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In Session: Dialogism of Self and Others: Colonial and Decolonial Practices of Translation in the Japanese Empire
2: Enemies and Friends of Translation: Izumi Kyōka and Prosper Merimee
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
Purdue University, United States
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, much of the canon of modern Japanese literature was established by writers who enthusiastically embraced foreign literary traditions, including many who were among the era’s leading translators and scholars of European texts. As knowledge of English, German, French, or Russian literature became an increasingly prominent requisite for engaging in literary debate in Japan, one author, Izumi Kyōka, stood opposed to the overwhelming influence of translation, as encapsulated by his famous phrase “I am proud to owe nothing to the likes of Rodin or Tolstoy.” As often as Kyōka is treated as an anti-globalist, however, the truth of the situation is that he actually read foreign literature throughout his lifetime, and that he was even a devoted reader of one Western author in particular, Prosper Mérimée. In my presentation, I explore how translation serves as a point of contention and negotiation between cultures, while also providing a bridge between sides, in ways that counter narratives of civilizational progress promoted by the same process of translation. I argue that Kyōka initially resisted translation as a form of national humiliation, or a rejection of Japan’s own culture and traditions, as he endeavored to preserve and augment a native voice. I then argue that his late-career embrace of Mérimée was made possible by the discovery of shared values: like Kyōka, Mérimée celebrated themes of superstition, ghosts, barbarism, and banditry. Furthermore, Mérimée demonstrated that all of these themes remained popular in a supposedly enlightened Europe.