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Translating Lu Xun’s Māra: Determining the “Source” Text, the “Spirit” versus “Letter” Dilemma and Other Philosophical Conundrums

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Not long after he withdrew from medical studies at Sendai and returned to Tokyo in 1906, Lu Xun began research on the history and philosophy of science, modern European thought, and comparative literature which produced five treatises he eventually published in an archaistic classical prose style influenced by that of Zhang Taiyan. Central to, and the longest among these essays is Moluo shi li shuo (On the power of Māra Poetry), which focuses on literature East and West and, in particular, the Byronic poets and their international legacy. In translating, annotating, and analyzing this essay, one meets with a number of quotations and terms derived originally from Western sources, sometimes through a secondary Japanese, German, or English translation. This article will focus on issues that arise in the translation and interpretation of that essay, in particular on the question of determining the source text, what bearing that has or should have on scholarly translation and how the study of textual issues can shed light not only on texts but also on literary and intellectual history. It offers an analysis of Lu Xun’s own interpretation of the source texts as well as conclusions reflecting on the significance of his literary career and broader mission.


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