Published 15 February 202322 February 2023 · Main Posts Self-translation and bilingual writing as a transnational writer in the age of machine translation Ouyang Yu I grew up in a small town by the Yangtze. Because my father knew English and had taught me since I was a young child, I was able to speak my first English words by the time I was in Grade 4 of a primary school in Huangzhou at the age of eleven, in 1966, when the Cultural Revolution began. * Fast forward to late 2022, fifty-six years after, when the boy who started learning English at eleven has published 146 books, many of which are written either in Chinese or English, with a few that are bilingual or self-translated. * If one skips the books of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, literary translation and literary criticism, one is left with a few that fall into the category of what I propose to discuss, Moon over Melbourne and Other Poems, Self Translation and Flag of Permanent Defeat. * To cut a long story short, it all boils down to the need to go as far away from oneself as possible before one realises another need to come back to reclaim what has been lost in the process while tying the knot of the opposite ends and merging them into a new transformation. * Reclaimed Item 001, from a diary entry, Saturday 3/5/1980: 我和周在山间小道上散步，沉默无言，我们向山上走去，穿过蓊郁的树林，身上带着槐香，走下珞珈，进入幽美的武大校园，在小径中蜿蜒地散步，流连。哪儿是我们的目标，没有？今晚上的电影，听了名字都叫人打瞌睡，更不愿用 眼角瞟一瞟。何处是我们的目标？回去的路上，我问周。to be a learned man！是他的回答。啊to be a learned man！我从前是多么想这样啊。可是现在，仅仅做一个有学问的人就够了吗？仅仅把自己的脑子变成一个书库或把自己变成个书呆子？我不要这样！人活在这个世上，不仅要生活，还要创造生活。我怎么能够容忍自己成天地把自己埋在书堆里，像一个书虫。更确切些，象个寄生虫似地生活吗？我们在这个世界上消耗得还不够吗？浪费得还不够吗？花开了，使春天变得美丽，她们虽凋谢了，但她们曾使春天美过。可我呢？也许曾想过用华美的衣服装饰自己，用丰富的知识充实自己，可那算什么？那不都是一个 “自己”吗？为什么就不能象根火柴，把光明给了别人，自己却默默无闻然而心甘情愿，心满意足地离去？Creation，创造，人类这个最伟大的字眼，整个历史不就是在不断创造中发展的吗？ * Up to that point, eight months after my first English classes at the university, my diary entries had begun to mix Chinese and English, without me realising that this would become a major feature of my poetry thirty-five years down the track. * Actually, I had a miscalculation as my bilingual attempt was earlier than that in 2016—could be even earlier—because I wrote one of my bilingual poems while teaching my students in Shanghai, 《Scissors》 早上抓阄写诗 先抓了两个，其中一个是pen 放弃了，因为规矩是抓一 再抓的就是上面 你们看到的那个字 这且不去说它了 且说我昨天上英语写作课 用的就是这个方法 有的抓了A，有的抓了Q 还有的抓了Africa 和love 以及death或ugliness 以及——凡是你们想得出 或想不出的字、数字、字 母，除了字公 抓A的那个来了一首 她平生第一首 英文诗，说： A comes before B B comes before C C comes before D D comes before E … until Z comes before A A, A, A Even if I never get straight A’s I’ve got it now The first A in my life 写love的那个男生 一上来就romantic了 什么Cupid之类 让我想起，从前有个女生 上台朗诵时的一首诗结尾： Love is shit 她说那是一个男生失恋后说的话 被她“偷”了过来 写Africa的那个，想了半天想出这几句： I don’t know anything about Africa I’ve never been there Now that it’s in my hand I recall having actually seen Many Africans in my country They are black, they are dark And Chinese women love them 拿到ugliness的那个女生 也有惊人之语，她写道： Summer is uglier than spring But she’s my best friend 写death的女孩也不示弱 她写道： Winter is dead Spring is dead Summer is dead And now, autumn is about to die 好了，该我写完这首题为“scissors”的诗了 一句话： 我所做的不过是把 现实和想象scissor了一下 * I wrote one of my earliest Chinese poems in Melbourne on 11 November 1992 and published it in a Melbourne-based Chinese-language newspaper a year or so after. But even before the collection with its English version of self-translation came out in 1995, it had not been published in any official literary journals to which it had been submitted, all the more reason I include it here, 这一天，在墨尔本，什么也没有发生 这一天你想写诗你的诗无处可写 你没带纸 别人帮不了你 都开着自己的小车隔着两重玻璃 后视镜中别人能看见你 你只能看见另一个别人 绿灯催着人上路于是什么也不能发生 你的家是一座花园 草长得深花开得稳 太阳有一些树和风的影 你有问题你不能 什么也不能使你发生 雨来得很怪，有阳光还有性急 一个红雨衣慢慢从草径穿过 长得像一个世纪 你凝视窗面上的水珠吸进玻璃纤维里 直到水珠里的那人消失什么也没发生 你大喊一声看见晒太阳的黑猫翻过墙去 你的儿子低头坐在挡门石上 手里捧着时间 你只好玩味着风在枝头跳出的舞步 和着那只唱鸟的祷告：没事没事没事发生 这一天六点半的电视照旧播放世界各地过时的新闻 这一天喝咖啡的常客依然不忘顺便看一眼当天的报纸 这一天你以为你会干一件惊天动地的大事—— 其实你在涂鸦，什么也没发生 你失落了历史和昨天 它们原在一条大河里，只要把脑袋埋进 你就可以看见—— 在墨尔本你只有什么也不发生的 此时和此刻 (1992年11月11日写于金斯勃雷) Its self-translated English version below, That Day Nothing Happened in Melbourne That day you wanted to write poems but you had nothing to write with you hadn’t brought a piece of paper you hadn’t a pen no one could help everybody was driving his own car double screened by wind-shield from the rear mirror the other person could see you but you could only see another one in another car while the green light was urging you to go on your home was a garden with deep grass and stable flowers the sun had got some shadow of trees and wind in it you’d got problems but you couldn’t nothing could make you happen the coming of rain was bizarre with sunshine and impatience a red raincoat was passing slowly through the grassy path as long as a century you were watching drops of rain being absorbed into the texture of the window pane until the figure in the drop disappeared and nothing else happened you burst into shouting and saw the black sun-bathing cat climb over the wall your son was sitting head low on the stone used to hold back the door reading time in his cupped hands you could do nothing but look at the wind dancing on the branches in unison with that singing bird’s preying: nothing nothing nothing ever happens in Melbourne that day the six-thirty SBS went on with its routine of world news as usual that day coffee-drinkers did not forget to glance through their age of the day that day you thought you could do something that would shake the world to its foundation— but you were scribbling and scribbling and nothing really happened you had lost history and yesterday they had been in a river into which you had only to bury your head to see— in Melbourne all you have is now that has nothing to happen  * While everything was happening elsewhere, nothing was happening in Melbourne, right at that particular moment, a criticism of migratory incapacitation and reduced state to nothingness, made poignant by the fact that this coincided with my earliest feelings of despondency and lack of hope about a country that seems shiny on the outside but dark on the inside. * It was around this time that I began self-translating my poems into English and submitting them to literary magazines or journals. I had difficulties in getting them accepted because I gave away the secret of self-translation until I presented them as if they were originally written in the English language, a strategy well worth adopting in those days of insensitivity to the genre. * Time soon enters into an age of machine translation that, in a perverse way, has made the need for bilingual writing and self-translation even more urgent, particularly from the point of view of an experimental poet who wants to write against easy machine manipulation by being more innovative, keeping ahead, not abreast, of the times. * This consists of producing poetic work that defies machine translation. Take the following poem, Enough in Austr alia people r af,raid of not making enough money in Austr alia people r af,raid of not being correct enough in Austr alia people r af,raid of not being good enough in Austr alia people r af,raid of not being judged enough in Austr alia people r af,raid of not winning enough awards in Austr alia people r af,raid of liking others enough in Austr alia people r af,raid of not writing about the past enough in Austr alia people r af,raid of not being white enough in Austr alia people r af,raid very, very af.raid A DeepL translation of this produces comical effects if not totally wrong, 《足够》 在澳大利亚 人们都在担心 赚不到足够的钱 在澳大利亚的其他国家 人们在澳大利亚的生活 不够正确 在澳大利亚的其他国家 人们在澳大利亚，突袭 不够好 在澳大利亚的其他国家 人们对澳大利亚的评价 判断力不够的人 在澳大利亚的其他国家 人们对澳大利亚的评价，突袭 赢得的奖项不够多 在澳大利亚的其他国家 * Thanks to the age of machine translation, I was able to read a French book in its entirety. Of 999 pages, Cahiers: 1957-1972 is the magna opus of Romanian-French philosopher E. M. Cioran, which I first read in an ebook, then a paper-based one, that gives me much spiritual inspiration in my writing. * Thanks to the age of machine translation, too, English-speaking members of my WeChat原乡Otherland Smashing Poetry Group have no difficulty reading Chinese poems posted anonymously on a daily basis since 2017 nor the Chinese-speaking members have any difficulty reading the English poems. This group, initiated in mid-2017, provides a forum for poets from China and the rest of the world to smash poems posted anonymously, against the current social media trend of posting one’s poems to get likes and posting more without any criticism. I’ll just cite one example of my own, from FPD (Flag of Permanent Defeat), It’s amazing that poets with no English can make comments on the bilingual side of things because of machine translation. * While there are numerous instances of this linguistic defiance that leaves the age of machine translation uncomfortable and insouciant, my basic tenet as an artist is that there is a can-do spirit in relation to bilingual writing and self-translation that, despite of or because of the possibility of machine translation, can transcend itself by being experimentally innovative, particularly when it comes to pinyin, as it is something the current model of machine translation has great difficulties copying with. Take the latest issue of 原乡No. 132, with its title being “宛s泥”, rendered by Google Translate as ‘wan s mud’. The actual meaning of that is玩死你：play you to death. If there is no point, that is the point, exactly what one member of the group does, getting Google Translate to turn her Chinese poem into Russian, then Arabic, then some other unknown language before posting it anonymously. Foonotes: This paper was presented at ‘Bringing the Creative Writing into the Community’, an international conference at Hong Kong Baptist University on 6 December 2022.  2016年10月12日8.51pm写完于suibe湖滨楼308房, taken from ‘the wushiji’, vol. 9, included in Flag of Permanent Defeat. Puncher & Wattmann, 2019, pp. 156-157.  首发在墨尔本《新海潮报》1993年12月23日第10版并自译成英文发表在第一部英文诗集Moon over Melbourne and Other Poems. Papyrus Publishing, 1995, pp. 18-19, later republished in《飘风》（Drifting with Wind). Otherland Publishing, 2020, pp. 41-42.  Ouyang Yu, Moon over Melbourne and Other Poems. UK: Shearsman Books, 2005, pp. 42-43, a version preferred in comparison to Moon over Melbourne and Other Poems, published by Papyrus Publishing, 1995, pp. 18-19. Image: Steckerboard on an Enigma machine, Wikimedia Commons Ouyang Yu Ouyang Yu is a poet based in Melbourne and since his first arrival in April 1991 in Australia, he has published quite a few poems. His eighth novel, All the Rivers Run South, is forthcoming with Puncher & Wattmann in 2023. More by Ouyang Yu › Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. Related articles & Essays First published in Overland Issue 228 10 November 202311 November 2023 · Subscriberthon 2023 On the final day of Subscriberthon, Overland’s most important members get to have their say Editorial Team BORIS A quick guide to another year of Overland, from your trusty feline, Boris. I liked the ginger cat story, though it made my human cry. 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