Now that Jin Di's translation of Ulysses into Chinese is recognized as a substantial, even monumental, work, it is appropriate and pleasing that we have this book that has come into being along with the translation over the past 15 years. Together with the contributions by Robert Kellogg and Mary Reynolds, it provides an informative context for the Chinese Ulysses. Moreover, it provides valuable insights into the novel from a perceptive critic who comprehends and moves beyond the critical debates that have built up around Ulysses over the past several decades, redirecting our attention to perennial aspects of the novel that we risk losing sight of.
Some of its chapters tell the fascinating story of the origins of Jin's project and its troubled and challenged progress—indeed, its near demise—and thus they inform us about the socio-political milieu that for so many years exerted a de facto ban on Ulysses. They also have wisdom to offer on the principles of translation, reflecting the experience of someone who has worked for many decades as teacher, theoretician, and, of course, translator. And they delight and instruct us with their detailed account of some of the thorniest problems encountered during the translator's agon with Ulysses. They provide as well an account of the reception of and reactions to Ulysses in China over the past 75 years, culminating in the emergence a few years ago of two competing translations of Ulysses. Finally, there are complementary pieces by Robert Kellogg and Mary Reynolds (both of whom have worked with Jin for many years), including an account of the First International Conference on James Joyce in China, in 1996. Western readers will find even the chapter that was written for a Chinese audience unfamiliar with Ulysses—"A Unique Masterpiece in Western Literature" —historically noteworthy, because it was the first major essay on Joyce published in China. It introduced the writer and his Ulysses to Chinese readers, and in the process gleaned a first class research award from the Academy of Social Sciences in Tianjin in 1988.
Another source of interest in this book is the distinctive critical and interpretive perspective that it offers on Joyce's great novel. This is true for two reasons. The first is that Jin Di's knowledge of Ulysses is detailed and intimate—as it had to be in order for him to carry out, line by line and word by word, the task he undertook. (I have testified in the Foreword to the Chinese translation to my chagrin and pleasure in being subjected to his persistent, detailed questions about the text.) Secondly, Jin's view is that of an informed and sensitive non-Westerner, someone who brings to the reading of Ulysses assumptions and values formed in a very different culture—a potential liability that Jin has transformed into an asset. What is striking and appealing about Jin's critical response to Ulysses—and especially to Joyce's achievement in the character of Leopold Bloom—is that he is so sensible and clear-minded about what is important and enduring in the novel.
Contemporary critical discussion of Ulysses among European and American critics often threatens to become mired in self-perpetuating and irresolvable textual cruxes or in baroque and regressive considerations of the styles or voices of Ulysses. As a result we risk losing sight of the true sources of the novel's greatness—those qualities that cause the book to deserve comparison with Don Quixote or The Brothers Karamazov or War and Peace. Jin's perceptive critical judgments about Leopold Bloom's character, and about Ulysses more broadly, help to remind us that this work (as all great literature) is "the eternal affirmation of the spirit of man". Once again, the world's readers of Ulysses are in Jin's debt; this time the Occident as well as the Orient is the beneficiary.
William R. and Jeanne H. Jordan Professor of English
Chapel Hill, N. C.