Losing It In Translation (Again) Dept.


I have been preparing for the English-language release of Usamaru Furuya's manga adaptation of Osamu Dazai's No Longer Human by re-reading the original novel in its English translation (by Donald Keene), with the Japanese text open to the side. It's a little like being at the U.N. and listening to both the translator and the original speaker babbling into opposite ears.

My comprehension of Japanese is not what it could be, but I understand enough to realize how the book has been changed a good deal in its translation. I've written about this before, but the more I expose myself to the original the more clearly I see how radical, in some ways, the English translation had to be.

For one, many of Dazai's sentences in the original are incredibly long — far longer than anything that could be supported in English grammar without seeming downright unwieldy. Keene dealt with this by breaking things up those run-ons into smaller sentences whenever it seemed appropriate. Fair enough, but one of the side effects of that is the way Dazai's rambling hypnotic reveries turn into more staccato outbursts. We've seen plenty of English-language examples of that kind of writing — Rick Moody, William Burroughs — so a new translation, if one were commissioned, could be more faithful to that element of the original text.

Yes, I've been tempted to create just such a translation; no, I don't think I have the skill to pull it off. But at the same time, I know just enough to sense how different the original must be, and how a new translation would stand apart that much more from the original. For all I know the recent resurgence of interest in Dazai in the wake of his 100th birthday might well have spurred someone else on to do it (and if you are, let me know! I'd love to see it!).

Still, I shouldn't make it sound like I'm badmouthing the Keene version. It's what introduced me to Dazai generally, and it doesn't feel like a terribly unfaithful version. Still, as I mused before, what didn't seem unfaithful in 1958 might seem a lot less faithful in 2011, and so an entirely new translation would at the very least be a fascinating experiment in how our attitudes about rendering such material have changed.


Tags: Donald Keene Japan Osamu Dazai translation writing




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This page contains a single entry by Serdar in the category Uncategorized / General, published on September 19, 2011 11:51 PM.

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