Eileen Chang @102: New Perspectives on an Iconic Writer
2: Eileen Chang's “Voyage in/out” toward Topolect Literature
Friday, March 25, 2022
1:30pm – 3:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Penn State University, United States
Scholarship on Eileen Chang in the past decades has delved into the significance of this talented writer in the context of the Chinese script world (to borrow David Damrosch’s phrase). Some scholars have also tried to approach her from bilingual, diasporic, and translational perspectives. Yet not much has been said about her relationship with topolect literature. Her translation and annotation of Flowers of Shanghai, a text lauded by Hu Shi as “a masterpiece in Wuyu (Suzou dialect) literature,” offers a ready starting point for this presentation. I will consider what accounts for Chang’s interest in Wuyu, what translational strategies she employed in this work, and how considering this important work contributes to our overall perceptions of Chang’s oeuvre and the author. But my interest in the topic is more expansive than a single work. Evoking Said’s familiar phrase “voyage in” – a term that describes the “adversarial internationalization” of third-world writers in metropolitan centers, my presentation delves into the hitherto under-theorized (despite recent scholarly output in Sinophone studies) borders between script and sound, national and local languages/literatures, Chinese vernacular fiction and the modern novel in baihuawen (plain speech). I do not intend to borrow wholesale the Western modern discourses of imperialism and cosmopolitanism, such as the version advocated by Said. Instead, I insist on placing Chang within the palimpsestic cultural worlds where multiple script and sound systems co-exist, in parallel, uneven, sometimes competitive manners. Using Chang as an exemplary case, I formulate a culturally specific discourse of borders and boundaries.