Lily Briscoe's «Chinese Eyes» : the reading of difference in translated fiction

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Journal article

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Quaderns : Revista de traducció

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the Other, reader, difference, the Self, alterity


Since the eighties, translation scholars have increasingly turned to «differences» rather than similarities between the original and the translation. More important than the mere existence of these differences is the fact that they are experienced by the reader. Reading a translation can be characterized as a «border-crossing experience» in that the reader moves back and forth between two semiotic realms, one familiar, the other strange. My paper will take as its starting point the repeated references in Virginia Woolf’s masterpiece To the Lighthouse to its central character Lily Briscoe’s «Chinese eyes». That the Chinese reader of the translation should feel uncomfortable because Lily’s «Chinese eyes» are said to be the main obstacle to her finding a husband is symptomatic of a more general problem concerning readers’ reception of translated realist fiction. As a literary method, realism can be understood as a self-conscious effort to make literature appear to be describing directly not some other language but reality itself. Unfortunately, by their very nature, translations call attention to the target language in addition to describing a reality. In the case of Woolf’s biased reference to «Chinese eyes», we have an interesting instance of how the reader’s sympathetic identification with the characters (encouraged by the language used —Chinese in this case) can be suddenly shattered when his attention is drawn to an unpleasant feature he, as a Chinese person, possesses. The crux of the problem lies in the fact that in translations, one language is used to capture the reality normally expressed by another. Is there reality beyond language? Can reality exist outside of language?

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The article is also published in 2007 on Translation Studies in the New Millennium: An International Journal of Translation and Interpreting, 5, 17-30.

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Recommended Citation

Chan, L. T.-h. (2008). Lily Briscoe's «Chinese Eyes»: The reading of difference in translated fiction. Quaderns: Revista de traducció. 15, 197-209.