Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Chapter 3: Food or Enemy? The Villagers decide

The man continues his search and wanders further into the sand blown landscape where, his theory assures him, somewhere lays his chitinous quarry and a bid at immortality. He stumbles upon a deep pit, at the bottom of which he can make out a dwelling or hut of some kind. He steps to the edge to take a photo and almost loses his footing.

While recovering his composure at the edge of this deep abyss, he is disturbed by the sudden appearance at his side of a nervous old man. The old man seems at pains to find out whether or not the man is here for the purpose of ‘inspection’. He explains that he is an insect collector and the man wanders off. A bit further on he sees three other men, whom the old man joins and the 4 men seem to have a heated discussion…then…the old man returns.





















‘Just as he was about to get back into focussing on his search for the beetle, the old man came rushing back.

‘So, you’re really not someone from the prefectural office?’

‘Prefectural office?......no, you’ve got it completely wrong.’

As if he was fed up with all this talk, he abruptly took out his business card. The old man took a long time reading it, his lips moving as he did so.

‘Oh, so you’re a teacher then’

‘I have no connection whatsoever with the prefectural office’

‘Hmm, so you’re a teacher’

Finally, apparently satisfied with this explanation, the corners of his eyes wrinkled up and he went back, respectfully holding the business card in front of him. It appeared that the other three men were similarly satisfied and with that they got up and left. But the old man came back again.

‘By the way, what do you plan on doing now?’

‘What am I..well I’m going to look for insects’

‘But the last return bus has already gone’

‘Isn’t there somewhere around here I can stay for the night?’

‘Stay for the night? In this village? The old man’s face tensed.

‘If I can’t stay here, I can walk to the next village’


‘Well as it happens I’m not in any particular hurry’

‘No no, you needn’t go to all that trouble……’ he suddenly became quite voluble in his eagerness to help,

‘As you can see, it’s a poor village, there aren’t any decent houses really, but you just need to say the word and I’ll ask around for you and try to help you out.’

…………………………………………………………………………(Break in text here)

‘Thank you, I would be grateful it if you would, and of course I will show my appreciation……I really like staying in these villagers houses.’


かまわず : Literally, not minding or being bothered. Here I have translated at the man focussing back on his task in hand and by implication not paying any mind to anything else.

県庁 : Prefectural Office. Government Office sounds a bit too vague and I suppose Prefectural Office sounds too specific. Then again there are so many slightly differing nomenclatures that it’s hard to get a catch all term that just doesn’t just ‘slip off’ due to being too loose and general – and I think that this is the very issue with such terms as ‘government office’. Furthermore in British English it sounds very odd and something like ‘Local Authority Office or Council Office might be more suitable…though that falls into the opposite camp. Hence I have decided to go for Prefectural Office to reflect that the novel is set in a Japanese idiom and not necessarily meant to be an everywhere/nowhere in the sense of a Beckett novel. As an aside there are an awful lot of American English translations of Japanese novels. I think that a British English translation would be quite different and for that reason alone this kind of project is quite fascinating.

もう沢山だと言わんばかりに : This phrase literally comes out as ‘as if to say I’m not going to say so much about it’, the sense being that the man is exasperated with the possibility of a long winded Q and A session and going round the houses to explain to the old man that he is not a G-Man. -ばかりに after と (here as -だと) ha the meaning of ‘as if to’

目尻いっぱいに皺をよせ :’wrinkled up the corners of his eyes’. This makes for a vivid description of the coin dropping in the old man’s mind and the light of understanding coming on. An interesting word here 目尻 literally ‘eye ass/butt’.

どうって : I wanted to bring this out in my translation since it I feel that it is indicative of the insect collector’s attitude to the old man – impatience and looking askance at his questions as if he should be able to work things out. It reminds me of the exasperation of Captain Mannering with the slower of his subordinates, or Ollie explaining things to Stan and Stan’s rather simple and child like questions. I think that to miss this out is to miss something of the interplay between the two. This is brought out more in the way in which they speak to each other but that is harder to reflect since modern English no longer has such subtleties and nuances of register that Japanese has. The old mans speech is a sort of countrified way of speaking to a stranger, sort of a hotchpotch of polite terms and his country old geezer dialect mixed up. The only decent parallel I can think of for this are the excellent portrayals in the Ghost Stories of Montagu Rhodes James, where there is often a scholar who comes from a very academic and intelligent background dealing with a local bumpkin in order to glean information on a relic or ancient place. In this novel we have the urbanite educated man with the old uneducated villager trope.

上がりのバス : In Japan the Kanji Up and Down are used for  direction of transport: the Up train would be normally used of the more important or significant station e.g. towards Tokyo or the major town or city on a line and the Down train away from the city towards the suburbs or lesser destination. We have an equivalent in English in ‘going up to Oxford’.

老人の顔のどこかが、ひくついた : E Dale Saunders has this as ‘The man’s face twitched.’ But there is bit more going on here surely. The literal translation has it as somewhere on the old man’s faced twitched/tensed’ and from that alone, you get a sense of a barely perceptible movement – a slight tensing, indistinct because of the どこかが.

I really think sometimes that translators try so hard to get a text punchy and crunchy and tight that something falls off in the process. I think that AK has more poetry in him than a strict new wave minimalist interpretation allows. I feel this is doing him an injustice and it’s why I also don’t put him even remotely in any similar category with other close contemporaries. One, his poetry, often denied in a too tight rendering and two his surrealism or downright irreality..Often imitated by later writers but never with his panache or level of disturbance.

まくし立てるような調子になり : E Dale Saunders has ‘loquacious’ for this phrase (literally ‘bundling or wrapping it all up together’) but I prefer ‘voluble’ since the former means just talkative and voluble has a sense of pouring out words in a rush in a sudden enthusiasm. So for me this is much better in the context of the old man, who, up until this point has been behaving like an exasperatingly (in the man’s eyes) slow dullard. My pocket dictionary has this entry for the meaning:


言いたいことを一方的に言う。「早口で-・てる」 スーパー大辞林 三省堂

民家 : Literally ‘private dwelling’ but in this context ‘villagers house’, I might add it comes across slightly condescendingly from the insect collectors style of diction (pretentious and haughty).

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Woman in the Dunes - End of Chapter 2 - Tripping on the Sand

Woman in the Dunes – Chapter 2 Section 4 end p.16-17

The chapter ends with the man’s/Abe’s meditation on insect collecting and the environment, in particular, the sand. The scientific/Latinate terminology AK uses emphasizes the character of the man as one of reason, science, exactitude – the naming of the beetle he discovers in the riverbed during a childhood hunt, Cicindela japonica Motschulsky, the exact and uniform measurements of sand particles, the scientific rationale culled from learned journals and encyclopaedias for their behaviour. Paradoxically as a result of this language the man is sharply delineated against the barren and endlessly shifting sandy landscape – so that its definition or nature can’t be pinned down and his vaunted hopes of a limited kind of immortality as a result having his name added to the Latin name of a new species he is hunting here seem very much in doubt, barely possible in this surreal landscape that could hardly even support life, let alone immortality.

The novel is often referred to as Kafkaesque, but I think that there is a lot more to this work than the casually bandied about term implies – it’s far too surreal and obscure and downright weird to be limited by such a misleading moniker. Not that Kafka lacks the above upon occasion but with Abe, it’s taken much further, like comparing Les Paul/Chet Atkins with Jimi Hendrix!! There is also the fact that Kafka is a much more familiar name to potential readers and therefore easy to hang other writers on – especially those from less familiar soils. Perhaps like describing a promising African novelist as ‘Amisesque’ rather than on their own terms.

At best we can say that throughout Abe’s works there are signposts with Kafka’s name hastily daubed upon it …but the name is partially obliterated by the shifting hallucinatory Abe-ian sands and on occasion seems to read as something completely different. ‘This way to the beach’ – pointing of course, in the wrong direction.

It would be great if there was a thesis directly comparing the two writers’ work and core concepts. Perhaps somewhere there is- the fact that I haven’t found one so far belies the rarity of such a project. One of the possible ‘problems’ for a comparison could be Abe’s high surrealism, it got him into trouble (political, critical) throughout his life no doubt – could it be otherwise? Like feedback sometimes it gets out of control…it’s still unclear as to what is going on at the deeper or rather further out levels of the novels and by extension Abe’s worldview. In the last paragraph, we are drawn into the shifting patterns of his illusions as he lets his thoughts wander over the sands. The sand seems metaphor for time? The irresistible flow of fate? The universe? Or movement as opposed to stationary existence and stagnation? Even in the midst of apparent death, life goes on.


‘Indeed, sand was not suitable for life. But was a fixed position absolutely indispensable for existence? Wasn’t this very determination to hold on to a fixed position the start of unpleasant competition? If one were to give up a fixed position and give oneself up to the flow of the sands, then competition would soon cease. In fact, even in the desert, flowers bloomed, insects and other creatures lived. Using their great ability to adapt, these creatures were able to escape the bounds of competition -an example of this was his beetle family.

As he concentrated his imagination on the patterns of the flowing sand, he was caught up from time to time by hallucinations in which he began to feel as if he himself was starting to flow.’


こそ I translated it as ‘very’. It’s a tricky emphatic suffix to decide how to translate but here seems to me to indicate that the very act itself is what leads directly to unpleasant consequences.

ありえないはずである Literally ‘inconceivable or impossible’ so it could betaken to imply that giving up your body to the flow, competition would be unable to take place or be waged, since it takes a fixed position to fight from or protect. Competition would cease but using that word (I followed DS since it feels like a slightly tighter fit) on its own is apt but loses the nuance of impossibility or inconceivability.

も ‘even in the desert’ I note it here since it is absent from DS translation. Why? I am not sure since it does have a clear function here and its lack significantly alters the sense, the point being that even here where fixed positions seem impossible due to flow and the harsh environment etc., life still appears.

競争圏外 Literally, ‘outside the field of competition’. I was tempted to use bounds since AK I feel is referring to the competitive arena of the ‘normal’ everyday world and its unpleasant struggles.

ハンミョウ Tiger Beetle or Cicindela japonica

心に描きながら Interesting one. This came up in my dictionary as ‘visualise’ imagine etc. I think that ‘muse’ does not satisfactorily contain the full image for me, the man standing at the brink of this flowing sand world looking at the shifting patterns (or seeing them in his imagination) and being spaced out or hypnotised by the hallucinatory effect. Musing just doesn’t do it here for me – that’s more of a sitting down and not looking at anything in particular but just thinking deeply about something. I think that there is a visual hypnotic dimension here that should not be missed out. Also I feel that the verb 描く  especially lends itself to a visual interpretation and needs to be in there.