[Buddha-l] Gedun Chopel, 20th century Tibet's finest writer

JKirkpatrick jkirk at spro.net
Tue Mar 1 23:01:21 MST 2011

I just read Stoddard's review. I find it to be a grandstanding
display of her superior knowledge and insight into all things
Chopel. Worse, she indulges in long paragraphs of detailed
pedantry. This review left me knowing nothing about Lopez's book
or Chopel's poetry.  

Her criticism that I would agree with is the one about Lopez not
supplying contextual material for the poems. She accuses him of
adopting a modernistic form, both in lack of context and also
collection of the materials into book form; Tibetans didn't do
that. Oh really? Well, moderns do do that, and Lopez apparently
tried to provide a book that suits modern bookishness. However,
I can agree because I've read a work that was faced with, and
transcended, a similar problem-- Daniel H.H. Ingalls' fascinating
and elegant book, _Sanskrit Poetry from Vidyakara's "Treasury"_,
Harvard UP, 1965, 1968. Ingalls had a similar task, to
felicitously translate poetry written in an ancient tongue,
Sanskrit, by a variety of court poets in medieval India. He did
organise the poem chapters by themes (the method that Stoddard
objects to in Lopez's book), but he also provided copious
discussions of each theme, with examples, in every chapter, and
dates if known next to the authors' names, besides providing a
comprehensive general introduction--which Lopez apparently did
not. (I've not seen Lopez's book.)   

However, we are also treated to a pedantic display of her
erudition about Tibetan verse forms and how they were or are
used.  Dan: "She questions Lopez's ability to understand Amdo
vernacular Tibetan, which the poems frequently employ." Pedantry
again.  Ingalls takes note of certain terms he's translating as
presenting vernacular/local problems that he is not sure of.
Maybe Lopez was just tired. Maybe he never learned Amdo dialect.
She admits that there are a plethora of dialects among Tibetan
speakers. Well? She wastes too many inches of print slamming
Lopez for not engaging in this sort of deconstruction.
It might have been more fair to accept that to write a critical
analysis of these works was apparently not his intention.  My
take would be that after engaging in the long and trying work of
translation, he wanted to get the book out and in circulation,
rather than producing a definitive critique.  

And again: "no mention is made of the modern period, nor of the
nature of modern Tibetan poetry in Lopez's analysis." More
lit-crit pedantry. I consider this slam as a sidebar that does
not fulfill the duty of a reviewer to tell the reader what in
fact the writer did. Instead, she tendentiously carries on about
what he did not do. Stoddard perhaps knows a lot more about
Tibetan culture and some of the intimate particularities of
Chopel's life than Lopez does, but has she ever translated
Tibetan poetry? 

Finally, she is not happy with Lopez's straightforward (literal)
translations, hoping for a fine poet of English, deeply
acquainted with Tibetan culture, to materialise and produce a
better book than Chopel's. In sum, she condescendingly puts down
everything Lopez has written on Chopel as "preliminary"
(insulting as continentals can be), while she claims to await the
lyrical genius who will do it properly.  This seems to be a large
order, else I'd guess that she would have offered a few names for
the task. What finally afforded me a refreshing bit of hilarity
amidst the gloom and doom of this review was that she cites Andre
Gide's translation of Tagore's _Gitanjali_ as an example of a
better way. (The late Bengali poet and litterateur, P. Lal, would
have called it a "transcreation.")   I have to say, as one who
has read Tagore's very own English translation of his Gitanjali
collection, that I'd hope that Gide's was an improvement.  

Joanna K.

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