DOSTOEVSKY IN JAPANESE.

A JapanFocus article by Yoko Tawada (her name given, with the venue’s Japan focus, in Japanese order as Tawada Yoko) discusses all sorts of language-related things, including whether European languages couldn’t also be written using ideograms; she starts by bringing up a new Japanese translation of The Brothers Karamazov, and I found this passage interesting enough to want to pass it along:

When I was in high school, I read The Brothers Karamazov in the translation by Masao Yonekawa. I also bought a Russian edition as a first-year university student, but it was too difficult for me, and so I continued to rely on the Japanese translation. This didn’t make me sad, I enjoyed the Japanese words and expressions I hadn’t known before. This translation dating from 1927 was linguistically far more unfamiliar to me than, say, the stories written by Kawabata Yasunari around the same time. It seemed to me as if the translator had collected Japanese words from a number of regions, classes, times and places and masterfully assembled them to translate a foreign culture. Therefore this translation made the range of the Japanese language appear much larger than the Japanese literature of the time did. But this quality of the translation also demanded patience, calm and persistence on the part of the individual reader. I would try to extract a cultural concept unfamiliar to me from an unusual combination of two adjectives. Certain concepts would appear in unexpected places and glow. I learned a great deal about the uncompromising nature of a competent translator. Reading a bestseller, on the other hand, I never had the feeling that there was something I couldn’t immediately understand. Indignantly I rejected the secret that bestsellers sometimes offered the weary reader as a pick-me-up. I was interested in more radical drugs and looked for them in the Dostoevsky translation, which was difficult to digest.

Obviously there are a lot of people who prefer translations that are easy to digest, but I know exactly how she feels.
Another interesting bit, on modern Japanese newspapers:

The fonts used for headlines are now so subtly differentiated that they can influence a reader’s attitude toward an article even before he’s read the first sentence. A certain font can be instantly recognized as having to do with earthquakes, while a second one suggests poverty in the so-called Third World, and a third awakens readers’ curiosity because it’s used to recount sweet little stories, for example about young schoolgirls saving the ducks in an industrial canal. Right from the start, the reader is forced to become part of an audience united by a particular mood: witnesses to a natural catastrophe or a political event. Most readers find this not coercive but helpful. The information is perfectly presented in graphic form and therefore makes a sealed-off impression. I try to find a weak spot in this wall of typefaces in which I can insert the first sentence of my text, but there isn’t one.

Comments

  1. Who is your favorite Dostoevsky translator?

  2. Adding more layers – Tawada’s article itself was apparently translated from German. Anyone have access to the original?

  3. Who is your favorite Dostoevsky translator?
    Don’t have one. I always tell people to compare as many translations as they can find and pick the one that appeals to them most.

  4. Rodger C says:

    I don’t have a favorite Dostoevsky translator, but when the Norton replaced the good old Constance Garnett translation of “Notes from Underground” with Michael Katz’s, I noticed that Katz uses “desire” where Garnett distinguished “choice” and “desire,” thereby confusing the argument (Katz did). Can anyone tell me what, if anything, this corresponds to in the original? (I have a little Russian but no literature collection in it.)

  5. Anyone have access to the original?
    I took it to mean that she had the lecture translated so she could deliver it in English at Cornell.

  6. Can anyone tell me what, if anything, this corresponds to in the original?
    If you’ll quote a couple of instances, I’ll look them up in the original.

  7. Rodger C says:

    Thanks. Section VIII, 2d para., Katz: “I was just about to declare that the devil only knows what desire [Garnett, "choice"] depends on. … Who would want to desire [G, "choose"] according to some table?” 3d para.: “‘Hmmm …,” you decide, “Our desires [G, "choices"] are mistaken for the most part because of an erroneous view of our own advantage. … Well, and when all this has been analyzed, … then, of course, all so-called desires [G, "desires"] will no longer exist. For if someday desires [G, "desires"] are completely reconciled with reason, we’ll follow reason instead of desire [G. "desire] …” Unfortunately I don’t seem to retain a copy of the Garnett; this is all from my notes in the Katz.

  8. I was just about to declare that the devil only knows what desire [Garnett, "choice"] depends on. … Who would want to desire [G, "choose"] according to some table?
    Я только что хотел было прокричать, что хотенье ведь черт знает от чего зависит… Ну что за охота хотеть по табличке?
    Hmmm …,” you decide, “Our desires [G, "choices"] are mistaken for the most part because of an erroneous view of our own advantage. … Well, and when all this has been analyzed, … then, of course, all so-called desires [G, "desires"] will no longer exist. For if someday desires [G, "desires"] are completely reconciled with reason, we’ll follow reason instead of desire [G. "desire"] …
    - Гм… – решаете вы, – наши хотенья большею частию бывают ошибочны от ошибочного взгляда на наши выгоды. … Ну, а когда все это будет растолковано …, то тогда, разумеется, не будет так называемых желаний. Ведь если хотенье стакнется когда-нибудь совершенно с рассудком, так ведь уж мы будем тогда рассуждать, а не хотеть…
    So Katz is correct; the Russian talks about wanting/desiring throughout, and “choice” was imported by Garnett. She may have been trying to capture D’s switch from хотенье to желание, but “want” vs. “desire” would be a much better way to do it.
    It’s interesting that “if someday desires are completely reconciled with reason” misses the paranoia implicit in the original verb стакнется [staknyotsya] ‘reaches a secret agreement with.’

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