Apr 28, 2012

Incommensurability of Literature

The most popular entry in my weblog is "Haruki Murakami's Speech on Catalonia International Prize "As an Unrealistic Dreamer"".

I knew the fact that Haruki Murakami was popular all over the world, but after I wrote this entry, I realized how popular he actually was.

And then I could make a lot of friends who loved Haruki Murakami's works on the Internet. One of them is Ru, who is writing her weblog "Be my knife". She's read many works of Japanese literature mainly in English, and her impressions are always interesting to me.

Of course I, as a native Japanese, read Japanese literature in Japanese, and I read foreign literature almost in Japanese translations. I'm interested in translated works of literature. I wonder if I can understand and taste foreign literature as much as Japanese literature, and at the same time I also wonder how the readers who read Haruki Murakami in foreign language understand and taste his works.

I tried to read some of Haruki Murakami's novels in both of Japanese and English. I felt that the tastes of his novels were preserved in English translation.

I wrote about the relationship between Japanese and western literature in the entry "Multilingualism and Literature". Haruki Murakami has been deeply influenced by modern American literature, and he translated many of them into Japanese, for example, Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, Raymond Carver, and Raymond Chandler. His style of writing is sometimes unnatural for Japanese readers, because it's almost like a translation of an American novel. So I feel that English version is more natural than his original works in Japanese.

In a comment on the weblog "Be My Knife", she wrote that she was reading Tanizaki Junichiro's "The Makioka Sisters (細雪)". It's the most favorite novel in the modern Japanese literature. I've never read it in English, but I think that it's quite difficult to preserve the taste of this novel in English. Kansai dialect, which the Makioka sisters speak, is attractive in this novel, but it could be translated, couldn't it?

I translated Haruki Murakami's speech in on Catalonia International Prize, and many people read it, but I've been anxious about whether I translated the way he spoke in this speech.

Levy Hideo, who was born as a native English speaker, chose to write in Japanese, because he wants to write about the things that he can express only in Japanese.

I'm writing a Japanese weblog and this English one and I write different topics on these weblogs, because I also think that there are some things that I can write about only in English and other things only in Japanese.

I'll go back and forth between Japanese and English.


  1. Thanks so much for mentioning my blog! It means a lot to me, thanks. :) I totally agree with you, you can't fully appreciate literature when it is translated, especially when source and target cultures have little in common. There are many cultural implicit references that will remain unseen. I think I couldn't have read Tanizaki a few years ago, and certainly I will never appreciate his works as a native Japanese can. But I think watching a lot of Japanese films and reading many books with translators's cultural notes was a good help. What I've learnt creates a sort of background that helps me to understand more, but of course I have no idea of all the aspects that I miss, and that's very sad.
    My favorite Italian novel is Family Chronicle, by Vasco Pratolini. We have the only English translation available and both writing and meaning lose so much of their melancholic grace. The magic of words is unique, no translator can reproduce it.

  2. I'm very glad to hear that!

    You can watch the movie "The Makioka Sisters". In this movie the Makioka sisters went to see the cherry blossoms in Kyoto, which were really beautiful.


    1. Thanks for your suggestion. I will watch the film one of these evenings. About cherry blossoms, I went to see them here in Stockholm last weekend with my family and a Japanese friend. :)

    2. Is the first photo in your entry "About one of the many things my daughter has taught me" a cherry blossom?


    3. No, it's called vitsippa in Swedish, anemone nemorosa in English.


      There are really many of these flowers in Sweden. I put photos of cherry blossoms in my latest post.

  3. I'm glad you post in English, your views are very interesting to me. I enjoyed reading Haruki Murakami's novel 'The Wind-up Bird Chronicle' very much. For me, it was an insight into the social structure and the physical neighborhoods of Tokyo with the added delight of a strangely supernatural dimension. It didn't feel the least bit "American" to me but somehow, now that you've mentioned he translated F. Scott Fitzgerald's work into Japanese, I can intuit a resonance between them. Thanks for your blog (I'm an American, a Zen practitioner, retired from teaching humanities in a university and live in Orlando, Florida.)

  4. Thank you for your comment.

    Haruki Murakami is thought to be an outsider in the mainstream of Japanese literature, and he, himself, want to be seen as an outsider. Some critics point out that he is influenced by American literature, and Murakami often talks about his love to American literature. It might be my stereotype about Haruki Murakami that he is influenced by "American literature".

    I agree with you that the motif of 'The Wind-up Bird Chronicle' isn't related to Fitzgerald's works. I think that his style of writing is deeply influenced by American literature. I've read the translation of Raymond Chandler's "Long Good Bye" by Murakami, and it was almost like his own novel.

    Anyway, your comment make me think about the relationship between Haruki Murakami and American literature. I'll write about this topic in this weblog. Thank you very much.