Beyond the Other World: Teaching Beowulf through Heaney on the Fringe of the Far East

Ming-Tsang Yang

2018, vol.28, no.3

This paper reflects on the liminal experience of teaching Beowulf through Seamus Heaney’s translation to Taiwanese college students. It suggests that the Irish Nobel Laureate’s nuanced mediation captures the poem’s fringe dynamics out of the threefold Scandinavian/Insular/Continental circuit. Indeed, the Old English poem has much to bear on today’s fringe politics: the story of Beowulf plays out at the fringe of the prologue; Beowulf and Grendelkin make their appearance at the fringe of their world; and the monstrous landscape unfolds a complex network of transnational flow of people and things that challenges the center/periphery binarism. The heightened awareness from the Celtic fringe that informs Heaney’s translation reverberates in the border consciousness of Taiwanese students, whose analogous vantage position from the Far Eastern fringe may yield, beyond the centralizing, modernist critical conception, a revealing insight into this remote, foreign poem, across the divide of premodern and postmodern, East and West.