Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Wake in Translation, Part 2. Turning Japanese

It's been a couple of busy months since I posted part one of this discussion of the Wake in translation, despite the fact that I have really wanted to get to this very interesting article I discovered on the history of the Wake in Japanese. Yup--Japanese. If you'd like, you can just cut to the chase and head over to Atelier Aterui and read the article by Eisharo Ito.

For me, it is timely to revisit this article after our last meeting, because one thing that struck me about our last reading together was exactly the thing the article talks about--the mysterious way in which Joyce was able to sustain multiple narratives simultaneously. I'm not talking about plots and subplots here, or even the way Joyce was able to draw from such a multitude of sources. I'm talking about how, on the one hand, the book can be a running commentary on Lewis Carroll, yet on another, is also fully able to carry the multivolume discourse by John P. Anderson on Finnegans Wake, which is subtitled The Curse of Kabbalah, and  in which two ideas of God contend and interact with each other. And so on and so on.

I think the way of translating this work into Japanese can help us understand this a little. Parts of Finnegans Wake had been tranlated into Japanese as early as 1933, but it was left to Naoki Yanase to attempt the whole book in the late 1980s and early 90s. The earlier groups at work on the project tranlated what they considered to be the surface meaning, and then use endnotes to discuss other meanings and context. Yanase was part of one of these groups, but then went on to try it alone.

The “Joycean language” is a fertile bed of multilingualism whose ambiguity enables the reader infinitely to interpret each word, phrase and sentence Joyce interweaved in the text--Eisharo Ito

Yanase decided to render this multiplicity in Japanese. For this effort, he had to coin new words in Japanese, and also attempt to create a Japanese "style" that seemed to reproduce the Joycean style. He translated the complete book, which is now considered a masterpiece in its own right, but his unique usage was very difficult to follow and has proved too much for most Japanese readers. (I should point out here that the language he was tranlating into has not only a different script, but a very different idea of how to write a word in itself.)

It was then left for Kyoko Miyata to write a more accessible translation for the non-scholarly reader. Her method was to stick with what she discerned as the main narrative and then add one or at the most two alternative readings by means of the footnotes. The article says that Miyata was impressed by what Michal Butor, the French translator of the Anna Livia Plurabelle, had to say about reading the Wake--"the reader consciously or unconsciously makes one choice among mass of meanings of words and phrases." In other words, you choose a trail and follow it.  In Miyata's words, she wished to render Finnegans Wake “as an organic whole, to bring in relief this thin but surely existing flow of narrative.”

The end of the article shows the two Japanese versions alongside the original. It's interesting to look at, even if you can't read a word of Japanese.

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