Friday, November 28, 2008


One of the Chinese editors I work for asked me a few days ago to advise on a snappy translation of this:


It's a famous line from Xun Zi, a Chinese sage of the 3rd Century BCE.

Now, you may well ask how I - a notorious refusenik when it comes to learning the language here - can possibly offer assistance in translating Classical Chinese. Well, the answer is that I turn to my better-qualified friends for insight into the original language, and then apply myself to trying to do something with the English end.

For this, I suggested:

"From my study, I can survey the wide world; from the present, I can journey to the ends of time."

My technical adviser points out that the verb in the second clause there more literally means something like 'speaking' - or indeed, 'debate' or 'disputation'. I set this consideration aside - an allowable piece of poetic licence, I hope - because I think the general import of the remark must surely be about the power of the imagination to transcend time and distance, about how freely the mind can range (perhaps particularly when inspired by a good book); I can't think of any 'talk' word that conveys that sense of movement. And I like to picture the scholar here in solitary contemplation rather than engaging in dialectic.

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