Woman in the Dunes – Chapter 2 Section 1 continued (p.8-9)
‘Finally, the houses petered out and gave way to pine forest. At some point the ground changed to fine grained sandy soil that clutched at the soles of the feet. Here and there, clumps of dried grass cast their shadows upon the sandy hollows and still, as if by mistake there appeared the odd meager-looking aubergine plot, the size of a single tatami-mat. But of any human presence there was no sign. There was no doubt now that the sea lay just ahead.’
松林 Pinewood. I see the trees here scattered and increasing in frequency as part of the change of the landscape as opposed to a discrete outcrop of plants or a grove. The gradual and apparent imperceptible changes in the landscape heighten the sense of unreality or impossibility to pin down the changes, when they happen, exactly what they are, what they mean and here いつか is one of the words in this passage that conveys this indistinct, vague and dreamlike quality to the description. It’s one of his key words and crops up from time to time as well as others (and not only in this novel) to make sure the reader never really feel that he is on solid ground.
I am hammering on about this a bit because I think it’s important not to lose sight of Abe Kobo’s lyrical/poetical sense when translating. It is very deceptive when encountering his prose and I think that a lot of translators including my humble and oft mistaken efforts) can fall into the trap of seeing only the stark modernism in his writing. I have a feeling that we can tend to project the ‘minimalist’ image a bit too much and the underlying lyricism is in danger of being erased with a French style new wave approach to rendering this prose. The only prose I can think that really achieves such starkness is Beckett in the Malloy series. But Kobo Abe’s final agenda is not one of such starkness. Or if on the surface it is his initial intention, it’s a conscious failure almost as a demonstration of his surrealist rejection of scientific logic and communistic utopianism together.
He has stated that this work was homage to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (or possibly Through the Looking Glass, I will have to check that out) and that for me as well his affinity with Kafka’s work leads me to try as much as possible to heighten that surreal otherworldliness.
間違えたように As if by mistake. As if it wasn’t meant to be there.
一枚ほどの The size of a single (tatami) mat. I think you have to put this in since just ‘mat’ might mislead some into thinking we are talking about some kind of micro-farming.
まるで Again emphasis or intensifier of the sense of empty surreal and non-human landscape. This section strikes me a sort of airlock part of the novel where the man has left the known inhabited world and is now passing through a non-world in human terms, his self exile, and his (temporary) freedom from human conditions.