Chu Kochen Series of Lectures by Distinguished Scholars 23: Prof. Charles Bernstein’s Poetry-Reading Lecture Rounded off


At the invitation of Zhejiang University Education Foundation U.S.A, Office of Global Engagement of Zhejiang University and the Interdisciplinary Research Center for World Literature of Zhejiang University, Charles Bernstein, a professor from the University of Pennsylvania, a representative of the Language Poets, a theorist of poetry and academician of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, visited Zhejiang University on November 4, 2019, and delivered a lecture. Prof. Bernstein's visit will help promote international exchanges, foreign language and literature and related disciplines at Zhejiang University.

Bernstein recently published two collections of poems: Pitch of Poetry (The University of Chicago Press, 2016) and Recalculating (The University of Chicago Press, 2013). In 2010, Farrar, Straus & Giroux Press published his collection of poems All the Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems. Two of his collections of poems were translated into Chinese: L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E POETICS (translated by Luo Lianggong, Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press, 2013) and Selected Poems of Charles Bernstein (Central China Normal University Press, 2011). In 2015, he won the Münster International Poetry Award and Janus Pannonius Poetry Award, and in 2019, he won the Bollingen Prize, the highest award of American poetry.

On the morning of April 4, Bernstein delivered a poetry reading lecture entitled “JOker: Poetry, Irony, Solidarity” at Room 201, East Building 5, Zijingang Campus. The lecture was hosted by Prof. Nie Zhenzhao, director of the Interdisciplinary Research Center of World Literature of Zhejiang University.

At the beginning, Ms. Marjorie Perloff, a renowned theorist of poetry, chairman of American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) and academician of American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS), as a guest speaker of this lecture, elaborated her definition of excellent poetry, the achievement made by Prof. Bernstein in poetry as well as his mastery and application of poetry language. Then, Prof. Bernstein and translator Li Zhimin read the English and Chinese versions of nine poems in turn, among which, Johnny Cake Hollow, a poem written in distinctive language, attracted students and teachers much. As it is a pioneer poem whose language form overweighs its meaning, it seems a mission impossible to translate it into Chinese, but Prof. Li encouraged the students to display the creativity of the poem in dialects and shared the translation of three versions in Guangdong dialect, Hakka dialect and Jiangxi dialect, winning high praise and helping the students to broaden their way of reading and appreciating poems. Prof. Bernstein also believed this faithful approach to the source poem conveys the idea of “language game”. In addition, the poem The Lie of Art read by Prof. Bernstein and Prof. Li was full of the philosophy of questioning traditional art and pursuing innovation, which the attendees valued too.

The lecture in the afternoon consisted mainly of discussions on poems. After Bernstein read a poem he wrote after he came to Hangzhou, there came the discussion. The four teachers aired their understanding of the way of poetry creation, the relationship between poetry understanding, intuition and rational thinking, and poetry translation.

Bernstein showed his way of poetry creation and appreciation with experience and intuition. He held that his understanding of poetry is multi-layered and diverse. He encouraged readers to enjoy their reading experience and respected their diverse views. As for the relationship between intuition and rationality, Prof. Bernstein first distinguished the types of rational thinking. He said that poetry creation is inseparable from rational thinking, but rationality is not enough to constitute the whole of human life. He acknowledged the dialectical relationship between rationality and intuition, but insisted that poetic aesthetics should be free from mechanical instrumental rationality.

Prof. Perloff and Prof. Bernstein had a heated discussion on the translatability of poetry. Prof. Bernstein viewed poetry translation as a process of poetry recreation. He believed that translation, a reinterpretation of poetry, is as important as creating source text and the language of target text is sometimes more fluent and natural than the source one. Prof. Perloff, inheriting Robert Frost's view of poetry: “poetry is what gets lost in translation”, emphasized the importance of interpretation in the source language environment and culture, as well as the importance of multilingual learning in promoting cultural exchange, eliminating cultural prejudice and discrimination and western culture centralism.

Prof. Bernstein's visit has promoted the studies of arts and humanities at Zhejiang University, the literary cultivation of students and teachers. In addition, it will have a positive and far-reaching impact on the development of foreign languages and literature and other disciplines in Zhejiang University. The students and teachers appreciated the opportunities by the Chu Kochen Foundation and the University, and looked forward to the development of foreign languages, literature and related disciplines by cooperating with world-class universities.

The Interdisciplinary Research Center for World Literature of Zhejiang University

November 11, 2019

Translated by Pan Taohui

Edited by Xu Xueying

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