“蕩” 

2020

looped video

size: dimensions variable

This is a collaboration with the writer, Sheung-King who designed the text.

Sheung-King Official Website https://www.sheung-king.com 

“蕩” is a triptych where Cantonese texts in the videos are accompanied by still images taken in Toronto’s Chinatown. The Western gaze has shaped all diasporic spaces around the world. Chinese migrants, to protect themselves from “feared” local residents, have developed parallel civic societies; i.e. in San Francisco, Chinese merchants, in 1906, hired American architects to dream up an oriental city of ‘veritable fairy palaces’…a conscious, east-meets west attempt to change the community’s image…and ensure its continuing survival. (Bonnie Tsui, "American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods") Chinatowns have been shaped according to similar principles ever since. As a Japanese person who lived in England and was and still is constantly labeled as ‘Asian’, Chinatowns acted as surrogates for me from a young age. With an aim to visualize the Chinese diasporas identity that has been historically filtered through eroticized western projection, for its existence had to be contextualized for survival, the images are seen through filters—as though looking through a dusty window pane, the images remind viewers that Chinatown is a space that is “filtered”, an eroticized Western projection. (Wong Kar-Wai, “In The Mood For Love”)

The word 蕩, can mean many things depending on the contexts; it can mean anything from ‘swing’ (搖蕩) to ‘lack of control’(放蕩) to ‘slut’(蕩婦). In Western philosophy, deconstruction is understood as a reaction to structuralism but Byung Chul Han explains deconstruction in Chinese (Shanzhai), as a starting point, not a reaction. This is seen through ‘蕩’, which can mean ‘wonder' (遊蕩) and ‘remove’ (掃蕩). 蕩 has no “original” meaning; instead, the meaning of the word expands,  its meaning shifts when thrown into different contexts. 

In the tryptic, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s “Politics of Translation” is employed as a methodology. For Spivak, the act of translating has a political dimension as it is a strategy that can be consciously employed, and ‘translationese’ eliminates the identity of the oppressed, while manipulating to disseminate an ideologically motivated image of postcolonial countries.  Spivak argues that the current politics of translation gives prominence to English and the other hegemonic languages of the ex-colonizers. She is concerned with the politics of translation from a non-European woman’s text to the language of power, English. She explains that one tends to play safe by siding with logic over rhetorical influences, and in doing so, one loses vital clues hidden in the source text. To decipher these metaphors which get lost in between source to the translated text, she calls for development of ‘love and affinity’ to the text by the translators and states the translator must ‘surrender” to the text. Thus, the task of the translator is to facilitate this love between the original and its shadow. (Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "Politics of Translation")

 

The phrase, “the translator must surrender” and “you don’t know shit” is translated to Cantonese then “translated” back into English (‘translated’, here, is in parenthesis because I am not surrendering completely to the rules of translation: The text, when translated back to English, is resisting the rules of English; each word is translated independently with no regard to English grammar). Hence, the meaning of the phrase verges on disappearance, its meaning almost deferred, but not in a traditionally Derridarian sense. Derrida’s Différancedemonstrates that meaning is not simply synchronic but also diachronic. Here, using Spivak’s idea, I am demonstrating that meaning is not only synchronic and diachronic: when more than one language is in question (translation), meaning relies on submission. The translator must surrender. 

© 2020 by Maari Sugawara