我通常在黑夜里使用中文:和地球另一端的人发短信、在床头写日记、和猫说话。在白天,我写邮件、讲课、阅读、工作、买菜、聊天,都是用英文,除非有小动物出现,比如,我在一个书店工作,有时候顾客带狗来,我和狗说话都会不由自主地说中文:你好,好乖啊,乖乖……之类的。有一天,有一辆很小的白色卡车停在书店门口,方方正正像一块小豆腐。我和同事凑在门口欣赏,我一边拍照一边自言自语,怎么那么小啊。同事说,Yuchen’s speaking Chinese, that’s how cute it is.

“English is not a language,” my friend F recently claimed, “as there’s nothing intrinsic about it.” Another friend of mine who moved to the U.S. from Israel about 10 years ago told me that she found herself speaking to her newborn baby in Hebrew only. “English is not a language you speak to a baby, it’s a language for business.”​ Although our friendship has been based in English, and it's not entirely business — admittedly, we became allies in the business of grad school and, later on, in the business of making a living in New York City. But we also share the pains and joys of life, big and small, we talk. It takes great effort on both our parts, with our limited vocabularies and occasionally incoherent grammar that are “wrong” in different ways, which bear the vestiges of our different mother tongues like a birthmark on the brain. But I still easily connect with other diasporic beings: when we talk, it’s not only the legitimate verbal exchange at work, but the errors are also effective currency, conveying struggle and compromise, contradiction and ambiguity, the comical and the cunning. I know how you feel.

有时我也会担心,自己和英文总不是亲生的关系,长久地用英文思考是否会限制我思考的深度和范围?在《1984》里,消灭了 “自由”这个单词也就消灭了关于自由的想像,进而遏制了自由成为现实的可能。我所掌握的英文词汇是那么地有限,那些不被我掌握的词汇又包含着怎样我无法触及的想像与现实?比如说, 我来美国是读艺术的研究生,我可以读阿多诺却说不出许多蔬菜的名字。我记得在中学时,医药的历史我也读得津津有味,但在英文中, 我不认识医药类的单词。我的英语,可以说是艺术史与左派理论的方言,这方言之外的声音,于我是真正的耳旁风。在新的语言中发明新的生活,就像写一本虚构小说,我不会写的,自然就不在这小说里。

This filtration of knowledge and discourse, caused by my porous English which can only mesh selected substances and strain out whatever I don’t favor, is accompanied by the filtration of my social life, now that I’ve been far away from families, family friends, and high school classmates. Everyone who’s currently and actively in my life has entered by way of our shared interests and the ideologies of recent years. Yes, I’m mostly free from the pressure of justifying my life purpose to relatives at dinner, but I often wonder what has been lost. In a book that I once had and later lost, Kafka’s Relatives: Their Lives and His Writings, the author credited the dazzling and exotic images in fiction to the diverse vocations of his family members, among them lawyers and politicians, as well as a railway contractor who worked in Belgian Congo and also visited China. In The Sopranos, which I’m currently binging, this cultish idea of family becomes a gravity field that irresistibly draws everyone into its orbit, not unlike the Chinese way. With considerable guilt and a touch of treason, yet persistently seduced by the image of a stranger in a strange land, I left my kinship orbit just as I left my language nest, woven by familiar shapes, sounds, and tonalities.


In fact, a close friend once commented that they viewed me as utterly blunt, and I thought to myself with an air of melancholy: they will never know how crafty I can be in packaging my true intentions when speaking Chinese. In this foreign linguistic territory, I have no luxury of ornamentation, no access to abundance, nor am I equipped for subtlety. I’ve noticed my voice becoming much more tentative, and my sentences often go up in tone at the end — because, besides whatever I am saying, I am also forever asking: am I saying what I think I am saying? Entering my 10th year living in the U.S., I find myself mastering not English but instead inhabiting inferiority, the art of understatement, the audacity to raise painfully banal questions, and the technique of stretching a moment: at a random locus within a sentence, in search of an elusive word, I indulge myself with a long long pause, while everyone waits, including time. ​The famously unstoppable stream of consciousness has to stop for me, for what is a thought before we find it a name? Yet often do I fail, the search ends in abyss, the thought remains nameless. Nameless but vivid, like tears trapped in the chest, forever boiling.

就像因为常常一个人去电影院看电影,习惯在灯亮起的时候就收拾自己的情绪,囫囵打包带走,而不需要当场为它们命名或定性。偶尔听到结伴而来的观众之间的讨论,我也会有些回避:语言太尖利,我担心忽明忽暗的影像的迷雾被语言刺穿而失去魔力。In that sense, it is actually a great privilege to live with an unfamiliar tongue, as one’s awareness exists simultaneously in the light and shade of one’s linguistic surveillance, ​one operates on the ground of meaning while remaining acutely aware of the unfathomable strata underneath. Carrying my soul, whose opacity can’t be penetrated by my tongue, is like hoarding treasure that can’t be converted into capital. It is ultimately safe and private, for it is unrecognizable by the system.

去年三月,我在陌生小镇的美术馆驻地,窗前是山和雪。因为疫情的关系,我的驻地比计划中更漫长,也更与世隔绝。我开始看厚厚的书,比如 George Steiner 的《After Babel》。1乔治·斯坦纳(George Steiner),《巴别塔之后:语言及翻译面面观》(After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation),牛津大学出版社,1998年。​ 我想写下许多感想,但迟迟无法落笔。除了世界的动荡和自身的拖延之外,漫长的犹豫在于我不能决定落笔是用中文还是英语。两个选项都有自然和不自然的地方:英语的自然在于输入与输出的统一,中文的自然仍深埋在我的基因血液里;然而如今我已经不能分辨哪一种自然更自然。相应地,两个选项都隐含了翻译——不仅是文章完成后交付到译者手中时,作为工种的翻译——写作、言说、甚至呼吸的每一刻对我来说都是翻译,或者说都是弥合裂痕的努力。2020年2月1日,我从北京经香港回到纽约,在一切如常的布鲁克林自我隔离;当我在时差和悲愤中阅读中文社交媒体上转瞬即逝的报道与文章时,广播里日日夜夜是弹劾Trump的消息。偶尔在国际新闻的时段听到 coronavirus,那时英文里还没有Covid-19。

A year has passed since I began thinking about writing this text, and this Google doc is now my personal tower of chaos and divergence. I recently reread “The Task of the Translator” by Walter Benjamin.2Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations: Essays and Reflections (Schocken Books, 1969)​ Without being able to break down the intricate architecture of his writing, I almost underscored the whole thing in a state of trance in 2013.​ Flipping gently as the pages had become noticeably crispy, I reencountered three images that have been etched indistinctly but deeply in my mind since: 1. fragments of a broken vase; 2. where a tangent touches a circle; ​3. the wooded ridge of a forest. This is another dimension of translation that I’ve been reckoning with: when reading, I certainly was translating his words through my literacy, my memory, and my way of being; after reading, have I been translating his words into my action, my ethos, and my becoming?

将这比喻投影得更远更虚:在阅读之外,交谈、相处、了解一个陌生人、搬到一个新环境,或都是某种意义上的翻译,系统间的转码,适配与不适配的角力。这过程当然充满流失与辜负;但如果不执著于还原或对应,glitch 或也是惊喜、抵抗甚至生产工具。写到结尾的我,在2021年的2月,正沉浸在Clubhouse的中文世界。在这个纯语音的社交平台上,言说脱离了言说者的 echology, 像流浪的卫星或奔跑的电子,在与他者碰撞的火花中验证自己的存在与动力。


常羽辰目前生活在纽约。她的工作方式是游离的——如纺织般写作,如翻译般绘画,如梦呓般经商(见:使用价值),也以待客之道去教书。她进出于不同的材料和领域,她在劳动分工的边缘散步。 changyuchen.com

“language for business” / “事务性的用语”
抄写 George Steiner 《K》、《A Kind of Survivor》

“what I cannot write naturally will not be included” / ”我不会写的,自然就不在这小说里“
抄写 George Steiner 《Understanding as Translation》

“kinship orbit and language nest” / “亲缘关系与母语的巢”
​抄写 George Steiner 《Understanding as Translation》

“the deliberate false displays of emotion, substitutions of one thing for another, pretending to start along one path while secretly taking another, and innuendo” / “虚与委蛇、移花接木、暗度陈仓、含沙射影”
抄写 George Steiner 《Word Against Object》

“inhabiting inferiority” / “在劣势中自处”
抄写 George Steiner 《Understanding as Translation》

“the light and shade” / “亮处和暗处”
抄写 George Steiner 《Word Against Object》、《The Hermeneutic Motion》

“Benjamin Vase” 他说世界上的语言是花瓶的碎片,纯语言是碎了的花瓶。

“Benjamin Tangent” 他说译文之于原文如同切线之于圆,轻轻碰触后继续自己的路。

“Benjamin Forest” 他说译者漫步在语言森林的边缘。