Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Regretful Late Comer to Literature

One thing is qiguai (strange, 奇怪, 不思議) about myself is that I’ve never been so attracted to Japanese literature. It seems all the novels I chanced on in high school textbooks eluded my attention. It does not mean at all that I think light of them. In fact, in recent years, I reread some masterpieces, say, by Natsume Soseki (夏目漱石). They didn’t impact me so much and the devotion I find towards Maugham, Greene and now Styron was simply not there. Or overwhelmingly powerful political writings by Said and Chomsky. Is it because I read Japanese books so leisurely? Well, let me try to re-reread Natsume. I may find treasures I’ve failed to detect so far. Even about Maugham, Greene and Styron, I feel that I should’ve read them years ago, though I did read some of Maugham some 20 years ago. But I have to admit that this could not have been done as English was (still is) a foreign tongue to me… All the same, it is regrettable that it took me so many years to reach for their works. In my 20’s and 30’s, I was really mad about news magazines of the US and the UK while almost ignoring literature. I was reading at least four weekly news magazines. Thus my pathetic lack of adjective/adverb vocabulary.

There must be non-Japanese who devour Japanese novels. They may be feeling the same kind of zeal that I have towards non-Japanese works. If true, does it show that there is something magical in the experiences of reading foreign books?

Inevitably, this leads to the issue of translation. I believe when Japanese people talk about the writing “style” of such and such non-Japanese author, they are actually talking about the style of the translator, as the majority of them read a translated version. Even though no translator is allowed to turn the original work into his own, there is a huge difference between reading the original and its translated version. Perhaps, I should check how the translated version of “Sophie’s Choice,” for example, is managing to convey and express the impression evoked by a particular way of talking of the South or words uttered in Yiddish, French or German and see if I get the same images.

I’m not a compulsive cleaner. But the daughter of a former unit owner said to me, “You are untidy but not dirty.” When I do wipe tables, I find the surface is as black as soot. Why? This is not only about my current lodging. Is this air pollution? How can dust be so sooty?

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