CIRM is welcoming Simon Yiu-Tsan Ng as CIRM Resident Scholar 2017-2018.
Originally from Hong Kong, Simon Yiu-Tsan Ng obtained his PhD in Études Anglaises from the Université de Montréal in the spring of 2016. He is now revising his dissertation Imperfect Flâneurs: Anti-heroes of Modern Life into a monograph for publication.
As CIRM Resident Scholar, Ng brings to CIRM an interdisciplinary research that intersects translation, literary studies and architecture. In this current project titled Montreal’s Stairs, the Not Yet, and Approaches Towards the Untranslatable, he takes Montreal’s stairs, specifically those spiral balcony stairs that have become the signature style in Montreal’s urban space, as an equivalent architectural muse through which to read and write about contemporary literature and everyday life.
Nineteenth-century Paris had become an important source of inspiration for Walter Benjamin in his writings on modern literature and urban life. Both arcade and stairs are derivatives of passageways. The former, as a space of capitalist consumption, creates interplay of surfaces that facilitates displays of goods and merchandises. Yet, it also constitutes a smooth space in which friction is significantly reduced. While the bridge is a dead metaphor for translation, arcades provide the shape for an ideal model of translation that Benjamin advocates in The Task of the Translator: “For if the sentence is the wall before the language of the original, literalness is the arcade.” Benjamin also takes the arcade as a metaphor for the space between languages in translation where differences are revealed instead of concealed, and displayed side by side (Sherry Simon 2006, 130-1). Comparison is a preferred mode of reading in this arcades space, as in the contemporary academic discipline of comparative literature.
The stairs on the other hand accentuate friction and unevenness. Rather than displaying differences via the interplay of surfaces, they connect us to multiple latitudes of everyday life. In the contemporary world of plurality, there are instances of the untranslatable that resist comparison and could not be reduced simply as “differences”. If consumption is driven by a passion for the code, as Jean Baudrillard suggests, then any approach towards the untranslatable should be understood as driven by an urge of the “not yet” – a gesture or an attitude, as Erin Moure perceives it through Hélène Cixous’s reading of Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector’s “aproximação”, of “becoming proximate, going close to something, moving into proximity” in the face of an autrui or the untranslatable. In short, the “not yet” unrolls each step of becoming proximate towards the untranslatable through uneven latitudes like stairs.
The untranslatable can be considered as that which have not yet been anticipated in language – or in Gail Scott’s term “a future not yet dreamed of”, that which are “not yet plundered” (to quote Nichita Stanescu’s take on poetry that “from the point of view of the poetry, humans appear as not yet plundered” tans. Oana Avasilichioaei), and that which will remain in the perpetual time of not yet (perfectly) translated.
Montreal’s stairs, the not yet, and approaches to the untranslatable thus constitute three major and interrelated components of this project. Respectively, the objectives of this research are threefold: first, to expound the theory of the not yet as a new critical term through the “not yet” (aproximação) in Erin Moure’s poetics and Gail Scott’s “future not yet dreamed of” in her subjunctive narratives; second, to address the implications of the not yet in different stairs featured in several cultural texts from Montreal such as Gail Scott’s Spaces Like Stairs and Michel de Broin’s aluminum sculpture work Revolutions; third, to explore new research directions in the study of translation and the untranslatable that highlight the urge of the not yet, and acknowledge incomparability and unevenness of languages, by way of discussions on literary texts such as Erin Moure and Oana Avasilichioaei’s translations of translations, Nathanaël’s (Nathalie Stephens) reflections on self-translation and the untranslatable, as well as the reinventions of “Nicole Brossard” in English through multiple voices of Montreal-based translators such as Susanne de Lotbinière-Harwood, Angela Carr, Erin Moure and Robert Majzels.
Cities and Literature
Literary theory and criticism
Contemporary World Literature
BA (First Class Honours), University of Hong Kong
MPhil, University of Hong Kong
PhD, Université de Montréal