he has quickly risen to fame.

"Despite my title, I regard myself as a craftsman. My goal is to continuously provide readers with more and more excellent translations," Li said.

A debate of standards

Li holds a different view on the generally agreed translation standards in China—"faithfulness, expressiveness, and elegance."

The above is attributed to Yan Fu (1854-1921) and has become a cherished guideline in Chinese academic circles. Yan was a Chinese scholar and translator, famous for introducing Western ideas, including Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection to China in the late 19th century.

"The standards of 'faithfulness, expressiveness, and elegance' were brought forward at a time when translation was not yet a mature academic pursuit. They are already out of date, especially in translating foreign literature," Li said.

As far as he sees it, translation of literature should keep pace with the time, and it should follow modern language use and reading habits.

"I think a good translator should be able to provide good work. It should be readable and conform to modern Chinese," he explained.

Secondly, a good work should be accurate in terms of meanings and style.

"Every writer has his or her own writing style. For instance, the American writers William Faulkner (1897-1962) and Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) used different techniques. However, when you read their works translated by Li Wenjun, they seem almost the same," Li Jihong said.

Besides criticism for previous standards, Li Jihong regards himself as picky when it comes to choosing projects.

Currently, it seems that most translators like to challenge themselves with difficult foreign classics. However, Li said the reason why he chose Walden was not because it was a difficult task.

"I choose books that embody the values I support," he said.

Li Jihong follows three additional standards. First of all, a work must be a classic, of course. Secondly, the content should interest Chinese readers. And thirdly, it should be a work he appreciates for aspects such as innocence (The Little Prince), courage (The Old Man and The Sea), and soberness (Walden).

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