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Cultura International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology

Volume 9, Issue 2, 2012

Semiotics of World Cultures

Yi Chen
Pages 87-102

Semiosis of Translation in Wang Wei’s and Paul Celan’s Hermetic Poetry

Traditionally, comparative literature has focused on the study of influences between texts and it is only recent work that has explored the analogies and affinities of historically independent cultures. In this spirit, this paper develops methods for a structured poetic analysis and applies them to a systematic comparison of the poem “Niǎo Mǐng Jiàn” from the 8th-century Chinese poet Wáng Wéi and the program piece of Paul Celan’s Atemwende: “Du Darfst,” based upon a detailed analysis of their poetics. The analysis and translation reveals how both poems employ words and images as signs without reference, and create dialogical gaps through ambiguity and impersonality. Thus, despite their cultural and historical separation, both poetic texts become “hermetic,” and both poets apply the “hermetic” as a method of inquiry into truth, a truth that cannot be simply pronounced, but needs to be cowitnessed, or heard in silence. It is through this meaningful “silence” that their poetry invites readers and translators all the more perceptively to engage in meaningful conversations. These results entail encouraging perspectives for the question of the limits of translation, especially with regard to east-western studies and for crosscultural comparative literature. Thus, the paper supports Prof. Li Qingben’s and Prof. Guo Jinghua’s claim for a multi-dimensional framework in the study of East-West cultural influences.

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