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19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei by Eliot…
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19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei

by Eliot Weinberger, Octavio Paz, Wang Wei

Other authors: Peter A. Boodberg (Translator), Michael Bullock (Translator), Witter Bynner (Translator), Chang Yin-nan (Translator), H.C. Chang (Translator)16 more, C.J. Chen (Translator), François Cheng (Translator), Michael Crook (Calligrapher), W.J.B. Fletcher (Translator), Soame Jenyns (Translator), Kiang Kang-hu (Translator), James J.Y. Liu (Translator), G. Margouliès (Translator), William McNaughton (Translator), Octavio Paz (Translator), Kenneth Rexroth (Translator), G.W. Robinson (Translator), Gary Snyder (Translator), Lewis C. Walmsley (Translator), Burton Watson (Translator), Wai-lim Yip (Translator)

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Especially given that this slim volume is barely 50 pages long, I unhesitatingly recommend it to just about anyone who is even vaguely conscious about what they read, especially if they regularly read anything in translation.

On its surface, and a gossamer-thin surface it is, this book is a comparative-literature exercise, with its laser focus on a single, four-line Chinese poem by Wang Wei, dated from about 1200 years ago. Per the title, there are 19 translations investigated by Eliot Weinberger, including one by Octavio Paz (in two versions), who also provided commentary on the art of translation.

Weinberger's prose is about as far from the original poem as it could be -- where the poem is placid, interrupted by two sublime instances, he is stalwart, headstrong, and, in a word, loud. At times, it verges on a situation where he, through sheer force of presence, threatens to overshadow the actual subject, but he can get away with it because he is, in essence, almost always correct in his declarations about why one poem works and one doesn't (eg., "Chang translates 12 of Wang's 20 words, and makes up the rest" and, when writing of an attempt by William McNaughton, "Line 1 has been turned into a statement, almost a parody of Eastern Wisdom").
1 vote Disquiet | Mar 30, 2013 |
Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei offers at least twenty versions by various hands of a quatrain by the eighth-century Chinese poet Wang Wei. The author comments, sometimes acidulously, on each. The Mexican Octavio Paz contributes his own perceptive comments (particulary regarding Ezra Pound's Cathay) occasioned by his own Spanish version of the poem.

The quatrain itself has the iconic qualities of classic Chinese verse, spareness, objectivity, and ambiguity. These seem irresistibly to betray the Western translator or critic into Symbolism. I am not convinced the poet intended the layers of metaphysical and spiritual speculation that Weinberger and Paz see in this simple, direct poem, though it may be these are derived from Chinese critical tradition, especially Ch'an Buddhist.


However, the very short (53-page) book is an intriguing exercise in both translation and criticism, a primer in classical Chinese poetics, and offers some entertaining commentary by its author. One does have to decide whether it is worth its price, in view of its brevity and, frankly, ephemerality. ( )
1 vote anthonywillard | Nov 27, 2010 |
This slim volume is interesting in that it compiles about 23 translated versions of a single Wang Wei poem. Editor Weinberger appends a brief commentary on the strengths and failings (more often than not, failings) of each. Unfortunately, said commentaries are childishly snide, which greatly decreases both the reader's enjoyment of, and attention to, the points he is trying to make. ( )
1 vote Trismegistus | Jul 31, 2007 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Eliot Weinbergerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Paz, Octaviomain authorall editionsconfirmed
Wang Weimain authorall editionsconfirmed
Boodberg, Peter A.Translatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bullock, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bynner, WitterTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chang Yin-nanTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chang, H.C.Translatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chen, C.J.Translatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cheng, FrançoisTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Crook, MichaelCalligraphersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fletcher, W.J.B.Translatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jenyns, SoameTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kiang Kang-huTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Liu, James J.Y.Translatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Margouliès, G.Translatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
McNaughton, WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Paz, OctavioTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rexroth, KennethTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Robinson, G.W.Translatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Snyder, GaryTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Walmsley, Lewis C.Translatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Watson, BurtonTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Yip, Wai-limTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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