Comparative Literature | The Arts Today: 1950 to the Present: Imagining China, Translating China
C357 | 27301 | Prof. Kevin Tsai


Department of Comparative Literature, Fall 2008

TR 1:00-2:15
fulfills A&H and CS requirements

This course is about the lies that European intellectuals have told
about China— lies that, when carefully examined, reveal a great deal
of truth about Western self-definition and cross-cultural interactions
in the age of modernity and empire. Initially portrayed as a realm of
virtue and philosopher-kings by Marco Polo, the Jesuits, and Voltaire,
China came to be vilified in the hands of Daniel Defoe, Montaigne, and
Hegel. How did this happen, when the Far East that most of them knew—
detractors and defenders alike— existed only in fantasy, not in fact?
From the politics of representation the second half of the course
turns to examine the literary life of “China,” imagined or otherwise,
through Kafka, Calvino, Pound, and Williams. If modernist translations
of classical Chinese poetry were more often than not critiqued as
“misreadings” of culture even though such “mistranslations” profoundly
influenced twentieth-century poetry, how do we balance the necessity
of cultural authenticity with the equally weighty imperative of
artistic genius?