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Culture in translation: an inquiry into global/local negotiation.

Why has translatability of cultures become an issue? -- Wolfgang Iser

Cultural translation, which is usually associated with the notion of cross-cultural encounter, implies change, transformation and appropriation of a culture in different social, political, economic and cultural contexts. As a result of the encounter of different systems of social signification, cultural translation may take on special significance in a transnational space that provides the most common terrain on which the debates over cultural diaspora have taken place. Originally, the debates are framed as a legal argument in cases related to immigrants who moved from one cultural territory into another. Here is a case reported by Kristin Koptiuch:

In 1988 in Brooklyn, New York, Dong Lu Chen, a Chinese immigrant employed as a dishwasher and garment worker, pled guilty to a charge of manslaughter of his allegedly adulterous wife, Jian Wan Chen, also a garment industry worker. In a nonjury trial, Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Edward Pincus reduced a murder charge to manslaughter and gave Mr. Chen the lightest possible sentence, five years' probation. The judge adjudicated the case in accordance with the defense attorney's argument that the man's uncontrollable violence was driven by "traditional" Chinese notions about the shame infidelity casts upon a husband and his ancestors. Clinching the case was the "expert witness" testimony provided by a white male anthropologist, Burton Pasternak of Hunter College, whose "forceful appearance" persuaded the judge that the immigrant could not escape his originary cultural formation, and hence his actions were culturally excusable. (215)

Clearly enough, this case indicates a double-standard system of justice in the United States, and moreover, it suggests the assumptions based on cultural translation that often serves as a legal strategy known as "cultural defense." What has attracted my attention in this case, however, is not the legal argument but rather the issue of cross-cultural translation that needs to be examined in relation to cultural diaspora. The 'Chinese culture" in the United States, which Pasternak has attempted to translate in Western anthropological parlance, does not match accurately the cultural situation of contemporary China. However, the power of cultural translation could be so forceful as in Mr. Chen's case that even the fact that "it is unlawful for a man to murder his wife in contemporary China was considered irrelevant or beyond the 'facts of the case"' (Koptiuch 215). Cultural translation, which I would like to discuss in this essay, is more than a literary or linguistic act of rendering a text from one language in to another; rather it is a practice of ideological appropriation that is projected toward a transcultural power relationship. As Anuradha Dingwaney observes, "Translation is one of the primary means by which texts written in one or another indigenous language of the various countries arbitrarily grouped together under the 'Third,' or non-Western, World are made available in western, metropolitan languages. However, translation is not restricted to such linguistic transfers alone; translation is also the vehicle through which 'Third World' cultures are made to travel -- transported or 'borne across' to and recuperated by audiences in the West" (4).

The issue of cultural translation has touched a sensitive nerve of the global system in which the ideological capital has not really been decentered yet. In a sense, cultural translation operates in the vicinity of old colonial Empire's shadow and functions within a structural frame at the juncture and disjuncture of colonial and postcolonial discourses in their various forms. For a long time, non-Western cultures come to be re-presented by virtue of Western "translators" who have the privilege as well as the authority over the cultures of non-Western countries. A non-Western nation's cultural identity is often an overdetermined discourse that has been constructed from a Western perspective. As to Chinese cultural identity, various Western translators such as sinologists and anthropologists have played an important role in setting up a global epistemological frame in which the intellectual locus of cultural translation does not lie inside but outside of China. In the case of Mr. Chen, anthropologist Pasternak ' s forceful translation of "Chinese culture" which, for better or for worse, saved Mr. Chen from severe punishment, to a certain degree, is based on an Orientalist understanding of cultural difference, for it aimed at preserving a more or less fixed cultural identity that has been outgrown by the very Chinese culture itself. This case, as it were, suggests a temporal disjuncture within the practice of cultural translation which, as Wolfgang Iser notes, is not a simple act of bridging different cultures, but rather a "mutual mirroring" process wherein "different cultures are enacted under mutually alien conditions" (264). This "mutually alien condition,' which points to the inter-reference between two cultural formations, will help us understand the internal politics of cultural translation, and recognize the complexity associated with representation of "the other" or "otherness" across different cultures. "With respect to an increased sensitivity to instances of blatant mistranslation between 'First' and 'Th ird' worlds," as Carol Maier has observed, we ought "to call for a scrutiny of practice. Such scrutiny would focus on translation as activity as well as, or more than, product and thus explore precisely the interaction and ambivalence beginning translators find missing from definitions of translation" (22).

Among scholars attentive to the issue of translating "otherness," few have dealt with the politics of cultural translation in a more systematical manner than Edward Said. His study of Orientalism exposes the complicity of Western opinion-makers in translating the Orient into self-serving Orientalist discourses. Through a thorough critical examination, Said illustrates a fundamental conceptual antithesis between the Occident as the translator and the Orient the translated. Orientalist cultural translation, in Said's words, suggests "a Western style for dominating, restricting, and having authority over the Orient" (3); by means of rendering the Orient into discursive construction, Western culture "gained in strength and identity by setting itself off against the Orient as a sort of surrogate and even underground self" (3). Orientalism, in this sense, can be considered as sort of cultural translation which is permeated by Western viewpoints and ideological influences. Said's early seminal work on Orientalism, h owever, simply highlights an area in which a lot of explorations are still waiting to be completed. As we are entering an age of globalization, cross-cultural exchange and interaction have become much more complicated than what Said illustrated more than two decades ago. The global flows of cultural diaspora that overcome spatial distance and temporal separation have opened up new spaces for cultural action and interaction between the global and the local. In light of the shrinking of the globe, we need to reformulate the earlier conceptualization of Orientalism that is no longer adequate to describe the change of our sense of cultural translation in its relationship to global/local negotiation. The consequence of global/local interaction upon translation across cultural and national boundaries has been so significant that we must examine the dynamics of cross-cultural diaspora from which a new kind of cultural self-translation has emerged.

In recent years, concomitant with the international flows of immigration and due to increasing mutual penetration in economics, Non-Western cultural products have come into world marketplace that is previously dominated by Western countries. Cultural diaspora, on the one hand, re-signifies the assumptions and meanings of non-Western nations' cultural identities in an era of globalization and, on the other hand, activates new transnational interaction wherein non-Western countries have started to translate themselves and to export their own cultural products into world market. As Fredric Jameson observes, 'globalization means the export and import of culture. This is, no doubt, a matter of business; yet it also presumably foretells the contact and interpenetration of national cultures at an intensity scarcely conceivable in older, slower epochs" (58). Cultural self-translation, by enacting a co-belonging dialogue that situates local translators -- or rather translatants -- at the same time both inside and outs ide a culture, produces a new cross-cultural understanding which, in Iser's words, "maintained the awareness of difference by simultaneously interrelating what was historically divided, be it the split between one s own cultural past and present, or between one's own culture and the alien ones to be encountered through a globally growing confrontation of cultures" (245). The "confrontation of cultures," which is intensified by the process of rapid globalization, reveals a tension between Western translation and non-Western self-translation. Globalization, on the one hand, involves to a large extent the spreading of Western ideological norms of translation; and on the other hand, localization encompasses a counter-discourse of self-translation of local cultures against totalizing globality. Beyond the traditional concept of binary opposition, this interaction suggests a paradoxical correlation/contrariety between global and local discourses ironically inscribed and enacted within the very activity of cross-cul tural translation and self-translation.

Different from Western translators who remain outside the source cultures that have been rendered into global language, local translatants are often insiders of their source cultures and, therefore, they can also be called self- or auto-translatants of their own cultures. When non-Western translatants start to translate their own cultures around the globe, conflicts between different ideological positions seem to be inevitable. For example, the debate between two sinologists, Stephen Owen and Rey Chow, about the alleged intention of some Chinese writers such as Bei Dao to sell self-translation to the West, has raised an interesting question: How should we treat the recently globalized Chinese cultural products ranging from poetry to film in today's world market? In a review essay about the translation of Bei Dao' s poems, Owen expresses his concern that "contemporary Chinese writers are sacrificing their national cultural heritage for a 'translation' that commodifies" what might be called "a true national ide ntity" (see Chow 1993, 1-5; Owen, 28-32). Owen attempts to redefine translation not as a linguistic and language issue, but as a problem of cross-cultural presentation. For Owen, the global translation of Chinese culture will eventually dilute China's "national cultural heritage" that should be localized or confined to its peculiar language, place and history. However, what Owen really criticizes is not Western translation, but the "self-translation" of Bei Dao' s poems, and his main question is why "most of these poems translate themselves?" (31). In Owen's opinion, Bei Dao has integrated a kind of self-translatability into his "world poems" and sold his globally consumable self-translation abroad for self-interest. To Chow's mind, however, in condemning Bei Dao' s self-interest in selling his poems in global cultural market, Owen reveals his own self-serving anxiety to keep the privilege of translating China's culture for the Chinese. "What kind of cultural politics is in play," as Chow interpellates, "when a professor from Harvard University accuses the men and women from the 'third world' of selling out to the West? While he criticizes poets like Bei Dao for succumbing to the commodifying tendencies of transnational culture out of 'self-interest,' what is absent from Owen's musings is an account of the institutional investments that shape his own enunciation" (1993, 2).

What we have witnessed is not an ironic instance of reversed Orientalism in which the West accuses the East for mistranslating its own culture, but a case of contestation for demystifying cultural translation in a changed world situation. What we see in the debate between Owen and Chow is not merely an issue of poetic self-translatability, but a series of complicated questions: How should we read and translate a nation's culture in the age of global cultural diaspora? To what extent, do non-Western nations have the opportunity to translate their own cultures not as the "Other"? How shall we construct a new global-local dialectic, as both the West and the Rest are rapidly fragmented and diluted? And as the self-conscious local translatants start to question and negotiate with the imperial, colonial and capitalist "master discourse," who would assume the authority to produce appropriate discourse of translation about "otherness" in today's world cultural market? These questions, as Homi Bhabha notes, challenge "any essentialist claims for the inherent authenticity or purity of cultures which, when inscribed in the naturalistic sign of symbolic consciousness frequently become political arguments for the hierarchy and ascendancy of powerful cultures" (58). The struggle for a new system of cultural translation has forced the old divide between Orient and Occident break down; this does not mean that the demarcation line between the two sides disappears, but that a new interstitial and overlapping border must be re-established, and a new balance between globalism and localism must be re-validated.

In a recent book on global/local interactions, Rob Wilson and Wimal Dissanayake attempt to refigure a new model for cultural translation in terms of "spatial dialectic": "The geopolitics of global cultural formations and local sites are shifting under the pressures of this new 'spatial dialectic' obtaining between mobile processes of transnationalization and strategies of localization or regional coalition" (2). The tension produced by the paradoxical relation of both conflict and convergence between globalization and localization is an important feature of cultural diaspora in which various cultural presences constantly translate themselves. The global cultural formation depends upon as well as stems from various local cultural self-translations. In order to share and exchange in a global market, culture-producers of different nations translate their cultural products into terms that are interculturally accountable; and in today's world market, the demand for self-translatable and self-marketable products ha s dramatically increased. Not only multinational companies of foods, automobile, computer and electronic apparatuses, but various publishers, filmmakers, opinion-makers, and culture-producers also try to traverse the national boundaries to sell all kinds of flexible, adaptable, user/reader/audience-friendly cultural products, which have undermined the traditional compartmentalization of cultural consumption. In such a situation, "the moment for the meeting of cultural studies and translation studies came at exactly the right time for both," as Susan Bassnett observes; "For the great debate of the 1990s is the relationship between globalization, on the one hand, between the increasing interconnectedness of the world-system in commercial, political and communication terms and the rise of nationalism on the other" (132-133).

In today's world market, the issue of self-translatability suggests a kind of global consciousness that reinforces the tendency of employing interculturally accountable media. Cultural self-translatability does not necessarily lead to dissolution of local cultural difference, but it demands vigorous examination of the changing mechanism of the international flows of various national and indigenous cultures, opening up new spaces for cultural action and interaction between the global and the local. The co-existence of global translation and local self-translation presents a new picture of cross-cultural politics. As Rob Wilson points out, "The dynamism of capitalism as a global system has been tied to the telos of a technoeuphoric poetics of what David Harvey has called 'creative destruction"' (316). Wilson fears that "In this poetics, as Karl Marx noted at the outset of technological modernity, 'all that is solid melts into air' and those Chinese walls of tradition, region, and local identity are relentlessly battered down by commodity exchange, cultural interchange, and forces of technological innovation" (316). This globalized picture that Wilson has presented in Marxist "anti-euphoric" terminology presents a scenario of the "bashing of the 'Asiatic mode of production"' (316). Such a "bashing of the Asiatic mode of production" suppresses a multiplicity of significant local colors among and within Asian nations. However, the problems of translating national cultures are not bashed out or battered down by the Western "technological innovation"; on the contrary, the issues of translating and performing cultural differences have become more intensified as cultural interchanges and commodity exchange advance rapidly in the world market. Differing from Wilson's observation, Robert Stain argues that the "formation, which transfers the notion of dependency from the economic to the cultural sphere, ignores the extent to which some Third World traditions draw on formal structures not derived from the West" (238). Moreove r, Stain opines, "Without denying the largely unidirectional nature of the flow of mass-mediated culture and information between First and Third worlds, ... it is important to insist that in broad cultural terms the flow also moves the other way" (238).

Under the anti-euphoric picture of globalization painted by Wilson, Stain's argument raises some interesting yet complicated issues for the discussion of contemporary Chinese film, in which the global influence and the local tradition often interact on each other in a paradoxical relationship of translation and self-translation. In the process of rapid globalization, filmic discourse has become the most effective vehicle for cross-cultural translation, which does not simply transpose a culture from one country to another, but also translates the culture into systems of global signification, and bridges cultural gaps by rendering cultural specificities into universal visuality. The much-talked-about China's Fifth Generation film, for example, is an instance of cross-cultural translation from recent years that needs and deserves reconsideration. Now the initial excitement and controversy over the alleged cultural sensationalism have died down, it is time to explore these films in the process of cross-cultural s elf-translation, and to find out how these films have touched a sensitive nerve at the global/local nexus. Fifth Generation films should be treated as a cross-cultural phenomenon, not only because the well-publicized international success have been a significant aspect of these films, but also because the very appearance and formation of this phenomenon are related to the process of non-Western cultural self-translation. Caught between two modes of ideological signification -- Western and Chinese, these films seem to be situated in an awkward in-between zone, and they are subject to the forces of both globalization and localization. Almost all Fifth Generation films are produced locally, and their subject matters are mainly based on local stories. However, different from the novelistic versions of the stories that are written solely for the domestic readership within China's home market, the cinematic versions have been made addressing both Chinese and Western audiences. Therefore, one of the most important f eatures of Fifth Generation films is self-translatability -- a kind of worldwide orientation that distinguishes them from the domestic-market-oriented movies in China.

In comparison with the locally consumed Chinese movies, these films are much more graphic and photographic so that the power of visuality can provide the opportunity for non-Chinese audiences to naturalize Chinese cultural referents easily in cross-cultural contexts. Moreover, the filmic discourse is both deeply realistic and highly figurative, symbolic and ambivalent. As Ni Zheng observes, these films, as exemplified by Yellow Earth, "aim to surpass the real look of its subject matter in order to trace back the remote cultural history of the nation"; "Symbolism leads to abstraction, which makes a specific frame, or an object within a frame, change or even lose its original attributes, raises the aesthetic subject to the rational level, and makes one think in broader terms" (32). In such a hybrid discourse that accommodates double-functioning elements, these films can translate a unique story of local culture into globally consumable and marketable experience. Moreover, Fifth Generation films have been produc ed with the anxiety of global influence and in response to the competitive tension between East and West. Confronted with Western globalization, Fifth Generation filmmakers seek re-linking with the world system in a posture that can translate their awareness of China's backwardness into a competitive edge. As George Semsel observes, these filmmakers, "confronting international cinema for the first time after China reopened its doors, immediately grasped the comparative backwardness of their national cinema. With a strong sense of historical mission and social responsibility, they encouraged and helped each other as they doubled their efforts in exploration and research" (184). With a high degree of reactivity, cultural products from China reveal a strong desire to meet Western standard and, at the same time, to resist Western domination. Fifth Generation cinema can be seen as embodying the self-conscious attempt to translate "China" anew around the globe and to re-present China's cultural identity against Wes tern pretranslations. Said has pointed out that "there were -- and are -- cultures and nations whose location is in the East" and whose "lives, histories, and customs have a brute reality obviously greater than anything that could be said about them in the West" (5). This undertranslated "Orient" is exactly the issue that Chinese contemporary filmmakers have to deal with in crosscultural contexts. On the one hand, in order to penetrate the world film market that is dominated by the products of American Hollywood and its European counterparts, Chinese films must exhibit their unique local color and exotic flavor; and on the other, they must translate the sensibility of Chinese culture in a way that is understandable and accessible to Western audiences.

According to Said, although the West "loves" Oriental or non-Western cultures for various reasons, one thing is never changed: "the Orient was not (and is not) a free subject of thought and action" (3). Moreover, as Chow notes, if the Orient is not "a free subject," it is not an "object" itself either, since it is "a mere 'signifier' of something further" (1995, 12). In other words, Oriental or non-Western cultures seem to be diasporal signifiers deterritorialized and translated in a large system of global signification. In the process of rapid globalization, what we must examine is not the signifier itself but the diaspora of signifiers that have lost their original relation to signifieds and become "deterritorializable" and "translatable" -- it can be translated into something or anything else. As Jean Baudrillard worries, in a process of signifying vertigo, "the mode of production" may displace "the contents of production," and dislocates the form of a culture from its substance (17). Moreover, "One of the great attractions of the East," John MacKenzie says, "was its theatricality.... The East provided ample scope for all of these theatrical and visual spectacles" (63). In such a situation, the "theatricality" may become more spectacular and translatable than the content. A case in point is Hong Kong cinema. Hong Kong, the reunified part of China, has been the world's third largest producer of films; despite competition from Hollywood, Hong Kong movies are popular exports in the West. "Among the cultural winds that have come roaring out of Asia in the 1990s," as John A. Lent notes, "few have been as explosive or cut as wide a swath as Hong Kong cinema. Whether with the swordfighting wuxia, kung fu, or heroic bloodshed genres that they created, Hong Kong filmmakers helped set the style for a cinema that fits the globalization age -- full of action with high body counts and minimum dialogue, thus universally translatable" (ix). The "universal translatability" that Lent observes can be described as a kind of cult ural theatricality that transform local cultural particularity and historical specificity into globalizable spectacular signs. However, the significance of the spectacularized signs of exotic cultures, according to Lawrence Venuti, is always subject to Western cultural hegemony, because "translation wields enormous power in the construction of national identities for foreign cultures, and hence it potentially figures in ethnic discrimination, geopolitical confrontations, colonialism" (19). In Chow's opinion, the study of film in relation to the issue of translation between cultures highlights a new mode of cross-cultural resistance "against the active imposition on the relations between West and non-West of an old epistemological hierarchy" (1995, 27). Historically, this "epistemological hierarchy" was established by Western anthropologists who, while studying non-Western cultures, imposed consciously or unconsciously a Western conceptual system upon their "primitive texts." What the earlier anthropologists d idn't predict is that the "primitive texts" today have translated themselves and made themselves available for all kinds of gaze in the West.

Although Hong Kong cinema covers a broad spectrum, only certain kinds of films -- the kung fu or martial arts flicks in particular -- have done well abroad over the years. Moreover, Hong Kong cinema's success in the West is often based on a double rendition of Chinese culture, which accommodates two-fold cultural "texts." On the one hand, Hong Kong films seemed to have translated Chinese culture into terms of gravity-defying sword fights or acrobatic fisticuffs; but on the other hand, the deep cultural meanings that lurk in the very Chinese tradition remain tacit. The ostentatious cultural translation is intended for Westerners, while the tacit substance can be appreciated by Chinese audience. Accordingly, the titles by which Westerners come to know Hong Kong films usually bear no relation to the domestic ones, because the disjuncture between Western and Chinese "texts" is deliberately enacted in the course of production and further ratified in the process of reception. As Stephen Teo points out in his discus sion of Bruce Lee's popularity in the West, "Western admirers of Lee view him differently from his Eastern admirers"; "To the West, Lee is a narcissistic hero who makes Asian culture more accessible. To the East, he is a nationalist hero who has internationalized some aspects of Asian culture. Both views appear antithetical. Narcissism may well be one aspect of Lee's character through which an international audience gains access to eastern motives and behavior, but it does not fully explain his appeal to a Chinese audience" (113-114).

The disjuncture that Teo identifies in Hong Kong cinema can also be found in the case of China's Fifth Generation film; and this disjuncture suggests different cultural frames which, in the case of cross-cultural translation in filmic discourse, are intensified by audiences' psychological expectations as cultural consumers. In a sense, both China's Fifth Generation film and Hong Kong cinema have satisfied Western audiences' expectations, though in different ways. The lyric, impressionist mode of Yellow Earth and the rough, expressionist style of Fist of Fury represent a complementary relationship between the two modes of self-translation. On the one hand, over one hundred years of British rule have made Hong Kong filmmakers adept in translating Chinese culture into a "show" without losing its touch with the original tradition; on the other hand, China's Fifth Generation films move in an opposite direction by reverting the "show" into a self-exploration for cultural authenticity.

The issue of cultural self-translation raises challenging questions concerning cultural signification outside its original local territory -- for instance, can we interpret the highly global-conscious localistic self-translation on the global scene in terms of what Mary Pratt calls "autoethnography"? By "autoethnography," Pratt means "instances in which colonized subjects undertake to represent themselves in ways that engage with the colonizer's own terms." "If ethnographic texts are a means by which Europeans represent to themselves their (usually subjugated) others," Pratt says, "autoethnographic texts are those the others construct in response to or in dialogue with those metropolitan representations" (7). In the case of cross-cultural translation, the global-conscious local filmmakers and culture-producers may have the advantage of developing an intercultural dialogue between East and West. However, cultural self-translation is different from autoethnographic discourse, because it implicates both the ackn owledgment and challenge of Western perspective. The paradox existing in cultural self-translation is that the deeper you go into your native local culture, the more salable commodities you can produce for the world market. Almost all the Chinese films that have well been received in the world market are presentations of remote landscapes and exotic customs of the backward China, while the films about Chinese people living in modern, urban environments are not appreciated in the West. "The viability of a translation" -- filmic or literary, as Venuti so well describes it, "is established by its relationship to the cultural and social conditions under which it is produced and read. This relationship points to the violence that resides in the very purpose and activity of translation: the reconstitution of the foreign text in accordance with values, beliefs and representations that preexist it in the target language" and culture (18). This interesting phenomenon, however, does not mean that we should blame, in a simplistic manner, the twisted fetishism or voyeurism of Western audiences; on the contrary, we must realize that exoticism is still something that can be re-conditioned in the practice of cultural self-translation. As James Clifford observes, in the age of globalization, "the 'exotic' is uncannily close. Conversely, there seem no distant places left on the planet where the presence of 'modern' products, media and power cannot be felt" (13). A local culture becomes exotic when it crosses the boundaries of the local and frees itself from the patrimonial limitations. In other words, the exotic is a culture deterritorialized that is available for global translation. In the world market today, most non-Western films are evocative of local atmosphere and regional customs, however, these local flavors become exotic only when they are translatable in the medium of globally-sensible visuality.

To a certain degree, translation is an art of exoticism, since the "aim of translation," to use Venuti's words, "is to bring back a cultural other" and "translation serves an appropriation of foreign cultures for domestic agendas" (18). Similarly, exoticism is an important feature of cinematic art, which brings ancient times, distant places and exotic cultures to a variety of audiences all over the world. As Dudley Andrew observes, "The promise of the exotic is among the clearest distinguishing traits of cinema's appeal, the trait that most cleanly separates the medium from theater" (232). The irresistible exotic culturalism that we find in China's Fifth Generation films, however, is more than a cinematic convention: it is a practice of self-translation that go through the exotic surface to explore what is inscribed/enacted in the mise-en-scene. What these films present, apart from and beyond the exotic surface, is a self-gazing exploration into Chinese culture. This "self-gazing" indicates an attempt to make sense of the obstinate sensibility of Chinese traditional culture by disengaging a symbolic order from the ancient cultural relics. Most Fifth Generation films go back to the exotic materiality of an uncanny cultural tradition to explore the origins of modern China's problems. Facing a complacent and narcissistic civilization that has produced Confucianism, Taoism as well as Maoism, one cannot but feel that there must be a historical yet mysterious relationship between modern China's problems and something buried deep in China's cultural mentalite. Chen Kaige says, "I don't think movies are just entertainment. Movies can make people think about the situation of China" (36). In this regard, China's Fifth Generation films inscribe a self-reflexive and self-analytical perspective upon Chinese culture. By re-translating the hieroglyphs of Chinese cultural history into modern visuality, these films reexamine what kind of impact that the mis-guided forces of an old cultural tradition can make upon modern life. In an age of postcolonial cultural diaspora, the self-translation of Chinese culture is sometimes mistaken for Westernized translation, and this superficial cognition generates numerous misunderstandings, which almost exclusively criticize Fifth Generation films for mistranslating Chinese culture. Actually, the mode of self-translation interrogates a complicated cultural system by means of split discourse that both presents and questions what it presents simultaneously.

In comparison with China's Fifth Generation films, Hong Kong cinema represents a different mode of cultural self-translation, and artists in Hong Kong, to borrow Teo's words, "expressed their Chineseness in ways that were certainly different from the way artists in China negotiated theirs" (244). If Fifth Generation film attempts to translate the untranslatable, exploring cultural materiality in the crevices of history, Hong Kong movies translate the most translatable, indulging a taste for cultural fantasy in a simulacral space. This does not mean that Hong Kong movies lack the depths of cultural authenticity, but rather that their profound cultural meanings are simply left untranslated in the process of production and consumption. In other words, although "universal translatability" can be a trademark of Hong Kong cinema, it does not obliterate the watermark of cultural originality that may not always be so detectable. The dual marks, as a matter of fact, characterize Hong Kong's uniqueness as a meeting pla ce of East and West. As Teo points out, "Hong Kong is both East (from a Western point of view)"; and West (from a Chinese point of view)"; "The Chinese have, on the whole, looked upon this blending in mock-heroic terms. Indeed, it is the very essence of parody to address such mixtures" (248). The parodic mixture perpetuates the interaction between cultural text and sub-text, displaying the dazzling while withholding the tacit. By comparing the difference and similarity between Hong Kong cinema and Fifth Generation film, we can come to discern not only a twofold texture but also a complicated doubleness couched in the practice of cultural self-translation. Questions such as historical accuracy and auteurist stylization are often convoluted with more fundamental problematics such as the basic function and role that cinema can assume in cross-cultural translation under the forces of double hegemony of Western and Chinese ideologies.

As Scott Nygren observes, "a certain doubleness is unavoidable in the production and interpretation of film in cross-cultural contexts, and that idiosyncratic figures in texts can provide significant sites to unravel such doubleness" (173). Nygren attempts to use Jacques Derrida's concept of "double writing" to explain the dialectic translation between different cultural systems. The concept of "doubleness" can help us understand what JeanFrancois Lyotard calls the cultural differend that "continues to shift meaning according to context" (see Nygren, 173). A culture has to be translated in one way or another when it crosses its borders into a different cultural territory. In a different context, cultural differences can become so visible and glaring that they may take on some significance and meanings previously unnoticed or unnoticeable in their original territory. It is probably a common place to say that a banal scene in North Shaanxi may suddenly become an exotic landscape in the metropolitan New York. Di fferent from Hong Kong movies, however, the cinematic complicatedness that Fifth Generation film exhibits is not merely this kind of "double writing" or exotic differend, but rather a contradictory mode of self-translation that transforms cross-cultural fetishism into a defamiliarizing exploration. In other words, if we say these films are translations of Chinese culture, then this translatability is already inscribed in a process by which the filmmakers attempt to otherize and defamaliarize Chinese culture for a distanced and detached examination. This self-translating discourse, in Nygren' s words, "foregrounds the necessary distorting process of the Imaginary or Other as a means by which difference can be conceived" (182). What these films present to the West, therefore, is not merely a blank exotic cultural landscape but self-translations loaded with profound self-exploration and self-interrogation.

In this sense, China's Fifth Generation films are self-translations that invoke a counter-perspective upon Chinese culture. In Chow's opinion, these movies have enacted a self-anthropological role in their attempt to re-write an autoethnographic account of China; and these filmmakers have "taken up the active task of ethnographizing their own culture" (1995, 180). What Fifth Generation films call for is to re-read and re-translate the uncanny hieroglyphs of Chinese culture and history. Self-translation is an ideological practice that alms at de-familiarizing a culture that its people simply take for granted. However, there is a very ironic situation for non-Western filmmakers to translate their own or other non-Western nations' cultures in the world market. As Stain observes, "the colonial attitude has moved from obnoxious exteriority -- i.e., overt hostility to the third world other -- to obtrusive interiority. Now the colonialist probes the secrets of the other without ever relinquishing his own. While whit e Europeans confidently make films about the Goba of the Zambesi or the Tasaday in the Phillipine rain forest, the Third World filmmaker who presumes to speak about another Third World people is seen as somehow illegitimate" (245). In such an ironic situation, while Americans and Europeans could make films about China such as The Last Emperor without evoking any disapproval, Chinese filmmakers' attempt to cinematize their own culture seems to be "illegitimate" and receives many criticisms. It is widely known that not only Western audiences but Chinese audience also find Fifth Generation films "strange" or "other-looking." While Western audiences might be preoccupied by Orientalist translation of "China," Chinese audience find these movies "unfamiliar" because they are so familiar with the government-approved propaganda that they are shocked to see heterogeneous translations within a seemingly homogenous culture. It is not surprising to hear that Chinese government denounces most of Fifth Generation films, and some of them, such as Judou and Raise the Red Lantern, were banned or withheld from distribution in China, for their translation of Chinese culture does not conform to the government's version of culture, and therefore, must be suppressed and obliterated.

Fifth Generation films are "phoenixes from the ashes" of the crisis of representation that existed in Chinese cinema after the Cultural Revolution. When China re-opened its door to the West in the 1980s, new modes of self-translation were desperately needed. Viewed from a broad perspective, contemporary Chinese cinema can be seen as embodying the self-conscious attempt to translate "China" again before the West and, therefore, it provides an opportunity to re-examine China's cultural identity in relation to Western pre-translations. "To prove the 'Chineseness' of Chinese culture," as Chow opines, "the only way is through difference, which means inserting 'China' among others in processes of cross-cultural production" (1995, 64). In the world cultural market, which is dominated by the products of Western pretranslations, China's Fifth Generation film has managed to achieve a considerable success in re-translating "China" on the global scene, and their auteurist styles and prowess have received international re cognition for the first time in the history of Chinese cinema. "Fifth Generation filmmakers," as Semsel writes, "not only injected fresh blood into filmmaking but also strongly encouraged film studies on a new and more sophisticated level. Their seminal works enlarged the range and potential of filmic expression through innovative uses of cinematography, time and space relationships, and sound as well as color, changing forever, without question, the face of Chinese film" (184). The "Chinese culture" that has been translated by the powerful cinematic apparatus does not merely appeal to the Western gaze, but in a more important sense, it also challenges, questions and displaces the gaze. In a postcolonial age, when Western audiences go to cinemas to watch the films directed and produced by the Western-conscious Chinese directors, the intercultural power relation between the gazer and the gazee has been changed. In Christian Metz' s psychoanalytical terms, when the whole system of knowledge is provided by the g azee-analysand, the gazee may also become the gazer-analyzer, which can generate a counter-discourse to the intended spectatorship. "As in political struggles," Metz writes, "our only weapons are those of the adversary, as in anthropology, our only source is the native, as in the analytical cure, our only knowledge is that of the analysand, who is also (current French usage tells us so) the analyzer [analysand]" (5). In this regard, the films made by China's Fifth Generation directors do not simply display a motion-picture of an exotic culture, but rather, they open up a new space in cinematic discourse in which different kinds of "gazing" and "gazing-back" are negotiated in a process of cross-cultural translation and self-translation.

The act of self-translation creates a cultural transposition between different signifying systems, reifying cultural referents to new signifieds. Cultural self-translations from non-Western countries often assume an ambivalent political position in their attempt to globalize themselves by linking their own cultural traditions with the conventions of mainstream internationalism. This suggests a "tricky version of 'the local'" which, as Stuart Hall observes, "operates within, and has been thoroughly reshaped by 'the global' and operates largely within its logic" (354). A significant aspect of the "tricky version of 'the local'" lies in the contradictory situation in which globalization has led to a double aspiration on the part of the local to catch up with and to challenge the standards exemplified by the West. The tricky local, in other words, has re-sited the global, for it operates within the very system it attempts to challenge. What has appeared from this tricky situation is a new global-conscious self-tr anslation in art, literature, film as well as in scholarship, which correlates with the current international racing of cultural re-translation. Tricky self-translation from non-Western countries contests with Western styles of translation, and suggests a new cultural practice whereby the local has produced a realm of otherness that must be claimed by the other.

"A change in contemporary thinking about translation," as Venuti points out, "finally requires a change in the practice of reading, reviewing, and teaching translations" (312). In an age of postcolonialism and cultural diaspora, translation is no longer a simple act of bridging or establishing connection between different languages or cultures, for it summarizes for many the overall prospect of a broader, more profound cultural change which people are in the process of experiencing. The altered power relation between the translator and the translated informs a new turn in the process of intercultural transfer in which non-Western nations have started to re-translate themselves against various modes of Western translation. The interaction between translation and self-translation has constituted the horizon of a new cultural politics, in which local cultural self-translation has emerged to challenge the Western privilege of and hegemonic power in translating non-Western cultures. Today, it is not surprising to find out that cultural self-translation has been part of the process of decolonialization of the world cultural market. Cultural self-translation, in Venuti' s words, can be considered as "a strategic cultural intervention in the current state of world affairs, pitched against the hegemonic English-state nations and the unequal cultural exchanges in which they engage their global others" (20). Obviously, self-translation does not aim at preserving the fixed, pre-translated identity of non-Western cultures; but rather it destabilizes and challenges the power relations that lie behind the production of translation. "At such a historic juncture," as Iser notes, "a cross-cultural discourse begins to emerge. A discourse of this kind is not to be mistaken for a translation, as translatability is to be conceived as a set of conditions that are able to bring about a mutual mirroring of cultures"; in this sense, cultural self-translation suggests a new cross-cultural discourse that is "motivated by the need to cope wi th a crisis that can no longer be alleviated by the mere assimilation or appropriation of other cultures" (248). This new cross-cultural discourse has become a powerful strategy for global and local negotiation in the late twentieth century, inscribing the changes and transformations of power relations around the globe as well as within the local.


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Benzi Zhang is an Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He has published extensively on translation studies, cultural studies and comparative literature. His recent work has appeared in such journals as Journal of Popular Culture, Postmodern Culture, MELUS, Studies in Short Fiction, Journal of Intercultural Studies, Pretexts, and the Canadian Review of Comparative Literature.
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Date:Dec 1, 2000
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