FAH-DENG Guest Lecture: “Transcreating Textual Memes: The Case of Chinese Concrete Poetry” by Dr. Tong-King Lee, University of Hong Kong, China


10 Nov 2016





Concrete poetry is often seen as inherently untranslatable; but when one speaks of untranslatability here, the implicit reference point is that of semantic substance; or: what is the poem talking about (at the level of language, that is)? The fact, however, is that a concrete poem can talk about virtually nothing at the level of the isolated word or utterance and yet afford intense ‘meaning’ – not in the sense of a neatly articulated semantics but in the sense of an embodied affect. Untranslatability, then, turns into 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 a functional and effectual response in another language.

In this talk I 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 I 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.


Dr Tong-King Lee is an Assistant Professor in Translation in the School of Chinese, The University of Hong Kong. In 2009, he graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy in Translation and Interpreting Studies from the University of Queensland, Australia. He is the author of Experimental Chinese Literature: Translation, Technology, Poetics (Brill, 2015) and Translating the Multilingual City: Cross-Lingual Practices and Language Ideology (Peter Lang, 2013). His forthcoming publications include Translanguaging and Translation (with Mike Baynham) for Routledge and Translation Studies: A Concise Survey for Palgrave Macmillan.


All are welcome




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