Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

The Translator's Daydream: A Psychoanalytic Reading of Guo Moruo's Translation of "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"

Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

The Translator's Daydream: A Psychoanalytic Reading of Guo Moruo's Translation of "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"

Article excerpt


This paper examines the translational work of Guo Moruo, a prominent Chinese poet, who, like his peers in the New Culture Movement, turned to translation at the moment of national and personal crisis. It applies a psychoanalytic reading to Guo Moruo's translation of Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard and reveals how the poet/translator uses the medium of the original text to release his own repressed desires and unfulfilled wishes.

Key words: Psychoanalysis; Guo Moruo; Translation; Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

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The core of Freudian theory about literature lies in its view that literary creation is the writer's daydream. Freud (1908) regards literature as egocentric fantasy, in other words, daydream, which shares with night dream the essential feature of fulfilling the desire of the subject through fantasy. In the state of dreaming, the conscious relaxes its censorship, thus enabling the repressed wishes of the unconscious to enter the conscious through disguise and transformation. However, Freud never specifically states whether literary translation is creation, or more importantly, whether literary translation is also daydream. In his analysis of creative writers, Freud divides them into two groups: The first is ordinary novelists who rely completely on their imagination, and their protagonists go through a lot of trouble but always end up being triumphant or heroic, thus revealing the egocentric nature of literature. The second is epic poets and tragedy dramatists who don't completely rely on their own imaginations but instead use existing materials such as cultural and national mythology. Translators, if we can legitimately call them daydreamers, sound more like Freud's epic poets and tragedy dramatists, because translators also deal with preexisting materials, and their freedom and creativity will be revealed in their choice and revision of these preexisting materials.

After Freud, Jacques Lacan further illustrates the relationship between psychoanalysis and literature. Lacan's concept of the symbolic order, in particular, sheds new light on our study on translation from the perspective of psychoanalysis. Just as Freud believes that civilization exerts repression on the human race, Lacan thinks that the symbolic order imprisons us all: "Symbols in fact envelop the life of man in a network so total that they join together, before he comes into the world, those who are going to engender him 'by flesh and blood'; so total that they bring to his birth, along the gifts of stars, if not with the gifts of the fairies, the shape of his destiny" (1953, p.68). Thus imprisoned, the only hope for man, or the only creative opportunity for him, is to break out of the symbolic order and create his own new order of language. Like a newborn facing a world and its symbolic order predating him, a translator facing a preexisting text also feels restraint and repression. But a creative and imaginative translator, like Guo Moruo, whom I study in this essay, often manages to express himself consciously and unconsciously in translation and releases his repressed unconscious in the process of translation as in a daydream.

Even though there lies an obvious affinity between translation and psychoanalysis, the import of psychoanalytic theory has long been ignored by the field of translation studies. In recent decades, however, thanks in part to Poststructuralism, scholars of translation studies have begun to turn their attention, nilly-willy, to psychoanalysis. As Gentzler (2007, p.199) points out, "Poststructural scholars have found thinking in that space between languages that occurs in the process of translation exceedingly fruitful-that space that occurs before the right word has crystallized-for the pursuit of such activities. In Freudian terms, that state has been characterized as a kind of dream state, occurring before conscious rational thought, and all its repressive, identitypreserving mechanisms. …

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