Translation, Symbolic Capital, and Contested Universality: Gao Xingjian in Translation

  • Author / Creator
    Wang, Mingxing
  • This dissertation investigates the literary ascendancy in the West of China’s first Nobel laureate, Gao Xingjian, through translation. Although Gao’s master novel Lingshan was significant for his international reputation, the importance of its translations for his literary prestige in the West has not been extensively discussed. With reference to Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological theory relevant to translation, this project first examines Gao’s visibility as a translator of literary modernism during China’s reform and opening-up to the world, especially to the West, in the early 1980s. This is followed by an elaborate analysis of the translation of Gao’s novel Lingshan, first in France as La Montagne de l’âme (1995) and then in the Anglophone world as Soul Mountain (2000, 2001), mainly in Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Rather than reading Lingshan as a “universal” cultural signifier from the West, this project problematizes the nature of this universality by examining the internal logic and mechanism of the canonization of the novel through translation and interpretation (reading) in the social and cultural space of the West. Thus, this dissertation first analyses the agents of translation, such as publishers, cultural markets, and translation regimes, in relation to the target literary requirements, and then explores the illusio of Lingshan, the essential aesthetic components for validation in the target literary field(s). Through a Bourdieusian sociological investigation supported by textual and paratextual particularities, this study argues that the translation of Lingshan and the ascendancy of Gao on the international literary scene are underscored by the fight for symbolic capital, which seeks universal (hegemonic) cultural legitimacy in the international literary field represented by the center(s) of Paris, London, and New York. While examining the competition and fight for dominance as motivations for translation, this study also demonstrates the limits of literary universality in peripheral countries that are characterized by their own cultural identities and trajectories. This dissertation, therefore, takes a different approach toward universality than that of the West. This project has significant implications for literature/translation studies. First, it offers a new perspective from which to read Gao’s work in relation to translation and from which his visibility and ascendancy can be mapped out and conceptualized. Second, it shows that symbolic capital accumulation and literary dominance are the key motives for translating a literary work, thus unfolding the tensions and dynamics of translation in the social and cultural space(s) at both local and global levels, where the claims and the counterclaims of universal literary capital coexist together. This observation also sheds light on China’s current fight for universal symbolic capital on the international scene.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2022
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Library with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.