To translate is to rewrite: Nobel writer

To translate is to rewrite: Nobel writer
Nobel Prize winner Gao Xingjian.

The first Chinese to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, Gao Xingjian found writing his first play in French to be a hard slog.

But almost as difficult for the bilingual writer, who left China in 1987 and is now a French citizen, was translating that play, Between Life And Death (1991), into Chinese.

"It was like rewriting the script from scratch," he said at his lecture at the National Museum last Friday, one of the headline events of the Singapore Writers Festival, which ended yesterday.

Though best known for his Chineselanguage novels and plays, Gao has also written extensively in French in the last 25 years since relocating to Paris.

His one-hour lecture, conducted in Mandarin in the form of a lively dialogue with moderator and Chinese literary academic Quah Sy Ren, centred on globalisation and crossing cultures as well as different art forms.

Gao, 73, is also an accomplished painter and, more recently, a film-maker. His relationship with the French language goes back to his university days as a French major at the Beijing Foreign Languages Institute in the early 1960s.

Addressing a 220-strong audience who packed the museum's Gallery Theatre, he said that for him, writing the same text in two languages amounted to "re-creation".

This was because one had to be extremely sensitive to "not just the syntax but the deeper linguistic structures". It involved "translating from one culture to another, so that it resonates with someone of that other culture".

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