Sunday, March 29, 2015

More Japanese Gothic

Satori Ediciones in Spain has published its second collection of translations into Spanish of the Japanese writer Izumi Kyōka (1873-1939), following in the wake of El santo del monte Koya, which I discussed here last year.

As with the previous volume, all of the stories (there are four) are fantastic in manner and draw on the long tradition of Japanese supernatural literature and lore. The title story is available in English (as "Of A Dragon in the Deep") but the edition is difficult to obtain and I haven't seen it; the longest of the tales, "El fantasma que esconde las cejas" (The Ghost Who Hid Her Eyebrows) has been translated by Charles Shirō Inouye and can be found in a volume entitled In Light of Shadows: More Gothic Tales by Izumi Kyōka, published by the University of Hawai'i Press. As far as I know the other two tales are not available in English.

Kyoka was a fascinating but sometimes difficult writer, who made of use of what Charles Inouye calls "an eccentric, highly convoluted narrative method that precluded his participation in the more mainstream attempt to accomplish an objective description of an exterior world and a psychologically depicted realm of an interior one." "His narratives," Inouye continues, "neither maintain a consistently stable and omniscient point of view nor do they present time as a steady flow of logically connected events that are contained in the past." Writing at a time when many of his contemporaries were embracing the conventions of the Western realistic and psychological novel, Kyoka held to his own way.

Two of the stories in Sobre el dragón del abismo describe the encounters of children with a unpredictable but not necessarily hostile supernatural world; the third, "La historia de los tres ciegos" (The Story of the three Blind People) is classic horror tale of the perils that lie in wait for those who trangress. The last narrative, "El fantasma que esconde las cejas," is a ghost story so many-layered (and impossible to summarize here) that Inouye includes a diagram in his edition to help visualize its intricately nested levels.

I've now read this final story twice in English and twice in Spanish, gaining insight into it with each reading, but I wouldn't pretend to have mastered it. Because of the richness of cultural allusions in Kyoka's tales, as well as the inherent difficulties of translating from Japanese into a European language, it's interesting to compare the two translations, Spanish and English. Since I know no Japanese, I naturally can't comment on their relative accuracy, but while they're generally complementary (and mutually clarifying) there are numerous passages that show fairly radical differences in interpretation. Below is just one sample passage; what follows is 1) Alejandro Morales Rama's Spanish-language text; 2) my rough English translation of the Spanish into English; and finally 3) Inouye's version:
1) Las montañas y el cielo estaban tan nítidos que parecía que los estuviese viendo a través de una capa de hielo. Los brillantes rayos del sol hacían que las agujas de los pinos y los árboles secos resplandecieran. Al mismo tiempo se veía volando una figura de un blanco cegador y en las profundides de la montána, donde el oso vive alejado de los hombres, la nieve se había tornado en una ventisca punzante como agujas.

2) The mountains and the sky were so clear that it seemed as if one were seeing them through a covering of ice. The brilliant rays of the sun made the needles of the pines and the dry trees shine. At the same time, a figure of blinding white was seen flying, and in the depths of the mountain, where the bear lives apart from men, the snow had turned into a blizzard as sharp as needles.

3) The mountains and sky became clear as ice. While the sun sparkled brilliantly in the pines and other wintering trees, something white began to fall from the sky. In the deep mountains, where bears stood on their rear legs like human beings, the snow came down like needles.
Inouye's "wintering trees" is a nice touch, but I don't much like "rear legs" (rather than "hind"). What's interesting, though, is the very different ways in which the reference to the bear or bears is understood. Whatever the truth of its accuracy, Rama's donde el oso vive alejado de los hombres (where the bear lives apart from men) is a beautiful lyrical touch, suggesting a fundamental if estranged kinship between the two species. Reading the two translations side-by-side provides an unstable but rewarding reading of an intricate masterwork of modern Japanese literature.

1 comment:

Michael Leddy said...

The bears on hind legs are a baffling choice. But I’ve noticed such things when reading, say, Lorca, even in a bilingual text, where such inventions seem awkwardly conspicuous. The translator Stanley Lombardo says that translation is mind to mind, not word to word, and I agree. But it has to be a meeting of the minds. I think your version better meets the original.