March 25, 2015
Minor national bodies of literary works can only become relevant if they're largely translated into English. It's pointless to resist this reality. Delusional even.
"You say that the fall of language occurs when people start taking their own culture - e.g. books written in their own language - less seriously than what is imported from the English-speaking world." – Corinna Pichl in her interview with Japanese writer Minae Mizumura on her book The Fall of Language in the Age of English. Translations do dominate the book market here in Romania and that is indeed a sign that we don’t take our culture seriously enough, but I'm interested in how that might also be a comment on the value (or lack thereof) of local contemporary literature. And the fact that so very few Romanian books get translated into English – can we really chalk it all up to a disinterest from the English-speaking publishers / audience or is it that not that many books are worthy of the effort involved in getting such a book translated and published?
Japanese literature, on the other hand, has a privileged position on the international book market. (It would be interesting to see some numbers: in non-English-speaking countries, how many Japanese books are translated directly from Japanese and how many are translated from English, as it is sometimes the case with other languages?)
For more on the influence of English on the Japanese language, but also on the difficulties of translating Japanese, here are a few suggestions:
In Japanese English: Language and Culture Contact, James Stanlaw explores the use of English in Japan both from a historical and from a modern perspective.
Twenty years later, John Dougill revisited his 1987 text "English as a decorative language:"
The content of decorative language, as the original article identified, is full of dreamy thoughts and the yearning for individualism. This goes together with the national cult of the cute. ‘Nature’s wind: I feel like relax’, says a shopping-bag. ‘It’s warmth and gentleness to relieve one’s mind’, replies a toilet seat cover. ‘Hello Tomorrow. I only wish to provide you with strength’, adds a photo album. ‘Natural high: I feel like relax’, responds a bag. The dialogue is filled with pleasantries, as is Japan’s daily life. Harmony is the guiding principle. The concern is with associations.
The emphasis on mood rather than meaning, I now realise, is characteristic of the culture as a whole. You see it in television dramas, and it is a keynote of Japanese literature where writers like Kawabata spend whole novels in the creation of atmosphere. It is evident too in film, where a director like Mizoguchi is concerned to evoke a sense of pathos. It is this emotional element which distinguishes Japanese advertising from its Western equivalent, where the emphasis is on informing. It makes me think decorative English should be treasured as a form of national expression.
John Dougill, Japan and English as an alien language | English Today (Vol. 24, Issue 1, March 2008)
Considering that Haruki Murakami's books have been so widely translated, his work might be the perfect case study for the particularities of translating from Japanese.
You've mentioned that the nuances of Japanese food are sometimes obscured in translation. What else gets lost or warped?
I hope nothing important gets obscured in translation, of course, though in 1Q84 even the title itself presents a challenge since in Japanese the number 9 is pronounced "kyuu." Also some day-to-day things that Japanese take for granted were difficult--the nuances of how one addresses another person, the suffixes (-san and -kun in particular) that are affixed to names, and the level of intimacy they convey. Not to mention plays on words.
Jay Rubin, in Making Sense of Japanese, broaches the stereotype that Japanese is more imprecise and mysterious than English.
There's a generalization out there that Japanese is somehow imprecise or vague compared to English. I don't buy it. Japanese communicate as well as anyone, and a writer like Murakami—though the overall atmosphere of his work may be dreamlike or surreal at times—lays out his ideas clearly.
Philip Gabriel interviewed by Alex Hoyt, How Haruki Murakami’s ‘1Q84’ Was Translated Into English | The Atlantic
Still, I can’t help but wonder if the translation of literature, where the strengths and even personality of the original are embedded in the language, is futile, however heroic. “When you read Haruki Murakami, you’re reading me, at least ninety-five per cent of the time,” Jay Rubin, one of Murakami’s longtime translators, told me in Tokyo last month, explaining what he says to American readers, most of whom prefer to believe otherwise. “Murakami wrote the names and locations, but the English words are mine.” Murakami once told me that he never reads his books in translation because he doesn’t need to. While he can speak and read English with great sensitivity, reading his own work in another language could be disappointing—or worse. “My books exist in their original Japanese. That’s what’s most important, because that’s how I wrote them.”
Roland Kelts, Lost In Translation? | The New Yorker
And if you’re sick and tired of Haruki Murakami, the latest issue of Words without Borders is dedicated to new writing from Japan: “On Memory.”
March 6, 2015
Image by Ferdinand Hodler
Despite last year's visible progress concerning transgender issues, we can’t pretend we live in a post-gender society / culture. Not when we’re still expected to perform our assigned gender, not when a phrase like “battle of the sexes” (which I thought we left somewhere in the ‘90s, in the pages of women’s magazines) is making a comeback. And definitely not when masculine anxieties are reaching new heights (or new lows - depending on how the anxiety is expressed). It's especially this anxiety around masculinity that makes Laura Kipnis's Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation relevant and necessary even as we're trying to do away with the gender binary. John Wilmes has interviewed Kipnis for February's issue of Bookslut.
Before Men, Laura Kipnis had already given us The Female Thing, in which she argues the social progress of women is blocked by women themselves. By our incapability to decolonize our minds.
Obviously, social progress is always a stop-start sort of affair. For one thing, the inner lives of the protagonists aren’t always on the advance team, so to speak; social change goes whizzing past your ears, with the backwardish psyche – not always quite so amenable to change – bringing up the rear. It’s sometimes been said that a colonized mentality far outlasted the political conditions of colonialism; Soviet Communism crumbled virtually overnight, but the inner apparatchik lives on. So too with female progress, it appears.
In other words, feminism came up against an unanticipated opponent: the inner woman. If something remains a little obdurate about female inequality after the last forty years or so of activism and protesting, obviously there’s no shortage of external culprits to hold accountable: the Media, the Old Boys’ Club, the Double Shift. And then we have the culprits closer to home. No, not men (though that’s pleasantly self-exonerating) – I’m speaking of the collaborator within. Not to point fingers, but without substantial female compliance, wouldn’t masculine privilege pretty soon find itself crammed in with all the other debris in the trash can of history? When it comes to male power or female subjection, or whatever you want to call the current arrangement between the sexes, the complicity on the part of women themselves is… well, let’s just say it’s “complicated.”
Laura Kipnis, The Female Thing: Dirt, Envy, Sex, Vulnerability
One of the earliest articles that made me aware of what is now the toxic MRA discussed the difference between men’s studies and male studies:
But ultimately the differences have to do with radically different notions of what it means to be a man in the first place.
The people in men’s studies, like those in women’s studies, take a mostly sociological perspective and believe that masculinity is essentially a cultural construct and that gender differences in general are fluid and variable. To Professor Kimmel, we live in a world that is increasingly gender-neutral and gender integrated and that this is a good thing for men and women both. “That ship has sailed — it’s a done deal,” he said recently, dismissing the idea that men and women are as different as Martians and Venutians.
The male studies people, on the other had, are what their critics call “essentialists” and believe that male behavior is in large part biologically determined. Men think and act differently from how women think and act because that’s how evolution shaped them. In the most extreme formulations of essentialism, men are basically still Neanderthals: violent, clannish, sexually voracious and in need of female domestication.
Charles McGrath, The Study of Man (or Males) | The New York Times
(Michael S. Kimmel’s work, mentioned in this article seems worth checking out.)
Women are often stereotyped as the emotional ones, and men as rational. But, after the 2008 crash, the picture looked different, as Hanna Rosin wrote in an article in the Atlantic titled “The End of Men”:
Researchers have started looking into the relationship between testosterone and excessive risk, and wondering if groups of men, in some basic hormonal way, spur each other to make reckless decisions. The picture emerging is a mirror image of the traditional gender map: men and markets on the side of the irrational and overemotional, and women on the side of the cool and level-headed.
Grayson Perry, The rise and fall of Default Man | New Statesman
In a review of Why Men Fake It, Jonathan M. Metzl wrote:
It’s hard to be a man these days. For years, men enjoyed the trappings of hegemony unencumbered by guilt, reproach, or self-loathing. Men smoked like Don Draper, drank like Foster Brooks, and drove like Jimmy Dean. The world was theirs, and they paved American roads as pathways to their enjoyment. Men worked hard and dallied even harder. A plate of meatloaf, Lassie, and a chipper nuclear family waited dutifully at home until they returned.
Now, however, it takes a lot of work to keep things in order. This is not to say that the system is not set up for male privilege—indeed, the system slants in men’s favor like never before. But a growing group of men apparently feel persistent anxiety that things are not as they were, that a golden age is lost. These men are being encroached upon by politics, public health, and a society that wants what they have.
Jonathan M. Metzl, Sequester This!: The Perils of Masculinity and the Truth About Sex | Public Books
It’s always worth it to revisit Tony Porter’s Call to Men.
The Mansplainer could be part of the gender typology mapped by Laura Kipnis. But such a chapter would have probably been redundant considering there’s already Rebecca Solnit’s excellent, often-cited Men Explain Things to Me.