Wednesday, 23 January 2013

古典 Corner 2 - 蜻蛉日記

I reached the section dealing with this Heian period work yesterday. The Anthology I am reading just gives a few excerpts from the whole poetical diary but even from that little its clear that its a work of great psychological and emotional depth.

It was written around the end of the 10th Century CE by a figure we have come to know as the mother of Michitsuna and is an example of the diary literature genre 日記文学 of the period. The diary covers the period of the authors life 954-974, 天暦8 to 天延2 (The Era dates Tenryaku 8 to Ten'en 2), and in terms of format is divided into 3 sections consisting of memoir, day to day entry style and a mixed section of poetry and observations/reflections.

It also features several examples of poetry (of remarkable depth and elegance) that are exchanged between the author and her husband Fujiwara no Kane'ie, a noble who had attained the post at court of Captain of the Right Guards. They would have probably been texting each other times change and yet remain the same!

It is often regarded (I have read quite amusing asides by readers of various editions and formats of the work) as a dark and sombre, even depressing piece of literature, but there are also great moments of levity,  as well as vivid and detailed description too in the midst of her constant relationship woes. It is really remarkably moving and well worth poring over. It is not entirely clear to me whether this is a 'real' diary or not - perhaps it will never be entirely sure and the work does seem very egocentric almost self-obsessed to the exclusion of other people and events as seperately realised objective figures. Fascinating as an early example of prose fiction still on its newborn tentative fragile legs and significant as the very few works of its kind of any length that has survived pre-Genji Monogatari. The transcriptions are based upon a composite amalgamation of texts and fragments.

There is an interesting article entitled 'Style and Point of View in the Kagero Nikki' - Watanabe Minoru and R.Bowring on JSTOR (From Journal of Japanese Studies Vol.10,No.2 (Summer 1984) which is in turn based upon a translation by Richard Bowring of a chapter of a book by Watanabe Minoru, 'Heiancho Bunshoshi' Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai 1981 (「平安朝文章史」東京大学出版会 1981).

Amongst other things the article deals with Watanabes concept of the 'unmediated author' of the Kagero Nikki and a contrasting appraisal of the prose work and poetry as vehicles of expression and degree control of emotions in the Kagero Nikki.

From Watanabe's interesting and at the time (1981) novel appraisal, bringing his skills as a Language history expert and expertise in stylistic analysis to bear on weighing up the artistic merits of the text it would appear that this works position/status in Japanese Literature is a trailblazer (albeit an unconscious one) in early Japanese prose fiction - not entirely successful but certainly a significant precursor if not enabler of greater works to come such as the Genji Monogatari. It is also noteworthy as one of the first works to have been written for its own sake as opposed to having been commissioned by another.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

From here on in..Chapter 2 and beyond: Structure

Chapter 2 will be the subject of the next posts. It seems to me that this is the real beginning of the action of the novel from the standpoint of the protagonist. There is more substance to the following chapters than the prescript of Ch.1 so what I plan from here on in is the following:

1. Give an indication of the Chapter characteristics in terms of the text I am using (cf. the first post re Woman in the Dunes for my purposes referred to as WOD from now on). So for example Ch.2  is from pp 8-18 in the text I am looking at.

This will help when I am referring to a passage that I may not post in translation but wish to mention in connection with a comment or reference.

2. Describe a overview of the structure of the 'action' or content of the individual chapter. So with Ch 2., I can break it down into about 5 sections.

3. Post a selected passage for translation and language/style comment from each section of a given Chapter structure.

4. Give a synopsis or recap every so often so that I can remind us all of where we have been with the novel and where we might be headed.

5. Provide links to freely available and free access articles about the novel and related subjects. I have found a couple already but although very interesting as they are they refer to the novel as a whole (spoiler alerts and so on) and cover areas I have not posted about so I will leave them until a bit later on.

Next up will be Chapter 2.

I still haven't located a copy of the 1991 English translation of Dale Saunders (in Penguin Modern Classics) so I am still flying by the seat of my pants translation-wise so I am sure to be making some errors. When I can get hold of it for comparative purposes I may have some more things to say re that! I am very interested in the process or 'art' of translation, especially in terms of Japanese novels and therefore will be trying to add more about the process I am going through to arrive at a given take on a particular passage, phrase or word.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Chapter 1, Part 2. Continued II – Insect Collectors and Sexual Deviancy (Bonus Vibe – ‘Owning’ Kafka)

The chapter continues in a speculative vein but attempts to delve further into what kind of man it was that has disappeared. We learn that his wife gave out the information that he was off on an insect collection trip. This initially quashed the first wave of speculation in the text (the narrator) as to the nature of the disappearance only to shift focus to the kind of adult who would engage in a hobby such as collecting insects.

‘It’s surely no mere coincidence that insect collectors often possess character traits such as a highly developed acquisitiveness, the attitude of the obsessive loner, kleptomania, homosexual tendencies could argue that from there it is just a step away from misanthropic suicide.’

Apparently they aren’t healthy people! (Or rather this kind of thing is ok for a schoolboy but for an adult a worrying thing – signs of an Oedipus complex even according to the text). I had some difficulties with translating this part (as you might notice), for example,

I translated this as kleptomania and it may be a touch too much for something which the kanji suggests as just a stealing habit, but in the context of the stereotyped negative image of the adult insect collector, it seemed to fit. Similarly with terms such as 極端に排他的 I wanted to convey the Gollum like loner, mumbling 'my preciousss desune!' over a few rare black winged moths! 排他 comes out in my denshi-jiten as 'boycott/reject others at the expense of ones friends' but again the context of the solitary collector seems to imply a man who has retreated into his boyhood hobbies. (Note to Self: Must check on my full set of hand painted Sailor Moon figurines - only joking..or AM I?). Maybe his only 'real' friends are moths....moving on.

But to be fair rather than a character assassination, this first chapter has the atmosphere of nonplussed exasperation at there being no clues to the vanishing act. Chapter 1 seems to be the alpha and omega of the case and end s with the casual statement of fact of the man’s ‘missing presumed dead’ official status after 7 years of no news. Chapter 2 starts with the day in August again but it’s an August day outside of the open and shut Universe of Chapter 1. We are finally with the man as he sets out on his fateful collecting trip.
Bonus Vibe – ‘Owning Kafka’
My little joke here, Kobo seems to be riffing on Metamorphosis here with the man’s insect collecting hobby. The insects are subject to the protagonist’s will and seem to me to be an embedded reference or ‘nod’ to Kafka’s Metamorphosis. I thought it looked as though Kobo was ‘owning’ Kafka by saying ‘Yeah I got Kafka here in a little glass jar held by the protagonist!’ Ironically the man later becomes the trapped insect so the ‘owning’ is purely on Kobo’s part not the protagonist’s and of brief duration. Just a nod as I said.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Woman in the Dunes continued: Chapter 1 Pt. 2

Chapter  1 Continued:
The chapter continues regarding the disappearance and in the formal, slightly removed style of a police report of newspaper article, begins to speculate as to the nature of the disappearance and its possible motives:-
In the case of a murder or accident, there is a clear remnant of evidence, with kidnappings there is usually an apparent motive concerning those involved. But with a disappearance, which falls into neither one nor the other of these categories, it’s nigh on impossible to grasp hold of any clues.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Koten Corner - Current Reading

Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600

I am currently reading this book, the section I have jumped to is the Heian period since I am quite interested in Setsuwa and early prose works. Its a fascinating read so far. I am reading selections from the Nihon Ryoiki.
One thing leads to another - Rikusho Kanji Categorisation System

As I looked up the other kanji for たのしみin my electronic dictionary (I have 漢字源 改訂新版 on my rather out of date Canon Wordtank V35 but hey, it was a gift and its still more or less functional for my requirements and 漢字源(Kanjigen) seems a pretty adequate resource for the standard run of Joyo Kanji and a bit more) I noted in the analysis 解字(kaiji) description for 愉しみ the kanji was described as a 会意兼形声(kaii ken keisei) type which is Composite and Sound/Meaning Categories. This lead me to wonder what the other categories were and where the category system came from and I culled this from the intertubes and translated it:



Derived from Construction



These characters represent actual objects, shapes of things. They are the basic building blocks of kanji construction


Ideogram/Simple Indicatives

Non-representational diagrammatic signs, not based purely on shape, indicating more complex items, abstract ideas and objects.


Compound Indicatives

Composite characters based on a combination of two or more characters to convey a new or more complex meaning

比 (2 people
看、(hand + eye


Combination of a character representing the sound and a character representing the meaning. This type accounts for over 80% of Kanji


Derived from Use

Derived Characters

Extending the primary meaning of  a kanji to develop its use, giving it a new application


Phonetic 'loan' characters

Borrowing the sound of the kanji to represent a word unconnected with its original meaning


Note:  The system known as ‘Rikusho’is based on the system of categorization of 9353 Kanji description entries into four categories of derivation by construction and two categories derived from use (see above) compiled in a book known as the Shuowen Jiezi (J. Setsumonkaiji) 設文解字 , a Chinese character dictionary (possibly one of the earliest known comprehensive dictionary of Chinese characters in the sinosphere) compiled in the late Han (aka. Western Han) Era c. 120 CE

Friday, 11 January 2013

Notes on Epigram and opening Paragraph


'たのしみ' - The thing I noticed about this was that 楽しみ was written in hiragana. Why? Possibly because there are two kanji which can be used for たのしみ, either 楽しみas above or 愉しみ.

Straight 楽しみ seems to be more appropriate when designating simple fun or enjoyment, as in light recreational enjoyment with no other dimension to it, plain and simple, whereas 愉しみ would appear from my cursory dictionary investigations to imply a deeper kind of enjoyment where the sufferings or troubles of the heart are lifted, or that the enjoyment has a deeper dimension, such as reading a book as opposed to larking about with a bat and ball in the park on a sunny day.

This leads me to speculation as to why, other than the obvious one of leaving it to the readers discretion or imagination, the writer did leave it in kana. It seems that 愉しみwould make more sense in the context of the epigram, as in the deeper enjoyment of escape from punishment as opposed to escaping for mere amusement or boredom. Perhaps there is the hint that it could be either, and a indictment of the human predicament position in an 'absurdist' universe. Even simple fun, anything to escape reality or boredom being as valid as a deeper from of healing of the pain of existence. The second part of the variant kanji (ュ)representing the sound part 音符 of the kanji has connotations of healing and even allusions to kanpo 漢方Chinese medical terminology - again pushing me towards wondering why Abe didn't just plum for this as opposed to simple 楽しみ. Here we are right at the start of the novel and its already a strange and odd world!

It struck me as a remarkable orthography

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Translation First Paragraph and Notes

           - without punishments, there would be no joy in escape-

Chapter 1

On a day in August, a man went missing. He had set out on a holiday to the coast, a mere half-days train ride away, and that was the last that was ever heard of him. The missing persons report filed with the police, even the announcement run in the newspaper, came to nothing.