Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

The Intertextual Reading of Chinese Literature with Mo Yan's Works as Examples

Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

The Intertextual Reading of Chinese Literature with Mo Yan's Works as Examples

Article excerpt

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The method of intertextual reading is well known in contemporary literary criticism. According to this method, the meaning of a literary text does not reside in the text, but is produced by the reader in relation not only to the text in question, but also within the complex network of texts invoked in the reading process. The reading of this text must be associated with other texts. In other words, this reading is processed in the context of the text, with the important addition of literary analysis and criticism enabling the reader to reach a better, deeper, and more effective understanding of the text.

Intertextual reading can be a reading within one language, the network of texts and intertextual associations remaining focused on one language and culture. However, in a cross-cultural context, intertextual reading can have more rich and complex intertextual networks, including not only cross-literary texts in many languages at the horizontal level, but can also longitudinally involve historical texts in many languages. There is a context for the original text, and there is also a context for its translation into another language; this is called "co-contextualization." Contemporary comparative literature is based on just such a complicated network of texts.

With the exception of some experts who can read texts of several different languages and so can directly carry out intertextual reading with co-contextualization, most readers of translated texts can only read the literary texts of other languages via translations. The language obstacle makes it impossible for these readers to fully understand the context of the original text and its cultural background. This is because the intertextual network and associations of the original text are not usually brought into the context of the translation at the same time. It is why some philosophers maintain that translation is impossible. Most of the readers of translations have a different language and cultural background other than that of the original text, and they will have developed intertextual reading in their own network of texts that are associated with their own culture and memories. In other words, the text in translation is not read in the cultural context of the original text but in the context of translation; this intertextual reading is called "re-contextualization."

Re-contextualization is disconnected from the context of the original, and, in the worst case, can be a kind of "mis-contextualization." Intertextual reading in such cases may also produce a positive effect, and therefore translation can be possible and valid. When the translation is especially good, it can reach the level of co-contextualization-to a certain degree it can bring the context of the original into the translation, helping readers understand the context of the original, and at the same time stimulating readers of the translation to conduct intertextual reading in their own cultural context. However, in many cases, such intertextual reading will result in catastrophe and the reader will not understand the context of the translation at all. In such cases, even if the original text is a beautiful literary text, and the translation is also correct, the translation may still be inaccessible by readers of other languages.

Intertextual reading as presented above is similar to the situation that Chinese literature faces in the context of world literature, including co-contextualization, re-contextualization, or mis-contextualization. Chinese literature is not just read intertextually in the context of Chinese texts, but it is more often read in a cross-lingual context. More good examples of co-contextualization would be beneficial, but it seems likely that re-contextualization, or even mis-contextualization are unavoidable. Re-contextualization or mis-contextualization is probably normal, no matter whether the effect of intertextual reading as such is positive or negative. …

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