My Tokyo days may be at an end, for now (as geoecopolitical events shift my personal Asian correspondent from Tokyo to Hong Kong), but I've still got my eye on Japan, the country I love to hate. It's so damn beautiful–
It is, however, a country that I (along with Roland Barthes) find fascinating from a textual perspective.
The acclaimed, beloved Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami has a new book coming out tomorrow. Nobody knows what it's about, except that it's titled 1Q84. Nevertheless, according to the Christian Science Monitor, advance orders have cause his publisher to increase the initial print run from 380,000 to 480,000. No word on when an English translation will be available.
Rumor has it "1Q84" is a reference to George Orwell's 1984, which wouldn't surprise me, but which makes sense– "Q" is how you say "9" in Japanese. (That is, Kyu.) But this seems a rather English-centric explanation, since not all of us look at "Q" and think Kyu. I guess we'll have to wait and see.
The new issue of the Quarterly Conversation is up, and includes a review of Amélie Nothomb's Tokyo Fiancée (a much better title than the original French one. Ni d'Eve ni d'Adam). I swallowed this book in a day before I went to Tokyo in April and found it highly readable, very enjoyable, though finally, nothing special. But sometimes that's ok. We can't read special books every day of the year. The best parts of the book involve eating (okonomiyaki– which I had for the first time last month, oh deliciousness) and a hike up Mt Fuji.
Words Without Borders has a special Japan issue up on their site. Michael Emmerich has this particularly good essay on translation– he tells us that the word "translation" has no direct, well, translation, in Japanese.
But the obviousness of this translation is misleading: it comes to mind
first, I would suggest, not because it is a general category like
"translation" within which other types of translation are included, but
because it is the most nondescript, or the least specific in a series
of terms denoting various sorts of translation. "Translation" in
English is an overarching category that includes all sorts of
translations, the act as well as the product of the act; hon'yaku
can be used in a way that makes it seem like an overarching term—it can
refer both to translation as an act and to a translation of a book, and
is used to translate the "translation" in "translation studies"—but it
isn't exactly, at least not in the way that "translation" is. This is
evident, for instance, in the fact that 現代語訳 gendaigoyaku
(the rendering of a work in a pre-modern form of Japanese into a modern
form of Japanese, which is unquestionably a form of "translation") is
not generally considered a subset of hon'yaku. Hon'yaku also
has considerably less of the ambiguously theoretical or metaphorical
flexibility of the English term: one might classify transliteration as
a subset of translation (indeed, Jerome J. McGann uses the term
"type-translation" to refer to transliteration), but in Japanese one
would simply be using the wrong word for the activity variously known
as 翻刻 honkoku, 翻字 honji, or 翻印 hon'in. Hon'yaku
refers specifically to translation from foreign (non-Japanese)
languages into Japanese (or vice versa), sometimes more specifically
still to translations from Europe or the United States, and its
usefulness as a general term is thus limited. Those like myself who
attempt to translate "translation" with the word hon'yaku are, in other words, subtly carrying out the type of translation (if it is a type of translation) known in Japanese as 誤訳 goyaku, or "mistranslation."
We also learn that when particularly bad books are translated into Japanese, there is a special term for that as well:
("translation presented with the original text on facing pages"), or in
the case of translations of works by Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steel,
John Grisham, and other popular American writers, 超訳 chōyaku ("translations that are even better than the originals," an invention and registered trademark of the Academy Press).