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.