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Transcreating Memes: The Case of Chinese Concrete Poetry

2016 / 2017 School of Chinese Research Student Seminar


Transcreating Memes: The Case of Chinese Concrete Poetry


陳永傑 Steven Chan


November 25, 2016 (Friday); 5:30-6:45pm
Room 730, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus
Language: Putonghua


Concrete poetry is often seen as inherently untranslatable. Untranslatability, however, is a relative notion: a text can be said to resist transfer into another language on the grounds that the referential value of its original words cannot be adequately communicated, but this does not prevent the text from eliciting an effectual response in another language. In this talk, we attempt to translate into English four concrete poems by renowned Taiwanese poet Chen Li to advance the idea of translation as meme transference. By (textual) memes, we refer to the thematic and/or formal economy of the source text that is fossilised in a particular configuration of signifying resources in the source text. Textual memes are abstract; they constitute the aesthetic logic or conceptual motif underlying a piece of writing – the DNA of the text as it were – and are instantiated by concrete discursive units, i.e. the actual words or structures (the ‘fossils’) we encounter in the text. As far as concrete poetry is concerned, translation responds to its source text by developing and extrapolating the textual memes built into the latter, and does so by way of activating resources in the target language.