mjj (flemmings) wrote,

Fic: 100 Demons AU

This was supposed to have been the next of that series, 'The Unpublished Stories of Iijima Kagyuu: Tales to Harrow a Grandson's Soul.' There was supposed to have been an afterword from Ritsu wondering uneasily why his grandfather had used his grandson's name kanji for the protagonist. But someone writing like this about their grandson is after all more than a little ick, so fine, it's a simple AU.

Moon Princess

I probably couldn't write an Iijima Kagyuu story in the first place. Translating, if nothing else, has rubbed my face in the fact that Japanese prose doesn't do what English prose does, and a Japanese story in English will seem oddly lacking in some basic quality. I think it's explanatory detail. Japanese authors just don't tell a westerner- or at any rate, this westerner- enough. There's a lack of specificity and concrete description. A Japanese reader must simply supply more when reading a text than we do, and I think is much happier with stories that to my mind simply go nowhere and say nothing. (And now I'm sounding like the books I read before I went to Japan, and everything the books were saying remained obscure theory until I saw what they were saying it about for myself.)

Whether it's language scrim or not, I can be happy with a story in Japanese that turns into moonshine and pale shadows in English. My English mind expects explanatory sentences and I don't get them; it expects precise indicators in the tone of how I'm supposed to take a certain passage, and none, to my second language reader's mind, are provided. Some of those indicators are in untranslatable things like language levels and pronouns; some aren't. My prof told us that The Makioka Sisters is a marvellously detailed work, solidly grounded in physical reality: that you can walk in your head through the Makioka house just from Tanizaki's description. Havers. Maybe *he* could, having read the thing in Japanese and having lived in Japan. I, in my Toronto reality, couldn't. There were no pictures in the words of Tanizaki's text.

That's why manga work so well. They show you the things an author wouldn't, like facial expressions. They let you see for yourself the one thing a Japanese won't tell you, which is 'why.' Actually it's easy to write a story that sounds Japanese: just remove any kind of explanatory vocabulary, specifically the kind that explains what the character is feeling and why. The psychology may be the essence of the story here, but it's a minor detail there. I mean, everyone knows what anyone would feel in a similar situation so why do I need to tell you how my character feels? Homogeneous societies are wonderful that way: you can read most other members of your country the way I can only read the members of my family.

This is my quarrel with 'show, don't tell.' It assumes everyone uses the same criteria as the author to interpret the things she shows. The chances of anyone having the same mental set as any author are minimal in my experience. It brings us back to communication with the Japanese which is fraught with similar assumptions: 'couldn't you tell I was angry?! I said nothing.' Well, no: you also say nothing when you're happy and nothing when you're bored, so saying nothing in itself has no specific meaning. Equally, how do I know your character is frightened or furious or whatever when you use no specific vocabulary to indicate it? Dialogue has no inflection in and of itself, and the more realistic it is the less meaning it conveys. I remember Seidensticker in the mid-70s translating Genji, with its page long sentences of imbedded thoughts and dialogue and action, which was meant to be read aloud; and musing it was no wonder it so frequently made no sense- the Watergate tapes in transcript were utter gibberish.
Tags: 100demons, fic, japanese, language, writing

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