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“Literal Translation” and the Materiality of Language: Lu Xun as a Case

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image of Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

With his insistence upon the literal rendering in Chinese of foreign texts, especially regarding syntax, Lu Xun’s understanding of “literal translation” strikes a rather distinct note in the modern Chinese literary scene. The intention behind this method, namely, the aim to “retain the tone of the original,” reveals a generative perception of language that takes language as not just the bearer of the already existent thought, but as the formative element of thought that has meaning in itself. This paper seeks to delineate the structural constitution of the materiality of language as grasped by Lu Xun. By comparing the notion of the “tone” to Wilhelm von Humboldt’s notion of the “inner form of language” and situating it within the genealogy of qi, as well as tracing its link with Zhang Taiyan’s idea of “zhiyan,” I will attempt to reveal the philosophical and historical basis of Lu Xun’s principle of “literal translation” and its significance for Chinese literary modernity in general.


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