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贝克特在中国引起的反响  

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本文发表于


Irish Studies Review
Volume 19, Issue 4, 2011

 

Beckett's reception in mainland China was delayed until 1965 when Waiting for Godot was first translated into Chinese. The overall critical response to the play was largely negative due to the leftist ideological influence dominating the studies of foreign literatures at the time. Only a few of Beckett's other plays have been translated besides Waiting for Godot. The reception of Beckett's fiction started in the 1980s, much later than the reception of his drama. Due to the absence of Chinese translations of his fiction, studies of it were, and still are, limited in terms of quantity. A five-volume translation of Beckett's work from French was published in 2006 in celebration of the author's one hundredth anniversary. But Beckett's English fiction still remains untranslated to this day, which has created many constraints for Beckett studies in China. However, Beckett studies since the 1990s has shown promise, with some scholars beginning to look for new approaches to his dramatic and fictional works. Overall, while Beckett studies in China tends to rely heavily on Beckett material published elsewhere, thus lacking fresh critical perspective, it has managed to survive the earlier dark times and has entered a new phase of growth since the new millennium.
Keywords
Beckett,
reception history,
translation,
China,
drama,
fiction,
new directions for Beckett studies in China
Born Irish, majoring in French, fluent in German and Italian, and living an exile life in France since the age of thirty-one, Beckett had a writing career marked by diverse cultural influences. In turn, Beckett's works have now reached out to readers all over the world through cultural transmission and translation. In light of Beckett's highly acclaimed international reputation, the recent publication on the international reception of Beckett's works is quite timely.1
?1. Nixon and Feldman, The International Reception of Samuel Beckett. View all notes
The book's fifteen chapters offer wide-ranging accounts of Beckett's reception in over a dozen countries and span four continents. These accounts, as the editors affirm,
collectively testify to Samuel Beckett's now iconic international significance … [and] reveal how his global reputation, as one of the most innovative and influential cultural artists of the twentieth century, has been shaped by dedication of many individuals – academics, translators, publishers, actors, theatre critics … all of whom have been touched in some way by Beckett's work.2
?2. Nixon and Feldman, The International Reception of Samuel Beckett, 6. Subsequent citations of this and other works are indicated in the body of the text by the name of the work(s) and, where applicable, page number(s). View all notes
Undoubtedly, then, this book collection will help us understand how Beckett's works have been translated and received in and outside Europe and why Beckett was received more favourably in some countries than in others.
Yet the success of these chapters tends to be uneven. A striking case in point is the chapter on Beckett's reception in mainland China and Hong Kong by Lie Jianxi and Mike Inghan. Because this chapter focuses narrowly on the translation and performance of a single play, namely Waiting for Godot, with no discussion of how Beckett's other plays and his fiction were translated and received, it provides a substantially reductive picture of how Chinese academics responded to Beckett's works. Besides, only a minimal number of criticisms of Waiting for Godot were referred to in the essay despite the fact that a large number of essays on this play have been published in China. This present essay will correct this misleading picture of Beckett's reception in mainland China by providing a complete historical account of Chinese translation and criticism of Beckett's dramatic and fictional works from the 1960s to the present. A detailed account of Beckett's reception in Hong Kong is appropriate for a separate project. Based on a thorough examination of translation and critical material published in China, in this essay we present a cogent trajectory of Beckett's reception, which we have organised into four periods, with each period exhibiting unique cultural, ideological, historical, and literary contexts. In the closing section, which contains our comments on the state of the art concerning Beckett studies in China, we have identified several areas of strengths and weaknesses and offered our suggestions for future directions in Beckett studies. As this essay will show, Beckett was, and still is, often misunderstood by Chinese academics, yet such misunderstanding is attributable not so much to the textual ambiguity in Beckett's works as to the ways in which they are constrained in their responses to his works, constraints that are partly political, partly cultural, and partly practical. Yet, despite these constraints, the Chinese response to Beckett managed to survive the earlier dark times and has now entered a new phase of development.
Early translations and criticism (1950s–60s): Beckett introduced as an example of Western decadent writers
Jump to section
Early translations and criticism (1950s–60s):...
The renewed reception of Beckett's drama...
A new direction: studies of Beckett's fiction in the...
Beckett studies since the new millennium
Opportunities and dilemmas: a future perspective
To begin a discussion of Beckett's reception in mainland China, two points are worth noting. First, Beckett's works were not introduced to China until the mid-1960s, although his works were originally published in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Second, Beckett was first introduced as a dramatist, although he started as a fiction writer, and, more importantly, as a negative example of Western decadent dramatists to be denounced and rejected. The absence of Beckett in the Chinese literary landscape from the 1930s to the 1960s is due, in large part, to his lack of success as a fiction and prose writer, although by 1965 Beckett had completed his major dramatic and fictional works. During the 1920s and 1930s, the works of a few more successful British/Irish modernist writers such as Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, and George Bernard Shaw were translated into Chinese, but Beckett was not among them due to his lack of international reputation. The publication and premiere of Waiting for Godot in Paris in 1953 brought Beckett international acclaim, with the play being translated and put on stage immediately in many countries. Unfortunately, the cultural and political atmosphere in the early 1950s in mainland China was not congenial to welcoming a play like Waiting for Godot for the simple reason that literary studies, including the translation of foreign literatures, was subject to tight censorship scrutiny, which upheld ideological criteria in precedence to artistic criteria. Whatever foreign literature that was not conducive to the Communist Party's political agenda was banned from translation, publication, and circulation. Under the influence of such leftist policies, even authors such as Joyce and Eliot, who were once welcomed in China, were labelled ‘decadent’ and ‘reactionary’ writers to be criticised and shunned. The influence of the Marxist ideology of Russian critics also played a part in cultivating such a conservative cultural milieu in the 1950s.3
?3. In A History of English Literature , the Russian critic Anisk refers to James Joyce and T.S. Eliot as examples of Western decadent writers (619–22). View all notes
Beckett, of course, was too decadent and liberal to be accepted during this period.
However, Beckett's fate in China took an ironic turn in 1962 when the Central Committee of the Communist Party issued a document ‘Issues Concerning the Current Status of Literature and Arts’, in which the Committee announced a new two-way approach to foreign literatures and arts. On the one hand, it recognised the need for the Chinese to become acquainted with foreign cultures, yet on the other it insisted that the purpose of learning about them was to discern where their flaws were so as to expose and criticise them:
It is necessary to pay attention to and study Western bourgeoisie reactionary literary and artistic schools, as well as modern revisionist artistic trends in order to launch a vehement critique of these schools and trends. To do so, it is imperative to expose, systematically, these schools and trends to those involved in professional literary and artistic fields … but expose them only as negative examples.4
?4. Anonymous, ‘Issues Concerning the Current Status of Literature and Arts’, 142. The English translations from the original Chinese material in this essay are our own unless otherwise noted. View all notes
In response to this important document, a number of works by foreign writers were translated as targets of criticism; among them J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye (1951), Jack Kerouac's On the Road (1957), and John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (1956). It is within this highly charged political atmosphere that Beckett was first introduced in China through the translation of Waiting for Godot (1965) by Shi Xianrong (1927–93), a well-known academic translator.5
?5. For Chinese names, we have followed the Chinese convention of putting the last name first and the first name last in the body of this essay and in the Notes section. In the Bibliography, the last name is followed by a comma. View all notes
Even more ironically, all these translations, because of their problematic content, were carefully marked as ‘internal publications’ or ‘yellow books’, available only to professionals in literary and artistic circles and to authority figures, and thus inaccessible to ordinary readers.
The influence of the Central Committee's document is also evident in the negative critical responses to Theatre of the Absurd in general and to Waiting for Godot in particular. For example, in his essay ‘The Dramatic Arts in Decay: The French Anti-theater’16. Dong , Hengxun . 1963. The Dramatic Arts in Decay: The French Anti-theater. Frontier, 8: 10–11.
View all references, Dong Hengxun mounts a poignant attack on the French anti-theatre and summarises its three hallmarks as: (1) deviation from realist dramatic tradition, (2) thematic and artistic absurdity, and (3) pessimistic outlook on life. He further labels this school ‘one of the most popular decadent literary schools in the contemporary capitalist world’ (10), and one that represents not only a pessimistic outlook but also vicious ‘denigration of the world's progressive forces’ (11). Dong then deems Waiting for Godot a quintessential showcase of French anti-theatre. For Don, Beckett's plays in general and Waiting for Godot in particular ‘are full of riddles, some of which Beckett himself cannot solve’ (10). Another attack on Waiting for Godot is found in an essay by Ding Yaozan ‘The Avant Garde Literature and Arts in the Western World’15. Ding , Yaozan . 1964. The Avant Garde Literature and Arts in the Western World. The World, 9: 23–6.
View all references, in which Ding, like Dong, calls Beckett a representative dramatist of the Theatre of the Absurd. Ding's reading of Waiting for Godot leads him to make these observations: ‘The play's theme shows that it is impossible for man to find real meanings in life. Life is a tragedy of endless aspiration, endless disappointment, and the only outcome is waiting for death’ (23). Ding further concludes that Beckett's other plays ‘dramatize the same theme’ (23). The negative reaction to Beckett, articulated by these two critics, largely dominated the critical mood of the 1960s. Heavily tainted by the conservative political and cultural influences of the time, that mood, unfortunately, led to the dire misunderstanding of Beckett in particular and absurdist dramatists in general. In this sense, the Chinese response to Beckett had a rocky and unpropitious start, which would move gradually towards less misunderstanding of Beckett's works.
The renewed reception of Beckett's drama (1970s–90s)
Jump to section
Early translations and criticism (1950s–60s):...
The renewed reception of Beckett's drama...
A new direction: studies of Beckett's fiction in the...
Beckett studies since the new millennium
Opportunities and dilemmas: a future perspective
Beckett's reception, along with the reception of other foreign writers, was interrupted for over ten years by the Cultural Revolution, which literally paralysed China's infrastructure, and it was only renewed after the death of Chairman Mao in 1976. If the reception of Beckett in the 1960s showed the monolithic tendencies of misunderstanding and rejection, his reception in the mid-1970s and 1980s took off in more diverse directions, with some scholars showing the initial signs of serious interest in Beckett. While the influence of the Central Committee's dogmatic document and the negative tone towards Beckett's works continued to be felt in these two decades, Chinese academics began to show efforts to understand his works. By the end of the 1970s, the translation and studies of foreign literatures had begun to pick up after the long hiatus brought about by the Cultural Revolution. Against this background, Western modernist literature, once considered reactionary, was allowed to be introduced to the Chinese public on a large scale. During this period, a number of major Chinese journals began to publish translations and criticisms of foreign literature; among them China Drama, Dramatic Literature, Foreign Drama, Contemporary Foreign Literatures, Foreign Literature Studies, and French Studies. At the same time, Shi Xianrong's translation of Waiting for Godot was published in three other collections, namely Selected Plays of the Theater of the Absurd (1981), Selected Works of the Theater of the Absurd (1983), and Selected Readings from Foreign Modernist Works (1986). In 1981, Happy Days 5. Beckett , Samuel . 1981. Happy Days. Trans. Xia Lian and Jiang Fan. Contemporary Foreign Literatures, 2: 81–97.
View all references was translated by Xiao Lian and Jiang Fan, and Endgame 4. Beckett , Samuel . 1981. Endgame. Trans. Feng Hanlu. Contemporary Foreign Literatures, 2: 98–121.
View all references was translated by Feng Hanlu. Both translations were published simultaneously in the journal Contemporary Foreign Literatures. Two points are worth noting here: first, these journals were no longer marked as ‘internal publications’; second, Beckett was not cast strictly as a negative example of bourgeoisie decadence to be rejected. Rather, he was now introduced to be understood and studied, available for the first time to ordinary readers. Such availability, in turn, signalled the unfolding of a new phase in Beckett studies in China. A striking feature of this new phase was the booming publication of translations and criticisms of the Theatre of the Absurd, which almost invariably placed Beckett at the centre of this literary school. Our survey of the material shows that over fifty translations of and criticisms on Theatre of the Absurd, and over twenty criticisms on Beckett's drama, were published in the period 1977–90. These translations and criticisms constituted the major trend in Beckett studies during the period. At the same time, the Theatre of the Absurd and Beckett's plays became the focus in Chinese scholars' introduction to Western modernist literature and arts, as evidenced by the following collections of essays: Studies of Western Modernism 14. Chen , Kun . 1981. Studies of Western Modernism, Beijing: Beijing University Publishing House.
View all references (1981, ed. Chen Kun), Preliminary Studies of Western Modernist Literature 12. Chen , Hui . 1986. Preliminary Studies of Western Modernist Literature, Guangzhou: Hua Cheng Publishing House.
View all references (1986, ed. Chen Hui), and Western Modernist Literature and Arts (1987, ed. Lin Xianghua23. Lin , Xianghua . 1987. Western Modernist Literature and Arts, Shanghai: Shanghai People's Publishing House.
View all references). While Waiting for Godot captured most critical attention, Endgame and Happy Days also received ample critical commentary.
Another noteworthy feature of the new phase is the ironic approach that Chinese academics took to Beckett's dramatic works. On the one hand, Chinese academics seemed willing to affirm the aesthetic value of Beckett's experimental dramatic techniques, which they saw were mostly anti-theatre in the sense that these techniques effectively dismantled realist dramatic techniques by eroding the teleological and logical development of plots. On the other, they continued to betray a lack of understanding regarding the themes of Beckett's plays and the relationship between the themes and the experimental techniques.6
?6. For examples of this kind of misunderstanding, see Luo Jingguo,‘Samuel Beckett and Waiting for Godot’ and Yuan Kejia, ‘Symbolist Poetry’. View all notes
The general critical trend of the period tends to lament the hopeless tone underlying Beckett's plays20. Jiang , Qingmei . 1981. Beckett's Plays. Contemporary Foreign Literatures, 2: 73–80.
View all references and to align the deplorable human conditions in his plays to those in the Western world. For many Chinese academics, accordingly, Beckett's experimental techniques, though trendsetting, must be scrutinised for how they were used to dramatise the bleak human conditions in the bourgeoisie Western world. Chen Jia, for instance, in ‘On Waiting for Godot’13. Chen , Jia . 1984. On Waiting for Godot as an Absurd Play. Contemporary Foreign Literatures, 1: 3–5.
View all references, states:
It is precisely due to the author's use of unprecedented representational techniques, and, to a larger degree, to the author's portrayal of the suffering vagrants and slaves as ignorant and docile human beings that Waiting for Godot became highly acclaimed in the circle of Western literature. Yet, such portrayal of characters only suited the needs of Western bourgeois; for this reason, we must not follow the footsteps of foreign critics in praising the play to the sky as a masterpiece when the play is seriously flawed by its pessimism. (5)
Chen's sentiment is echoed in Yi Wubing's assessment:
The techniques [in Waiting for Godot] successfully presented the social reality of an absurd contemporary Western society. The absurd themes and techniques are seamlessly one. However, the play was informed by the bourgeoisie philosophy, particularly its idealism and mysticism. It portrays irrational and illogical characters, and it promotes ‘unconscious instincts’, thus resulting in a play that is opaque and even harmful to prevent the people from knowing and reforming the world.7
?7. Yi Wubing, 29–34. For a similar critical sentiment, see Luo Jingguo, ‘Samuel Beckett and Waiting for Godot’ and Jiang Qingmei, ‘Beckett's Plays’. View all notes
Other critics focused more on the themes of Beckett's plays, betraying a similar lack of understanding of Beckett's universal humanism.
In 1978, Zhu Hong produced the first critical essay, titled ‘The Theatre of the Absurd’, devoted to Beckett after the Cultural Revolution, in which she offered her assessment of Waiting for Godot this way:
In contrast to the traditional bourgeoisie literature that tends to place man at the centre of the universe, Beckett's play lays emphasis on man's vulnerability in an absurd world. The two-act play well illustrates the general philosophical attributes of absurdist plays: an agnostic world, an unpredictable destiny, man's abject conditions, meaningless behaviour, and the wish for death. (213–14)
Similar assessments can be seen in Yuan Kejia and Luo Jingguo. These assessments show that while these critics took note of obvious elements of the play, they missed its more nuanced positive implications that point to Beckett's new universal humanism, which defies the categorisation of characters and setting. Many would agree that the human conditions that Beckett dramatises in Waiting for Godot are more allegorical than local, and the revelation of such tragic universal conditions is not just to make fun of man's vulnerability in an absurd world but to force the readers/viewers to take an inward look at themselves and to think about how to improve these conditions. To read the play's characters as representatives of Western cultures and to ignore the Beckettian humanism that invites the readers/viewers to cast an internal look at ourselves as sources of tragedies, as these critics suggested, is to miss the important implications in the play.
The studies of Beckett's drama in the 1990s continued mainly in two directions: while some critics continued to interpret Beckett's plays along the lines of absurdity, hope, and quest thematically, as well as of anti-theatre, anti-tradition, and anti-art technically, a trend prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s, a few critics endeavoured to move beyond these established critical parameters by broadening critical perspectives and by experimenting with new approaches. Shifting the focus to language, structure, narrative, and dialogue in Beckett's plays, these critics seemed able to penetrate deeper into Beckett's artistic design and, in so doing, to reveal their aesthetic value. In his 1990 essay ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’, for example, Hong Zengliu argues that in Waiting for Godot Beckett designed a uniquely circular dramatic form in which the play's language remains aloof of external referentiality, an argument resonant of early poststructuralist readings in the West. Focusing on the temporal and spatial structures in Beckett's plays, Shu Xiaomei43. Shu , Xiaomei . 1997. The Temporal and Spatial Structures in the Works of Samuel Beckett. Foreign Literature Studies, 2: 103–7.
View all references argues in ‘Temporal and Spatial Structures’ that Beckett's plays surpassed the traditional temporal and spatial designs by making time opaque, circular, and disorderly, and by making the locations obscure, abstract, and symbolic (103–4). In another essay (‘Poeticization’42. Shu , Xiaomei . 1998. Poeticization, Symmetry, and Absurdity: The Dramatic Language in Waiting for Godot. Foreign Literature Studies, 1: 56–9.
View all references), Shu shows that the language of Beckett's plays exhibits a poetic quality and tendencies towards symmetry and absurdity (57). Clearly, the attention to the ways in which Beckett tries to unify form and content, an attempt he began with his fiction upon the inspiration from his mentor James Joyce, was concomitant with the prevalent poststructuralist insistence on the instability of language in literature.8
?8. For more poststructuralist interpretations of Beckett's plays during this period, see Li Weifang, ‘The Circular Structure in Waiting for Godot’, Ma Xiaochao, ‘The Loss and Return of Meaning’, Wu Congju, ‘Beckett's Riddles and Keys in Waiting for Godot’, and Wang Xiaohua, ‘The Waiting Vagrants in a Post-God Age’. View all notes
One notable phenomenon during this period was the substantial increase in the output of critical essays and book-length studies. The number of essays published in the 1990s was several times the number published in the 1980s. Although there was still no book-length study devoted to Beckett alone, there were a number of books of which Beckett was a part, whether they were devoted to British, French, or Western literature. Beckett's wide-ranging cultural and linguistic affiliations with these cultures made him a natural fit in these books.
A new direction: studies of Beckett's fiction in the 1980s and 1990s
Jump to section
Early translations and criticism (1950s–60s):...
The renewed reception of Beckett's drama...
A new direction: studies of Beckett's fiction in the...
Beckett studies since the new millennium
Opportunities and dilemmas: a future perspective
Compared to the reception of Beckett's drama, the reception of Beckett's fiction in mainland China started relatively late. During the early 1980s, only a small number of criticisms were published on Beckett's short fiction, and critics tended to read it as anti-fiction. In 1982 Hua Cheng Publishing House published a collection of short stories by foreign writers titled Selected Foreign Short Stories, which included the first translation of Beckett's short story ‘The Expelled’ (1946). The same translation was included again in Selected Works by Foreign Modernist Writers (1986) edited by Yuan Kejia and others. While criticisms of Beckett's fiction during this period were generally sparse, they were mostly influenced by the concept of anti-fiction developed by such critics as Rubin Rabinovitz35. Rabinovitz , Rubin . 1974. Style and Obscurity in Samuel Beckett's Early Fiction. Modern Fiction Studies, 20: 399–406.
View all references, on the one hand, and on the other by the lingering impact of leftist political ideology of the time. The overall critical sentiment towards Beckett's short fiction was both negative and positive in the sense that some critics associated his fiction with existential pessimism while others applauded it as a masterful execution of anti-fiction. Qu Shijin's34. Qu , Shijing . 1983. Beckett's Anti-fiction. Reports on Foreign Literatures, 3: 22–7.
View all references essay ‘Beckett's Anti-fiction’ is the first critical study of Beckett's Trilogy, in which Qu read the three novels in the context of anti-fiction, noting that Beckett's characters were ‘dehumanized human beings thrown into existence in the world of existential philosophy, who represent the decadent and twisted ideology of the bourgeois … [Beckett's] methods of composition are not only irrational but abstract’ (25). Like Qu, Liu Zhongde26. Liu , Zhongde . 1984. The Lost Ones and Samuel Beckett as an Anti-fiction Writer. Quest, 2: 79–82.
View all references borrowed the concept of anti-fiction in his analysis of ‘The Lost Ones’ (1946) in his essay ‘The Lost Ones and Samuel Beckett as an Anti-fiction Writer’. Based on his analysis of the characters, themes, self-assertion, and unconsciousness, Liu used the story as an example to mount his biting attack on those critics who were sympathetic to modernist literature at the time:
There are a few critics within the artistic circle who are promoting the modernist literary trends of the West by endorsing self-assertion and anti-rationalism. This stance is the opposite of the artistic stance guided by social realism; thus, we must unequivocally criticise, reject, and purge the ideological pollution of such decadent bourgeoisie ideology. (80)
The 1990s saw a significant leap forward in terms of the achievements in the studies of Beckett's fiction, a leap characterised by Chinese academics' efforts to shrug off the previous influence of established concepts of literature and of the leftist ideology to gain independent voices. Some of these studies endeavoured to discover and defend new themes and to make relatively less politicised assessment of Beckett's fictional works. Worthy of note is that we consider the themes as ‘new’ specifically within the context of China and in comparison with previous Beckett studies in China, not in comparison with Beckett studies outside China. A case in point is an essay by Lu Jiande27. Lu , Jiande . 1997. “Free and Empty Soul: A Study of Samuel Beckett's Novels”. In After Modernism: Realism and Experimentalism, Edited by: Jiande , Lu . 359–81. Beijing: China Social Sciences Press.
View all references, titled ‘Free and Empty Soul’, in which Lu argues that technical innovation and self-dispossession constitute the main motifs of Beckett's fiction, which Beckett uses as an allegory and an instrument to convene an idea; in other words, it is ‘the embodiment of ‘Tao’ that is empty and murky, the Tao as manifestations of ideas’ (362). Drawing on past and present criticisms and relying on copious primary and secondary sources, Lu provides a lucid interpretation of Beckett's fiction, which was and still is quite challenging for ordinary readers. Consequently, this essay somehow laid some groundwork for future studies of Beckett's fiction by illuminating the parallels between Tao's omnipresence and the allegorical implications in Beckett's works. Another essay by Hou Weirui, titled ‘The Absurd Reality’19. Hou , Weirui . 1998. The Absurd Reality: A Study of Samuel Beckett's Absurd Novels. Journal of Hangzhou University, 2: 44–7.
View all references, also laid the groundwork for future studies of Beckett's fiction. Using Murphy, Watt, and Trilogy as examples, Hou points out that Beckett appeals to absurd narrative forms to dramatise the real existential conditions facing Westerners in the modernist era of civilisation; that is, Beckett sheds light on the reality through the medium of absurdity (45). This essay somehow became a pioneering example for the study of Beckett's fiction as absurdist. Moreover, it offers a positive assessment of Beckett as a fiction writer: ‘Just as the fictional works of Joyce have changed the fate of modernist fiction, the fictional works of Beckett have cast a decided influence on post-war fiction’ (47).
The first book-length study of Beckett's long and short fiction, titled Studies of Samuel Beckett's Fiction, by Lu Yongmao, was published in 1995. Although some critics question the scholarly value of this book, it was, after all, the first systematic study of Beckett's fiction; thus there are reasons to see this book ushering in a new era of Beckett studies in China. The book has chapters on Murphy, Watt, and Trilogy, and three short stories, of which some were published previously as journal articles. Unfortunately, only a thousand copies were printed, and because of this it did not attract a wide readership or become well known. Another book-length study by Jiao Er and Yu Xiaodan21. Jiao , Er and Xiaodan , Yu . 1995. Samuel Beckett: A Great Master of the Theatre of the Absurd, Changchun: Changchun Literature and Arts Press.
View all references (Samuel Beckett, 1995) also devoted chapters to Murphy, Watt, and Trilogy, and focused on Beckett's absurdist aesthetics.
Beckett studies since the new millennium
Jump to section
Early translations and criticism (1950s–60s):...
The renewed reception of Beckett's drama...
A new direction: studies of Beckett's fiction in the...
Beckett studies since the new millennium
Opportunities and dilemmas: a future perspective
The beginning of the new millennium witnessed a resurgence in Beckett studies. This resurgence was brought about largely by the increase in and expansion of China's college English programmes at bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. Because English was and still is the number one major in foreign language departments in China in terms of enrolment and government funding, there was an urgent demand for English faculty, who were then required to acquire advanced degrees and to engage in scholarly research and publication. The increase in these degree programmes and the pressure for the English faculty to publish inevitably led to the unprecedented ‘great boom’ in degree programmes and in the output of scholarly publications. This gave rise to a ‘golden age’ of scholarly publications. A large number of scholarly essays were published not only on first-rate foreign writers but also on second-rate or even third-rate foreign writers. Against this background, Beckett, as the representative writer of the Theatre of the Absurd school and as a Nobel laureate, naturally became a popular object of study for both college teachers and graduate students. Our survey of existing publications on Beckett shows that the publication output increased dramatically, with a total number of over two hundred essays published, of which over one hundred essays have been devoted to Waiting for Godot since the new millennium. Admittedly, the scholarly value of these essays is uneven; that is, while some have valuable insights to offer,9
?9. Shu (2002); Shen Yan, ‘The Inserted Narrative Pattern’; Liu Aiying, Samuel Beckett. View all notes
others tend to heavily rely on criticisms published outside China and end up repeating the themes of absurdity, anti-theatre, and anti-fiction found in the criticisms published there.
Despite the surging output and its uneven quality, a few publications ventured to break new ground and find new critical perspectives and subjects within the context of China. At the same time, as in the past, Beckett's plays attracted more critical attention than his fiction, with Waiting for Godot enjoying more popularity than his other plays. One such publication is an essay titled ‘A Probe into Samuel Beckett's Meta-theatre’17. He , Chengzhou . 2004. A Probe into Samuel Beckett's Meta-theatre. Contemporary Foreign Literatures, 3: 80–5.
View all references, by He Chengzhou, in which He appeals to the concept of meta-theatre in the analysis of Waiting for Godot, Endgame, and Krapp's Last Tape, focusing on Beckett's deployment of ‘a play within a play’, ‘self-reflexivity’, and ‘commentary of the play’ (81). In another essay by the same author, titled ‘Samuel Beckett and his Rewriting of Novels in Plays’18. He , Chengzhou . 2003. Samuel Beckett and his Rewriting of Novels in Plays. Contemporary Foreign Literatures, 3: 47–52.
View all references, He explores the relationship between Beckett's plays and fiction, arguing that Beckett's use of language, characterisation, and symbolism in his plays can be traced to his fiction such as Trilogy; in this sense, his plays can be seen as the rewriting of his fiction. Because of the new critical angles that these two essays demonstrate, they represent a breakthrough in Beckett criticism in China. Another essay that demonstrates some degree of originality is by Ran Dongping36. Ran , Dongping . 2003. Beyond the Art Boundary of Modernist Drama: Samuel Beckett's Theatre of Silence. Foreign Literature Review, 2: 60–6.
View all references, titled ‘Beyond the Artistic Boundary of Modernist Drama’, in which Ran uses the concept of silent play in the analysis of action, plot, and milieu in Beckett's plays, arguing that the absence of centre and subjectivity is symptomatic of postmodern aesthetics (60). In addition, a doctoral dissertation by Liu Aiying25. LiuAiying. ‘Samuel Beckett: The Body Matters’ Diss., Shanghai International Studies University, 2007
View all references, titled ‘Samuel Beckett: The Body Matters’, also shows some degree of promise, in which Liu uses body theory in the analysis of Beckett's plays. It is worth noting that during this period critics had begun to pay attention to Beckett's other plays, besides Waiting for Godot, and presented a few studies that contain some fresh insights, which are found in two essays by Shen Yan39. Shen , Yan . 2007. Male and Female Vocal Duet: A Study of Krapp's Last Tape and Happy Days. Foreign Literature Review, 3: 75–82.
View all references, titled ‘Male and Female Vocal Duet’ and ‘The Inserted Narrative Pattern in Krapp's Last Tape and The Zoo Story’. While the former explores the intertextuality between the two plays in terms of themes and techniques of dramatic narrative and language, the latter probes the ways in which Beckett experiments with the poetic forms of the narrative model of flashback. In another essay by Shu Xiaomei41. Shu , Xiaomei . 2002. The Cinematic Language in Beckett's Plays: Krapp's Last Tape. Journal of Nanjing Normal University, 2: 123–30.
View all references, titled ‘The Cinematic Language in Beckett's Plays: Krapp's Last Tape’, Shu provides an analysis of how Beckett makes use of three montage techniques of narrative – parallel, intersection, and repetition – in order to emphasise the play as ‘pure theatre’ and anti-theatre.10
10. One of the few essays that dealt with Beckett's long fiction during this period is by Zhang Helong, titled ‘Absurdity, Void, and Deconstruction’, which provides a comprehensive critical discussion on Murphy , Watt, and Trilogy . View all notes
The first book-length study of Beckett's long fiction by Wang Yahua49. Wang , Yahua and Lixia , Liu . 2009. ‘The World as “My Will”’: Realism is Beckett's More Pricks than Kicks. Contemporary Foreign Literatures, 1: 177–190.
View all references, titled A Journey to the Ideal Core of the Onion, was published in 2005.11
11. We note that Wang Yahua is one of the emerging Chinese critics on Beckett's fiction. Her work on Beckett's fiction has been steady and ongoing. View all notes
Based on her dissertation, Wang's45. Wang , Xiaohua . 2000. The Waiting Vagrants in a Post-God Age: A Textual Analysis of the Theater of the Absurd Play Waiting for Godot. Journal of Shenzhen University, 5: 81–6.
View all references book investigates Beckett's five novels Murphy, Watt, Molloy, Melanie Dies, and The Unnameable. Focusing on their intertextuality, Wang argues that self-exploration and formal experiment represent the dynamic progression of Beckett's fiction and its postmodern aesthetics. Wang's dissertation was the first devoted to the study of Beckett's fiction, and since 2000, she has published a series of essays on this subject. Since then there have been several doctoral dissertations on Beckett's fiction, one of which is by Cao Bo, in which he takes a psychoanalytical approach to Beckett's fiction and offers some thought-provoking insights.
Chinese academics responded to Beckett's centenary celebration in 2006 with much enthusiasm and vigour. Hunan Literature and Arts Press published an ambitious five-volume collection of Beckett's works titled Selected Works of Samuel Beckett 8. Beckett , Samuel . 2006. Selected Works of Samuel Beckett, Trans. Guo Changjing and Yu Zhongxian Vols. 1–5, Changsha: Hunan Literature and Arts Press.
View all references, which was translated by Guo Changjing and Yu Zhongxian. This is the first complete translation of Beckett's works written in French, which include such major works as Endgame, ‘First Love’, Trilogy, Waiting for Godot, ‘Footfalls’ and How It Is.12
12. There is no doubt that the publication of this five-volume collection has filled a significant gap in Becket studies in China in so far as it has made more of Beckett's works available to Chinese readers. Yet, given the average Chinese reader's relative unfamiliarity with Beckett's works, a detailed critical introduction to each volume would have helped readers understand his works. Thus, a critical edition of each volume seems to be a reasonable extension of this translation project. View all notes
In addition, academics published short articles and notes documenting a wide range of celebration events held abroad, as well as various new publications in anticipation of the centenary celebrations. In his essay titled ‘Beckett after Beckett’, Sheng Ning40. Sheng , Ning . 2006. Beckett after Beckett. Foreign Literature Review, 4: 147–8.
View all references showed how Beckett had been re-examined from new angles in Europe and America and how such efforts had resulted in new publications. The French literature scholar Wu Yuetian51. Wu , Yuetian . 2006. Beckett: A Writer of Contradictions. Foreign Literature Review, 3: 148–9.
View all references penned another essay, titled ‘Beckett – A Writer of Contradictions’, in a French magazine, noting that although Beckett's works appear to be difficult, even absurd in so far as they challenge traditional aesthetics, they are quite classical in many ways, having been influenced by such classical writers as Proust and Dante. Liu Aiying's24. Liu , Aiying . 2006. The Making and Development of English Criticism on Samuel Beckett. Foreign Literature Review, 1: 138–46.
View all references essay, ‘The Making and Development of English Criticism on Samuel Beckett’, examines the history of Beckett criticism written in English in the West. She identifies two major critical trends that have evolved in English-speaking countries: the philosophical approach and the modernist/postmodernist approach. She notes that while the philosophical approach has been ‘influential’ (141), it tends to ‘distract critics’ attention' (142) from the ‘eccentric features of Beckett's texts’ (141) because of its focus on the philosophical influences on Beckett. She also notes that the modernist/postmodernist approach to Beckett has contributed to making Beckett criticism more ‘diverse’ (142); in so doing, it can be seen as a supplement to the philosophical approach.
Opportunities and dilemmas: a future perspective
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Beckett studies since the new millennium
Opportunities and dilemmas: a future perspective
As the above account shows, Beckett's reception in China has not only been much delayed but has also gone through different stages, from early rejection to gradual understanding and acceptance by Chinese academics in general. Interestingly, we note some parallels and points of departure between Beckett's reception in China and that in other Asian countries such as Japan, where Beckett was also better known as a dramatist. Although he was mentioned briefly in Japan in the early 1930s following the publication of Proust and his other prose works, he was not studied seriously until the first Japanese translation of Waiting for Godot was published in 1956, ten years earlier than the Chinese translation. In terms of translation, Japan seems to have done just a little better than China, where most of Beckett's English fictional works are still not translated and, therefore, inaccessible to readers with no reading knowledge of English. In Japan, on the other hand, Beckett's plays were translated and published in The Complete Plays by Beckett in 1967, and Murphy and More Pricks than Kicks were translated in 1978.13
13. For a detailed account of Beckett's reception in Japan, see Tajiri and Tanaka, ‘The Reception of Samuel Beckett in Japan’, 150. View all notes
As a result of China's rapid emergence as a major player in international affairs, the cultural and political atmosphere has eased tremendously. In general, foreign literature is no longer regarded as the embodiment of bourgeoisie liberal ideology, although some degree of censorship is still at work. In addition, in recent years various Chinese Beckett scholars have had the opportunity to receive national and local funding, which has enabled them to pursue advanced research in such English-speaking countries as the USA, the United Kingdom, and Canada, where they have easy access to Beckett material published outside China. These scholars have then been able to make use of this material in their own work. It is clear from our survey of Beckett criticisms published since the 1990s that Beckett studies in China has benefited from these scholars' exposure to Beckett material published abroad. This trend will most likely continue since there has been a steady increase in funding for academics to pursue advanced research abroad.14
14. Some of these scholarships include the National Overseas Students Fund, China Council Scholarship, Scholarship for 211 Universities, the Fulbright Fellowship for Chinese Scholars, and Freeman Fellows. View all notes
We are, therefore, cautiously optimistic that Beckett studies in China will likely move closer to engaging in critical conversations, in more creative ways, with Beckett scholarship published outside China. More Chinese Beckett scholars will likely have the opportunity to participate in international activities and projects related to Beckett studies. Another approach that Beckett scholars in China can consider adopting is suggested by their peer academics' recent studies of such authors as Gary Snider, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Frost in the light of Chinese perspectives.15
15. See, for example, a Taoist reading of Robert Frost's poem ‘Where is the West-running Brook Flowing? Robert Frost in Taoist Perspective’ by Qiping Yin and He Zhang, in which the authors explore the parallels between Frost's notions of escapism and engagement through the images of ‘drift’ and ‘counter-drift’ and the Taoist ideas of renunciation and worldliness. View all notes
However, Beckett studies in China faces several challenges, which, in our view, are hampering the growth of this otherwise expanding field. One such challenge is the lack of primary and secondary material. As mentioned above, most of Beckett's English fictional works still remain untranslated; as a result, Chinese scholars have to provide their own translations, when using these works, which raises the issues of authority and consistency.16
16. In the absence of standard Chinese translations of Beckett's English fiction, Chinese critics are sometimes forced to use the original texts and provide their own translations in their publications. A case in point is Wang Yahua's recent essay ‘The World as “My” Will’, co-authored with Liu Lixia, in which they argue that Beckett's fiction started with ‘traditional realism and [moved gradually] toward extreme experimentalism’ (177–8), citing Dream of Fair to Middling Women and More Pricks than Kicks as examples of ‘Beckettian realism’ (179) or fragmentary realism' (179). The authors provided their own Chinese translations of a few segments of the novel used in the essay, including the title of the novel. While there are elements of realism in the two novels, they also contain striking postmodern stylistic features, especially Dream; in this sense, to read these novels as Beckett's exemplary realist novels is at least debatable, as is the translation of Dream's title. View all notes
The same issues pertain to secondary material published in languages other than Chinese, when scholars have to provide their own Chinese translations. The paucity of secondary material published outside China is equally hindering Beckett studies in China. Although some of this material is available online, most of it is not. Besides, since services such as inter-library loan are still largely unavailable in China, it is usually difficult for scholars to obtain research material from the local libraries. Although Beijing University Library and the National Library in Beijing have the largest holdings in the nation, most of this material is available only to people physically there. This dilemma leads to the second challenge: the gap between Beckett studies in China and those taken up outside China.17
17. For a few off-centre approaches to Beckett's fiction, including the global approach, see Lin. View all notes
In general Beckett studies in China tends to heavily rely on Beckett criticism published outside China, and Chinese academics tend to slavishly appropriate these criticisms. Consequently, there is a lack of fresh critical perspectives and approaches overall. The final challenge lies in the imbalance between studies of Beckett's fiction and studies of his drama, as Beckett is still more popular as a dramatist whereas his fiction is known only to a small circle of academics, translators, and readers. Ironically, then, Beckett's reputation as a major twentieth-century Irish fiction writer is yet to be recognised and celebrated in China, although his canonical status as a fiction writer in the West has long been established.18
18. Beckett's canonical status in the West can be seen in such authoritative publications as The Columbian History of the British Novel, The Cambridge Companion to Beckett, The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-century Literatures in English, and Postmodernist Fiction . View all notes

Notes

?1. Nixon and Feldman32. Nixon , Mark and Feldman , Matthew , eds. 2009. The International Reception of Samuel Beckett, London: Continuum.
View all references, The International Reception of Samuel Beckett.

?2. Nixon and Feldman32. Nixon , Mark and Feldman , Matthew , eds. 2009. The International Reception of Samuel Beckett, London: Continuum.
View all references, The International Reception of Samuel Beckett, 6. Subsequent citations of this and other works are indicated in the body of the text by the name of the work(s) and, where applicable, page number(s).

?3. In A History of English Literature 1. Anikst , A. 1980. A History of English Literature, Trans. Cai Wenxian Beijing: People's Literature Press.
View all references, the Russian critic Anisk refers to James Joyce and T.S. Eliot as examples of Western decadent writers (619–22).

?4. Anonymous2. Anonymous. 1979. Issues Concerning the Current Status of Literature and Arts. Studies on Literature and Arts, 1: 138–44.
View all references, ‘Issues Concerning the Current Status of Literature and Arts’, 142. The English translations from the original Chinese material in this essay are our own unless otherwise noted.

?5. For Chinese names, we have followed the Chinese convention of putting the last name first and the first name last in the body of this essay and in the Notes section. In the Bibliography, the last name is followed by a comma.

?6. For examples of this kind of misunderstanding, see Luo Jingguo,‘Samuel Beckett10. Beckett , Samuel . 1965. Waiting for Godot, Trans. Shi Xianrong Beijing: China Drama Press. Watt. New York: Grove Press, The same translation was also published in Selected Plays of the Theatre of the Absurd (Shanghai: Shanghai Yiwen Press, 1980), Selected Works of the Theater of the Absurd (Beijing: Foreign Literatures Press, 1983), and Selected Reading of Foreign Modernist Work (ed. Yuan Kejia et al.,; Shanghai: Shanghai Literature and Arts Press, 1986)
View all references and Waiting for Godot’ and Yuan Kejia54. Yuan , Kejia . 1979. Symbolist Poetry, Stream of Consciousness Fiction, and Theatre of the Absurd Drama: A Review of European and American Modernist Literature. Studies on Literature and Arts, 1: 132–8.
View all references, ‘Symbolist Poetry’.

?7. Yi Wubing, 29–34. For a similar critical sentiment, see Luo Jingguo29. Luo , Jingguo . 1986. Samuel Beckett and Waiting for Godot. Foreign Literatures, 4: 38–54.
View all references, ‘Samuel Beckett and Waiting for Godot’ and Jiang Qingmei, ‘Beckett's Plays’.

?8. For more poststructuralist interpretations of Beckett's plays during this period, see Li Weifang22. Li , Weifang . 1993. The Circular Structure in Waiting for Godot. Journal of Henan University, 2: 38–41.
View all references, ‘The Circular Structure in Waiting for Godot’, Ma Xiaochao30. Ma , Xiaochao . 1997. The Loss and Return of Meaning: Exploring the Language in the Theatre of the Absurd Plays. Foreign Literatures, 4: 23–9.
View all references, ‘The Loss and Return of Meaning’, Wu Congju50. Wu , Congju . 2000. Beckett's Riddles and Keys in Waiting for Godot. Appreciations of Classical Works, 5: 46–8.
View all references, ‘Beckett's Riddles and Keys in Waiting for Godot’, and Wang Xiaohua45. Wang , Xiaohua . 2000. The Waiting Vagrants in a Post-God Age: A Textual Analysis of the Theater of the Absurd Play Waiting for Godot. Journal of Shenzhen University, 5: 81–6.
View all references, ‘The Waiting Vagrants in a Post-God Age’.

?9. Shu (2002); Shen Yan38. Shen , Yan . 2006. The Inserted Narrative Pattern in Krapp's Last Tape and The Zoo Story. Journal of Zhejiang Normal University, 5: 28–32.
View all references, ‘The Inserted Narrative Pattern’; Liu Aiying, Samuel Beckett.

10. One of the few essays that dealt with Beckett's long fiction during this period is by Zhang Helong55. Zhang , Helong . 2002. Absurdity, Void, and Deconstruction: A Survey of Samuel Beckett's Fiction. Foreign Literature Journal, : 76–82.
View all references, titled ‘Absurdity, Void, and Deconstruction’, which provides a comprehensive critical discussion on Murphy 7. Beckett , Samuel . 1938. Murphy, London: Routledge.
View all references, Watt, and Trilogy 9. Beckett , Samuel . 1958. Trilogy, New York: Grove Press.
View all references.

11. We note that Wang Yahua is one of the emerging Chinese critics on Beckett's fiction. Her work on Beckett's fiction has been steady and ongoing.

12. There is no doubt that the publication of this five-volume collection has filled a significant gap in Becket studies in China in so far as it has made more of Beckett's works available to Chinese readers. Yet, given the average Chinese reader's relative unfamiliarity with Beckett's works, a detailed critical introduction to each volume would have helped readers understand his works. Thus, a critical edition of each volume seems to be a reasonable extension of this translation project.

13. For a detailed account of Beckett's reception in Japan, see Tajiri and Tanaka44. Tajiri , Yoshiki and Tanaka , Mariko H. 2009. “The Reception of Samuel Beckett in Japan”. In The International Reception of Samuel Beckett, Edited by: Nixon , Mark and Feldman , Matthew . 147–62. London: Continuum.
View all references, ‘The Reception of Samuel Beckett in Japan’, 150.

14. Some of these scholarships include the National Overseas Students Fund, China Council Scholarship, Scholarship for 211 Universities, the Fulbright Fellowship for Chinese Scholars, and Freeman Fellows.

15. See, for example, a Taoist reading of Robert Frost's poem ‘Where is the West-running Brook Flowing? Robert Frost in Taoist Perspective’53. Yin , Qiping and Zhang , He . 2010. Where is the West-running Brook Flowing? Robert Frost in Taoist Perspective. ZAA: A Quarterly of Language, Literature and Culture, 58: 119–29.
View all references by Qiping Yin and He Zhang, in which the authors explore the parallels between Frost's notions of escapism and engagement through the images of ‘drift’ and ‘counter-drift’ and the Taoist ideas of renunciation and worldliness.

16. In the absence of standard Chinese translations of Beckett's English fiction, Chinese critics are sometimes forced to use the original texts and provide their own translations in their publications. A case in point is Wang Yahua's recent essay ‘The World as “My” Will’, co-authored with Liu Lixia, in which they argue that Beckett's3. Beckett , Samuel . 1992. Dream of Fair to Middling Women, New York: Arcade.
View all references fiction started with ‘traditional realism and [moved gradually] toward extreme experimentalism’ (177–8), citing Dream of Fair to Middling Women 3. Beckett , Samuel . 1992. Dream of Fair to Middling Women, New York: Arcade.
View all references and More Pricks than Kicks 6. Beckett , Samuel . 1934. More Pricks than Kicks, London: Chatto & Windus.
View all references as examples of ‘Beckettian realism’ (179) or fragmentary realism' (179). The authors provided their own Chinese translations of a few segments of the novel used in the essay, including the title of the novel. While there are elements of realism in the two novels, they also contain striking postmodern stylistic features, especially Dream; in this sense, to read these novels as Beckett's exemplary realist novels is at least debatable, as is the translation of Dream's title.

17. For a few off-centre approaches to Beckett's fiction, including the global approach, see Lin.

18. Beckett's canonical status in the West can be seen in such authoritative publications as The Columbian History of the British Novel, The Cambridge Companion to Beckett, The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-century Literatures in English, and Postmodernist Fiction 31. McHale , Brian . 1987. Postmodernist Fiction, New York: Methuen.
View all references.

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