Guest Post: ‘Palimptexts’ by Xiangyun Lim



i. Swallow / Fish

See, homes grow from soil, moulded
by the sea’s pulse. Islands
of water, of trees, of fish, for

someone out there
breathes in the condensation of time.

A swallow flies past:
pilgrim from Song, beating
a familiar refrain of the pensive,
fleeting tail flicks of light

for it was bait of
glinting waves. Not a romance,
but a voyage in a home not its own
to discover, upon landing
a face rearranged

(drilling sounds pierce the walls as
dark chapped hands
build new lifts
in a cacophony
of foreign banter)

Sometimes, walking on these grey roads
void of any other, I hear myself anew:
his steps an intimate timbre.
Do the same consonants and vowels grammar his
boredom, plans, clutter

(a swallow flies past, pilgrim from Song
the familial refrain)

tracing vaults of oils and sculptures:
perhaps he too became a fish
like the fishes we now own
from the school of Chaozhou

v. Island

Staircase: old man
bringing down a tower of cardboard
boxes. Boy with Down’s
Syndrome trails
in the memory of standing upright,
unmoving as an old man lifted his bag

Or stairs: Malay wife
climbing with hands
of husband, bolstered
by the plastic promise of new pillows.

Station platform: toothy wall-
poster child, sitting atop a
when sand still papered playgrounds, drawing cats
that became the wiles of our myths: cat spirits.

(Oh tower of Bolligen: where do I find my
stone, tower of Bollingen)

Sunset: without night,
illuminating how we
and wait for the train,
or perhaps for home.

Odyssey: a story fossilised in
fish bones as the sea’s pulse
still moulds, washes and beats.
See this island. Island of
water, of
trees, of
fish, for

a long time ago
we sat with dinner
as the sky blinked at us
beneath the hawker’s shelter and
echoing shouts. It rained, suddenly,
careless tears time forgot till
it was late. As passers-by
scurried, you stayed with me
at our umbrellaed table,
eating chicken rice,
drinking soup,
quiet as islands.


Palimptext I

Palimptext II

Palimptext III


Draft I

Draft II

Draft III

© (Xiangyun Lim) 2017


My project is a conscious exploration of the process of literary translation, and a probe into particular ideas of ‘creativity’ associated with practice. The experiment looks at the translatory reading of a text, which continues after the first encounter through the various interactions a translator experiences in the bid to embody it in and through another language. My own initial journey in translating Chinese poetry has materialised into what I call a palimptext: booklets made out of tracing paper in which layers of engagements with the chosen text are presented as a physical whole.

The term “palimptext” is a portmanteau of ‘palimpsest’ and ‘text’. The word ‘palimpsest’ forms from the Greek word ‘palimpsēstos’, from ‘palin’ (again) and ‘psēstos’ (rubbed smooth), and refers to ‘a manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing[1]’. My process is effectually palimpsestic in which engagements with the poems were distinct in time of occurrence, nature, and consequential result — always with the same source, but not through the same tools — in the same way a palimpsest emerges from the same material carrying traces of earlier writings by different pens or inks. To represent the palimpsestic process in distinct layers, I chose to use only tracing paper, with each layer — each engagement — presented together as a whole; a booklet made out of tracing paper.

To call this product a palimptext was thus deliberate. Rather than being ‘rubbed smooth’, every layer is unhidden and integral to the product in totality. The word ‘text’, with etymological roots from French ‘texte’, or ‘textus’, can refer to the ‘wording of anything written or printed[2]’. Yet is writing only limited to words, and words necessarily made out of letters? ‘Write’ too has various roots that refer to actions such as ‘to score’ (from Old English wrítan) to ‘tear or draw’ (Old High German rîȥan)[3]. The use of the term palimptext thus has two implications: first, it frees me from limiting the content I produce to alphabetical words, and secondly, it presents the palimpsestic process as a physical product — a material form to represent my palimpsestic translatory reading of the chosen poem, 《航海纪事》.

It also solves a complication the palimpsest presents: that the process is necessarily chronological, where a layer is either above or below another (and where authorship is not always the same). The chronology of my process is simply a result of my physical limitations — that I can produce one thing at a time, with two hands, a brain, and one keypad. However, the engagements with the text happen simultaneously, in an interlinked and dynamic way, and presenting these layers on physical tracing paper to make up a whole, i.e., in a booklet form, is my solution and attempt to embody the dynamic process.

The state of being creative has been, as Clark details in The Theory of Inspiration, called ‘trite, mystifying and even embarrassing… a spurious and exploded theory of the sources of literary power.[4]’ Other descriptions range from ‘transcendent’ to ‘ecstatic intuition’ and ‘naive indulgence’ — terms that lean towards the florid and abstract rather than the rational. Yet there are elements of the creative in writing and translating, creating parallels which have been picked up and apart in what an emerging ‘creative turn’ in translation studies[5]. Loffredo and Perteghella places this arrival of a new ‘critical setting’ in the ‘cultural relativity of translation, as a practice and as a discipline, which allows a further shift, this time towards translational “subjectivity”’[6]. This ‘subjectivity’ is so intertwined with the idea of creativity as the translator inscribes a text from another language with creative input synergised with his or her past experiences and histories.

Yet to put the concept of creativity, already abstract in itself, into the obliqueness of subjectivity only further obscures specifics of the translational process. My experiment thus tries to demystify these terms for myself, and to explore the boundaries that these terms encompasses and cross, even challenging Clark’s supposition of the ability of the ‘creative’ to ‘achiev[e] feats unattainable by any merely rational or procedural method[7].’ This is not to say that I seek a theory or a formula that proves otherwise, but more accurately to find the boundaries that become creative limitations that would work for myself, whether in the form of routines or consciously sought stimuli. I also acknowledge the degree of intuition present in the translational process, here only insofar as a form of translator subjectivity — a subconscious realm where experiences and history tangle and colour the way we read and write.

The freedom to explore brought clarity to the parallels between the creative and literary translation. Imagination is where the two meet, tapping on the ‘power or capacity to form internal images or ideas of objects and situations not actually present to the senses, including remembered objects and situations, and those constructed by mentally combining or projecting images of previously experienced qualities, objects, and situations’. In the case of the latter, it would be a translation from a language to another. And yet my project, as a clear experiment of/in process, is not a presentation of translations in their fully-formed state. Instead, the experiment has been one of value in its documentation the process as a metaphorical composition — a musical one that collects the reverberations of the text in me, amplifies the strains that resonance, and arrange a new melody with new linguistic instruments and the internal rhythms of both text and my own musical background. It adjourns here in the form of a palimptext, but the reading of the text and the translatory process still continues.

[1] Oxford English Dictionary [online]. < >, [accessed 17 May 2017]

[2] Oxford English Dictionary [online]. < >, [accessed 17 May 2017]

[3] Oxford English Dictionary [online]. < >, [accessed 17 May 2017]

[4] Clark, Timothy, The Theory of Inspiration (UK: Manchester University Press, 1997), p. 1

[5] Nikolaou, Paschalis, ‘Notes On Translating The Self’, in Translation and Creativity, ed. by Loffredo, Eugenia and Perteghella, Manuela (London: Continuum, 2006), p. 19

[6] Loffredo, Eugenia and Perteghella, Manuela, ‘Introduction’, in Translation and Creativity, ed. by Loffredo, Eugenia and Perteghella, Manuela (London: Continuum, 2006), p. 1

[7] Clark, Timothy, The Theory of Inspiration (UK: Manchester University Press, 1997), pp. 2-3

Xiangyun Lim has a particular interest in translating contemporary works from the Chinese diaspora. Having grown up in Singapore, Xiang has lived in Seattle, Barcelona, Taiwan and United Kingdom and finds belonging in the intersection of cultures and languages. She is one of the recipients of the Singapore Apprenticeship in Literary Translation (SALT).

She can be found at



Some thoughts on multivocality in translation

Literary translation, as we understand it, occupies both a ‘space’ and a ‘time’ of possibilities, of different readings and their subsequent rewritings.  What we have been seeking, to some extent, and for some time now, is to pinpoint the liminal place where the translator positions herself or himself, this exhilarating ‘in-betweeness’ of the existing text and the soon-to-happen text. But not only. We have also tried to reflect on the translator’s privileged – paradoxical – status, as standing on both sides of the ‘threshold’, between the ritual reading and the fertile writing, but above all between the translator’s own literary and cultural identities and those of the ‘other’ author.

A translator’s reading, in its uniqueness – to read in order to write – will of course generate new embodiments of the text. This translational reading already incorporates the tension between the translator’s ‘experience’ of the text and the expectations of the target readership, a tension which eventually becomes verbalized, drafted, created into another language. But this language is not just one’s own  mother tongue, it also includes one’s own particular literary idiolect and, most importantly, one’s own voice – intended here not only as the uniqueness of the writing style (the lexical and stylistic preferences), but also equipped with sonority and materiality (as in Barthes) and (almost in an ethnographic way) the translator’s subjectivity, attitudes, gender, culture, education, ethnicity, identities: her or his personae.

2016-04-22 17.33.32

So that in the act of translation, the translator’s voice emerges from the interstices and strata of the text, to become more audible, and, therefore, necessarily (inter)acts with the vocal dimensions of the text (narrative, poetic, dramatic), and especially with the distinctive voices of their authors. This conversation, engendered by the translational reading, can be defined as multivocality, which we intend as the multi-voicedness  present in the text of departure, in the translation process and, finally, in the translated text. Further, something multivocal can be expressed in different words, and therefore is layered with pluralism, with ambiguity, change, transiency. ‘Voice’, therefore, is sonorous, oral/aural, individual, embodied or disembodied, but also unfixed, changeable, and context-bound.

Furthermore, the uniqueness of the translational reading does not necessarily entail privacy or isolation. On the contrary the richness of a particular reading opens onto echoes of other work the translator has written or translated before, and these memories feed into the new rewriting (more vocal layers to take into account). Some may still consider the reading phase as a private affair, yet, living in an intertextual, dialogical dimension means that every reading from its inception entails and contains another reading, a previous conversations with other texts.

2016-04-22 16.23.58And, translation, by engaging with more than one vocal subjectivity, becomes a sort of collaborative project, or communal space, where intimacy and solo-writing give way to cooperation and partnership.  Cooperation between two writers is thus present in the translation process, in which the conflation of their voices creates new meanings. Each translation then can be seen as a collaborative project which manifests itself in the voice of, one, the source text author, two, the translator,  and three, the possible, some may say ‘unavoidable’, intertextuality in which both  the source text and  its translation are dipping.  In our past study of translation as a creative form of writing, rather than lamenting the death of the author, we celebrated the birth of the translator essentially as co-author. This idea of co-authoring can be intended as nothing other than the perceptible quality of multivocality, of conflation of distinct, relative voices (the translator’s and authors’ styles, idiolects, sonority and personae) within the target text, even of different vocal narratives and perspectives within the text. Of course, this idea of translation as a collaborative project, and the translator as co-author, is from an ethical point of view problematic insofar as it can generate a dialogue full of tension, with the translator seeking control of meaning over the author, and that meaning needing to be continuously negotiated among all the subjectivities involved.

Finally, and most importantly, each translation despite being a fairly intimate and personal dialogue with the source text does not exclude, but rather calls for, the ‘other’ reader to lend her or his voice to the text and to continue this conversation, to add to the ambiguity, cacophony and renewal in this multivocality. The reader then is invited to explore further the new textual, temporal spaces opened by the translations, and enticed to step onto theses space (and time), to create new meanings.


Barthes, R. (1977) ‘The Grain of the Voice’, in Image, Music, Text, translated by Stephen Heath, (London: Fontana Press).

Perteghella, M. and E. Loffredo (eds)(2006) Translation and Creativity. Perspectives on Creative Writing and Translation Studies, (London and New York: Continuum 2006).

New contribution by Josephine Balmer

Poet and classical translator Josephine Balmer has sent us three poems on the theme of ‘grief of mothers for their children’. Two poems are versions of the myths of Proserpina and Niobe from Claudian’s Latin and Sophocles’ Greek.  The third, which complete the selection, is written by her based on a version of Cavafy’s ‘The Afternoon Sun’.

You can find them by clicking the tab ‘Translations and Other Writings’ in the menu.

We hope to receive more contributions on the theme of mythology in the next two months and that you post us your views and impressions of the translations.

Welcome to our Studio

The Creative Literary Studio is a place ‘of’ and ‘for’ textual creations.  Here, we want to explore the act of writing and rewriting, and discover new experimental ways of text making, including translations, adaptations, revisitations. We are passionate about translation, as a form of creative writing enhancing and transforming texts, and generating new ones.

The Studio, as opposed to the solo writer desk, is a virtual place where different ideas on text making converge, and a place which privileges collaboration and co-writing.  In this shared space, the practice of literary translation can unfold into an artistic and performative act. This blog therefore wishes to bring new perceptions onto writing practices: experimentation, debate, and above all a celebration of the resplendent art of text making are our main interests. The Studio embraces both the text of ‘departure’ and that of ‘arrival’, and the journey from one to the other.

We will propose a  theme every three or four months, which will raise a variety of questions and promote new ideas. For the next two months we are going to explore and play with the translation of mythology. We invite you to take part in this activity by sharing with us what it means to translate mythology in current times.

If you wish to try out a creative approach you can send us your own experimental translations of Greek or Latin myths, Norse myths, or any other myth from different cultures and literatures. The translation can take a verbal shape, but not only. Also welcome are non-verbal texts, which play with the inherent multimodality of most texts, that is the aural and oral elements of poems and choruses; the visual images that  texts generate in the mind of the reader; words, body language, sounds, music, movements in the drama.

What is important for the blog is to explore the process, and therefore your text should be accompanied by a short (or long) account on what/why/how your writing has formed and developed. This would make possible, as in a Studio, to see the ‘live show’ of text creation, its process. The commentary can take any form and be as creative and experimental as you wish.

The beautiful art of text making: go and make one now! Send us your contribution(s) at