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“Continental Drift”: Translation and Kimiko Hahn’s Transcultural Poetry

Abstract

In the context of the expanding discourse of transnational Asian American Studies, this essay studies Kimiko Hahn, particularly her engagement with East Asian traditions in her poetry, and shows how her work exemplifies a transcultural Asian American literature that requires reading beyond the domestic boundaries of the United States. Drawing on Walter Benjamin's and Gayatri Spivak’s translation studies, it examines how Hahn critiques the assimilationist representation of Asian women in translations of Asian texts such as Arthur Waley’s version of Lady Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji. It then reads how, based on her thoughts about literary translation, Hahn experiments with creative practices of “translation,” including a retranslation of Ezra Pound’s Chinese images and untranslation of zuihitsu. Rewriting Ezra Pound’s Chinese images, Hahn reconstructs women’s voice in ancient Chinese writings. Undoing the simplistic interpretation of the classical Japanese form zuihitsu, her restorative untranslation of the form makes connections between the discursive agency of ancient Asian women writers and contemporary women poets. Thus, Hahn’s translational writing reveals a poetics of “continental drift,” a poetics that calls attention to the necessity of reading Asian American literature in transnational and transcultural contexts.

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