Judges Comments on awarding the NSW Premier’s Translation Prize to Ian Johnston:
“Dr Ian Johnston’s background in medicine informs his work as a translator, as he brings the sharpness and precision of a neurosurgeon’s scalpel to the extraordinary translation projects he undertakes in both Classical Chinese and Greek.
These include the only complete translation to date into the English language of The Mozi, the monumental treatise on the philosophy of Mo Di (c.470BC – c.391BC). Johnston’s amply annotated resurrection of this classic is a landmark event, even in China, where Mo Di is known about but little read. It establishes Johnston’s status as a world-class translator in the same league as James Legge, Arthur Waley and A.C. Graham, the eminent British scholars largely responsible for introducing China’s ancient philosophical texts to the English-speaking world.
Johnston’s translation involves a mammoth feat of interpolation from the spare Chinese characters, with their minimal ‘information’, to produce a text that is not only scholarly but beautiful. He captures both the austerity and vivacity of the original without sounding a false note, either of archaism or modernity, making a complex and demanding philosophical tract not only accessible and readable, but compelling.
The same acute sensitivity to tone and nuance and genre is brought to bear on the classical Chinese poetry Johnston has translated. Two anthologies – Singing of Scented Grass: Verses from the Chinese (2003) and Waiting for the Owl: Poems and Songs from Ancient China (2009) – together cover a very broad swathe of time, from the Han dynasty (206BC-221AD) through to the ninth century, each period of language use and style presenting different aesthetic and linguistic challenges for a translator, which Johnston meets with a quietly powerful and humble intelligence that reinvents each poem anew, charging it with life.
Johnston has also translated two major works of writer and physician, Galen (c.129-204AD) from the Classical Greek: Galen on Diseases and Symptoms and Galen’s Method of Medicine. These are specialised works, but they will be the texts of reference in the field and their literary qualities further demonstrate Johnston’s prowess.”
- Anne Collins Anne Morgan art Backyards Bao Zhao Basho Birds Bob Brown Bob Jager. Bruny Island Environmental Network C.J.Denis Award Charlotte Wood Chinese poetry cloudcatchers collection of poems Dr Robert Pyle Duncan Merrilees Eric Rolls Forests Gina Mercer haibun haiku Hobart Bookshop Ian Jeanneret Ian Johnston Inverawe Island Japan John Bird Karen Knight landscape Lyn Reeves Mark Tredinnick Meryl Parker nature poetry nature writing Nigel Featherstone Northern Rivers Writers' Centre Olvar Wood painting paper wasp Pardalote Press pastoral poetry Patrice Newell Pete Hay Peter Grant Peter Shepherd photographs poetry Postcards from the Asylum Prizes prose publications Rachel Carson retreat Rohan Wilson Sandra Rofe sense of place Shambles Sharon Dean Stanley and Kaisa Breeden Tanya Massy tasmanian writers Tasmanian Writers' Centre Terry Whitebeach The Mozi The Nature Conservancy Verity La Watermark Literary Society Watersmeet Wildcare workshop workshops writing about place Zen of Place