mjj (flemmings) wrote,

Happiness and Semiotic Despair, plus Bellairs

Shall link this old but classic entry from bravecows afrai because it still makes me laugh so hard it hurts, especially
Oogenesis -- somebody really enjoying reading the Bible. (See oocorinthians, ooexodus, aarghrevelations.)

Carpel -- to complainl.

Histones -- kick 'im in ~.
Equally the recent 'oldest bit of lit you ever fell in love with' thing over at rachelmanija and the side bit about falling in love with Hamlet got me to thinking. The oldest /story/ I first fell in love with was probably Waley's translation of Genji. Which was fine at 14 for the first ten chapters. Getting into the Ukifune sections- reading Seidensticker's brisker and therefore balder take- yeah, I sort of have the 'Skank!' reaction now too. But. But. Those are *translations*, from a language that even now doesn't fit very well with English, and which carries historic cultural assumptions that don't exist any more over here and when they did exist, didn't to the same degree.

There's room for an article on Why We Can't Read Genji (or any early text, even the ones in our own langauges: but that's a different despair for another time.) There's equally room for an article on why Genji translators, who know the culture and the original very up-close, may possibly be unable to see how their Japanese-turned-into-English reads to someone who doesn't have that specific knowledge. It may be that modern English simply cannot express the things that Murasaki's Japanese does. I mean, the simple fact that people in the translations have names as opposed to titles has an appallingly flattening and democratic effect. Call someone Genji and he becomes a person you could theoretically say 'Hey Genji, how's it going?' to. Call him the Third Captain or whatever- I actually have no clue what Genji's early court rank is, though it would have mattered very much to Murasaki and her audience- and he's already at one remove from our matey society, even before you get to the elevating verbs you must use about the Emperor's son.

This was mostly occasioned by reading a manga by the PSoH mangaka where a bunch of high school students pastiche Shakespeare's entire oeuvre and turn it into a murder mystery. At one point Hamlet falls, saying 'Ken no saki ni nutte atta doku ga mawatte kita'- the poison smeared on the sword's tip is running through (my body, understood)- 'watashi wa mou damé da'- which made me snort with laughter, as possibly it was meant to. 'O I die, Horatio' becomes 'watashi wa mou damé da.' Yeah well, that's what the English means- I'm done for, I am so dead- why *not* make it だめ? Maybe the real translations manage something more poetic and archaic than this, but I wonder what? What can one do with 'the potent poison quite o'ercrows my spirit' in any language but English? Even then- o'ercrow I understand is a phrase from cockfighting, an arcane bit of knowledge that means the full force of the line doesn't reach us modern speakers. I figure Shakespeare used it for the sound- all those echoing o's: god, the man had an ear. But sheesh- what can you do with that in Japanese?

So um yeah, I may cut Genji some slack just because I'm not sure that what he sounds like in modern English is what he is in classical Japanese.

And on another topic- over at Yuletide someone was asking for Face in the Frost fic. 'Slashy or gen, adventure-ish or just playing around with the world.' John Bellairs. I remember reading that years back and not thinking much of it one way or the other, let alone that slash was possible. Got the re-released version from the library and am trying to read it again and not having much luck. I find a serious lack of any kind of there there. 'Oh I hear the sound of Roger's head being cut off. But I think I'll just assume he's not really dead and go on doing this other stuff I have to do.' Never mind slashiness, that rather undercuts any kind of narrative tension at all. I'm seeing no reason to alter my earlier assessment of the oeuvre, not just that book: I think Bellairs just can't write. A lot of people disagree with me. If anyone here does, can they tell me why?
Tags: afrai, humour, manga, reading, reading_07, translation

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