On the Smell of an Oily Rag: Speaking English, thinking Chinese and living Australian
Ouyang Yu's new book of creative non-fiction in English is now out, titled, On the Smell of an Oily Rag: Speaking English, thinking Chinese and living Australian, just published by Wakefield Press, South Australia.
Ouyang Yu gives his unique insight into Chinese and Western language and cultures, and makes us reflect on our own habits of thought from new angles.
Culturally diverse, On the Smell of an Oily Rag: speaking English, thinking Chinese and living Australian draws examples from low and high culture and from the everyday and the literary life. Ouyang Yu shows that they are closer together than we usually think.
Based on the unique biji xiaoshuo (pen-notes fiction) genre and written in an accessible, readable and deliberately un-academic style, On the Smell of an Oily Rag is a seminal non-fiction book that creates its own genre of what Ouyang Yu calls, biji feixiaoshuo (pen-notes non-fiction), in its exploration of cultural, linguistic and literary similarities, differences and parallels between the English and the Chinese language in a distinctly Australian context. By drawing references from a range of literary and cultural works going as far back as The Book of Songs (1122-256 BC) and covering writers as diverse as Fernando Pessoa and Zhou Zuoren, this book treads where few dare adventure.
Scholarly and scatological, this cornucopia of fun and wisdom is a breathtaking picture of speech, thought and images from the world ¡s richest and oldest culture. On the Smell of an Oily Rag gives an insight into how English-language and Chinese-language cultures collide, contrast and illuminate each other. It ¡s about what is lost in translation and what can be gained by it. It stretches the imagination to an unprecedented degree where clich¨¦s become cream and boundaries exist only to be unbound.
About the author
Ouyang Yu came to Australia in 1991. He graduated from La Trobe University with a PhD in Australian literature and has since published over 40 books of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, literary translation and criticism in English and Chinese. His second full-length novel, Loose: a wild history will be published in the UK in 2008. Ouyang edits Australia¡s only Chinese literary journal, Otherland, and writes and teaches part-time in China and Australia. Ouyang ¡s website: www.ouyangyu.com.au
Please send cheque or money order payable to Ouyang Yu at:
P. O. Box 200, Kingsbury 3083, VIC, Australia
Individual: $27.95 plus postage
Institutional: $37.95 plus postage
author autograph available on request
Please see two book reviews below:
The Age book review by Fiona Capp (15/03/2008):
WITH THE CHINESE economic boom looming large in the
West, this book provides an intriguing and confrontingglimpse of the linguistic and cultural differences that make a minefield of East-West relations. Well-established Chinese-Australian poet Ouyang Yu's love of language is evident in his playful and provocative musings on "the brilliant sparks that rub off at language contact points". Where English-speakers "think twice" about something, Chinese-speakers "think thrice". The English phrase "on all fours" becomes "on all fives" in Chinese, referring to a gesture of respect where both knees, elbows and forehead are on the ground. Because language reflects national character, Yu finds himself pondering what these differences mean to the long-standing rivalry between China and the West. From the fart in Chinese poetry to the Chinese equivalent of "relaxed and comfortable", the linguistic fireworks fly.
The SMH review by Bruce Elder (15/3/08):
This is a book every structuralist should have on their shelves and read every day. Ouyang Yu is a translator who has lived in Australia for 17 years and translated (into Chinese) books as diverse as The Female Eunuch and The Man Who Loved Children.
He is fascinated by language, especially the idiosyncratic way people (particularly Australian and Chinese) express themselves. Ouyang considers an array of cultural differences, from numbers (we prefer "on second thoughts" which in Chinese becomes "third thoughts"), sex, business etiquette (Chinese never open presents in the giver's presence and think Australians are checking the quality if they unwrap it), swearing, euphemisms and more.
Every paragraph offers a tantalising titbit. "In English we say 'God-fearing' but in Chinese we say jing she pa gui (god-respecting and devil-fearing)." Anyone interested in learning how Chinese see and understand their world, or in understanding the differences between Australian and Chinese culture, will find this fascinating.