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The Foreign in the Local, the Local in the Foreign: Futabatei Shimei, Translation, and the Formation of Literary Language in Turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century Japan
Individual Paper Presenter(s)
Columbia University, United States
What are “good” translations of literary texts? What constitutes the “essence” to be “transmitted” into another language? What kind of language is required to realize this process in translation? The turn of the twentieth century in Japan saw impassioned calls for the standardization of literary language, as well as for the translation of Western literary works into Japanese, to create its “national literature.” This process led to the rethinking of what constitutes the “essence” of the Western novel and how to define the standards for selection and evaluation of the varieties of the yet-unstandardized Japanese language used in translation. This paper examines hitherto understudied translations by the eminent Russian–Japanese translator and writer Futabatei Shimei (1862?/1864?–1909), specifically of the works “Parent’s Heart” (1898), “Commune of Four” (1904), and “The Depression Bug” (1906) and their evaluations by contemporaneous reviewers, from the perspective of the interaction between the “foreign” and “local.” How do Futabatei’s experiments with Japanese language (e.g., generic countryside-associated language, "dialects," and the Sinitic kanbun-kundoku style) interact with the Russian source texts that also encompass various linguistic features? How was the product of this interaction received during his time? How are the ever-changing understandings of the “foreign” and “local” intertwined with the formation and standardization of literary language? By analyzing Futabatei’s translations, source texts that I uncovered in digital archives, and contemporaneous reviews, this paper sheds light on the transformation of the understanding of literature and language in modern Japan through the prism of translation.