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In Session: (Re)translations: The Challenges of Translating Modern Japanese Literary Theory
2: Fikushon in translation: Considering the negotiation of theoretical terms in translations of literary theory
Friday, March 26, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Hosei University, Japan
The anthology Nihon no Bungakuriron contains excerpts from essays dating from the Meiji Period until the late 20th century that discuss the nature of the concept of fiction as it applies to Japanese literature. These essays often employ the katakana term fikushon, a transliteration of the English term fiction, but this word denotes historical and discursive contexts that are quite different from those of its English counterpart. As these excerpts demonstrate, while the use of the term fikushon reflects Japanese literature’s encounters with “Western” literature in the early modern period, it also builds upon an existing dichotomy between falsehood and truth that was already present within the structure of Japanese language. While this distinction is clear to the intended reader of the original anthology, translating the term into English presents a risk of eliding the difference between the two terms.
This presentation suggests what steps can be taken to preserve the distinct meaning of fikushon in an English translation. With reference to essays on fikushon by Itō Sei, Noguchi Takehiko, and Tsutsui Yasutaka, I trace the binary between domestic and foreign fiction theory that resides within the term. I also consider the necessity of a negotiation in translation methods between nativizing the term in a way that would subsume its difference into existing English language discourses of fiction, and foreignizing it in a manner that risks exoticizing Japanese literary theory, relegating it to a minor position that may not allow for meaningful dialogue with similar concepts in other languages.