Ziegler Lecture: Dr. Chunjie Zhang, “Bertolt Brecht’s Me-ti or the Aesthetics of Translation”

Tuesday March 15, 2022
12:30 PM - 1:30 PM

Join us on March 15, 2022 at 12:30 pm PT for the virtual Ziegler Lecture Series, featuring Dr. Chunjie Zhang of the University of California at Davis. This talk is co-sponsored by the UBC Eurasia Research Cluster & the Centre for European Studies.

View the recording of this talk here:

Title: “Bertolt Brecht’s Me-ti or the Aesthetics of Translation: Universal Love, Mutual Benefits, and Transience”

Abstract: Bertolt Brecht’s Me-ti. Buch der Wendungen (1965, Me-ti. Book of Transformation and Usage) is allegedly Brecht’s own German “translation” of Mozi, a book of ancient Chinese philosophy of Mohism, from an English translation. Yet Brecht’s self-ascribed role as the German translator and the alleged English translation of Mozi turn out both to be fictive. Then the issue of translation, which hasn’t been properly addressed in Me-ti scholarship, promises to take us to different contexts and yield a deeper understanding of Brecht’s textual and contextual practice. I argue that Brecht’s aesthetics of “translation” is situated between ancient Mohism and contemporaneous Marxism, between theory and practice, and between art and reality. Me-ti evinces an intertextuality inflecting both the ancient Mohist teaching and Brecht’s own reflection on universal love, mutual benefit, and the dialectic of the transience of things. Brecht did not translate Mozi from English into German. Yet he translated the content and the spirit of Mozi from its ancient context into the twenty-century setting of the international communist movement. Hence translation is not merely an action from one language to another but also a trans-situational movement between historical periods, ideological orientations, and civilizations. It is also a political
or an ideological translation, an engagement that stresses the practical and ethical function of literature in intellectual debate and political movement. Brecht’s self-styling as the German “translator” and his imitation of the aphorismic style of Mozi reveal his translation as transliteration, moving beyond linguistic, historical, ideological, national, cultural, and class boundaries. Me-ti represents a form of world literature that is translation and transliteration both in form and content.

Bio: Chunjie Zhang is associate professor German at University of California, Davis. Engaging with postcolonial theory and German travel writing, literature, and philosophy around 1800, she is the author of “Transculturality and German Discourse in the Age of European Colonialism,” published with Northwestern University Press in 2017. She is currently working on the concepts and forms of cosmopolitanism in German and Chinese intellectual history in the early twentieth century. In addition to editing or co-editing volumes and journal issues on Goethe and world literature, aesthetics and politics in the Enlightenment, and global modernism, Zhang co-edits a book series with Routledge on “Asia, Europe, and Global Connections.” Her articles on Goethe, Georg Forster, Adelbert von Chamisso, August von Kotzebue, Max Weber, Jenny Erpenbeck, the refugee crisis, and Asian German Studies appear in venues such as Critical Inquiry, European Review, The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, German Quarterly, The Germanic Review, German Studies Review, and edited volumes.