Victor Segalen 謝閣蘭 (1878-1919) is a name now found on the lips of poetry lovers throughout France although as recently as ten or fifteen years ago, he was almost completely unknown. After his untimely death under somewhat suspicious circumstances, Segalen had been nearly forgotten about for decades except by a few scholars and devotees of poetry until his widespread rediscovery in the last several years when his reputation has been steadily rising to place him among the luminaries of French modernism. Poet, novelist, surgeon, archeologist, sinologist, traveler, theorist of exoticism — friend to the likes of Claude Debussy, André Gide, and Paul Claudel — this remarkable man was even briefly the personal doctor to the son of the first president of the Republic of China during his years of residence in Beijing. In 1999, Segalen's life and work were the topics of the grand exhibition at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, and shortly thereafter his bilingual poetic masterpiece Stèles / 古今碑錄 first appeared on the reading list for the advanced literature degree in France (l'agrégation).
Stèles / 古今碑錄 is a hermetic collection of wry, intriguing, and at times haunting prose poems that are presented like translations of imaginary Chinese "steles" or inscribed stone monuments (shibei 石碑), each of which bears a heading in classical Chinese — sometimes quoted from classical texts or actual monuments, sometimes composed in literary Chinese by Segalen himself. Although written in a tightly formal French and a broadly allusive style in imitation of Chinese inscriptions, these poems often speak of the more intimate matters of friendship and erotic love, the self and otherness, the spiritual and supernatural, in addition to the corruptions within organized religions (from Buddhism to Christianity). Among Segalen’s creative work, this collection of poems is the most sustained and concentrated realization of his ideas about l’exotisme and the transformative power of what he termed le Divers or la Diversité. It is a truly original work that continually thwarts the expectations of the typical critiques of Orientalism, and that has an immediate appeal and an enduring interest to lovers of poetry and theorists alike.
Now, for the first time, a fully annotated critical edition of these fascinating poems is available in English, translated and annotated with exhaustive commentaries on the Chinese and on Segalen's manuscript notes by Timothy Billings (Middlebury College) and Christopher Bush (Northwestern University), with a preface by Haun Saussy (Yale University) on Segalen's intercultural poetics. The authors have identified a number of new Chinese sources that cast light on how Segalen transmuted the gold of his bilingual poetry out of the prosaic substance of sinological scholarship. As the first photofacsimile ever published, this facing-page translation from Wesleyan University Press includes full-page reproductions of a rare copy of the first revised edition printed under Segalen's supervision in Beijing in 1914.
Although this critical edition assumes no knowledge of Chinese (English translations are given for all French and Chinese passages), it is also designed for the use of bilingual readers and students of Chinese by including standard pinyin equivalents for EFEO romanizations and full quotations of the original texts of Segalen's sources and the many jottings in Segalen's manuscripts. The aim of this two-volume set is not merely to introduce English readers to the riches of Segalen's intercultural poetry, but moreover to enable a new level of scholarly work on the book and to foster a new level appreciation for Segalen's art. Volume two is available for free download on this site.
Foreword, by Haun Saussy xi
Stèles / 古今碑錄 46Stèles at a Glance 265
The Poems 71
Afterword, “Explanation of the Edition” 259
Critical Notes 285
About the Authors 417
Volume 1 is available at: