Research Focus Group Talk: Alice in Wonderland as a Fairytale and a Resource Book in China

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Zongxin Feng

November 28, 2023 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm


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Zongxin Feng - RFG Event

This talk focuses on some semiotic aspects of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its unrivaled reception in China with special reference to the first Chinese translation by Y. R. Chao in 1922. In view of the complex addresser-addressee relationships in “children’s literature,” which denotes literature of, for, and in some cases, by children, this study distinguishes Charles Dodgson the man who wrote as a child for the Liddell Sisters and Charles Dodgson the mathematician and logician who wrote as an adult for his colleagues as well as children readers, and Lewis Carroll the verbal artist and storyteller who wrote as both for readers of all ages and all times. It also distinguishes Chao the mathematician and musical artist who recreated the fairytale that inspired Chinese children’s literature, Chao the linguist and verbal artist who made poetic innovations and stylistic experiments with vernacular Chinese in its formative stage, and Chao the philosopher and semiotician who outlined principles and meta-principles of literary translation in his paratexts (i.e. Preface and Translator’s Notes), which metatextually foreshadowed, and offered insights into, a number of present-day academic disciplines. In view of the double nature of the “text” of both Carroll’s and Chao’s, this study highlights the discursive role of the translator as rewriter and makes distinctions of “texts” of the same work and their different types of “reader.” By analyzing the (un)translatability of Carroll’s verbal nonsense, logical absurdities, and metalinguistic propositions that blatantly defy literary translation, this study highlights Chao’s extraordinary feats and explains why Chao’s Alice has eclipsed more than 360 subsequent Chinese translations since 1922. The talk will conclude that the Chinese Alice is characterized with the following features: as representation of a fairytale and recreation of a piece of children’s literature, it has fascinated the child and the child that survives in the adult, considering many adults read children’s literature and re-read their own childhood readings; as an exemplary work of translation and translation studies, it has appealed to the literary translator and translation critic; and as an unmatched multidisciplinary resource book, it has offered deep insights to practitioners of semiotics, linguistics, pragmatics, stylistics, and literary studies in the Chinese context.

Zongxin Feng is a Professor of Linguistics and English Language/Literature at Tsinghua University, Beijing. He got his Ph.D. at Peking University (1998) and worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Beijing Foreign Studies University (1998-2000). He was a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University (2003-2004) and the University of Cambridge (2007), and a Fulbright Research Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley (2009-2010). His research interests are linguistics, pragmatics, stylistics, narratology, and translatology, with articles on pragmastylistics of dramatic texts, fictional narrative as history, lexicon as narrative practice, cognitive studies of fictional narrative, and the translator’s role in literary discourse, etc. published in Semiotica, Neohelicon, Narrative, Language and Literature, and Perspectives: Studies in Translatology. His publications on Alice studies include “Translation and Reconstruction of a Wonderland: Alice’s Adventures in China” (2009), “Reflections on the Reversed ‘Jabberwocky’ in TTLG” (one of the “Eight Retakes”) (2021), writings in each of the three volumes of Alice in a World of Wonderlands (Oak Knoll, 2015), and book chapters “The Style(s) of a Classic in the Translation and Back-translation” (2016) and “A Mathematician’s Fairy Tale: Alice in Wonderland” (2019) in English in China. His translations (into Chinese) include Hexaflexagons and Other Mathematical Diversions: The First SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN Book of Mathematical Puzzles and Games (1959/1988) and The Second SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN Book of Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions (1961/1987) by Martin Gardner, author of The Annotated Alice (1960).

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Sponsored by the IHC’s Global Childhood Ecologies Research Focus Group, Comparative Literature, East Asia Center, and Translation Studies


November 28, 2023
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
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Global Childhood Ecologies
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