Why Is Translation Interesting? Pt. 1

The in-flight magazine on the Air China flight had in its first ten pages nothing but luxury car and villas advertisements. One caught my eye because of its English text: Chinoiserie Villa. You can find the website here, since I forgot to get a picture of it: http://www.chinoiserievilla.com/ My summer project began with some research last semester into the early modern fascination with the Oriental, which reached a peak with the chinoiserie craze of the 18th century. I was interested in chinoiserie because looking into it struck me as a way to indulge in my interest in both East and West as well as my cultivated suspicion in that opposition of East to West. If I was looking at Western representations of the East that were imaginative, wilful, and unmoored from reality, I could both participate in the study of civilizations, East and West, and deconstruct their monolithic quality. 

So it took me by surprise to see that a real estate development firm had also had this idea. Not only that, but they had turned it to making money, which I was still far from doing, the BISP fellowship aside. OK, maybe not exactly the same idea— but there were similarities, since they also were trying to balance the demands of ethnic legitimacy and aesthetic modernity. For them, that ethnic legitimacy was necessarily Chinese and that aesthetic modernity was partially Western, producing a tension. The demands early chinoiserie were on the one hand a Western ethnic legitimacy and on the other hand a modernity that tended to be coded in terms of the Oriental, since that's where the advanced manufacturing, crafts, and government was. With the very same word that denotes the earlier Anglo-Gallic phenomenon, the real estate developers were reversing that act of appropriative maturation. 

A case of asymmetrical translation: It is difficult to quite catch the flavor of "chinoiserie" in Chinese, since it is in itself a French loan word that carries with it associations of excess and effeminacy in an Anglo context. You can also see that problem on the website of the wallpaper manufacturers De Gournay: the series that is Chinoiserie in English is Chinese Paintings in Chinese. http://www.degournay.com/oc_wallpaper_fabrics.php vs. http://www.degournay.com/lang/zh/oc_wallpaper_fabrics.php Of course, the Chinese name of the villas, 九章别墅, also means something totally different. 九章—Jiuzhang, is the title of a set of classical Chinese poems or songs.