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In Session: (Re)translations: The Challenges of Translating Modern Japanese Literary Theory
1: To Sketch, to Depict, to Describe: Realism and Translation in Early 20th Century Japanese Literary Theories
Friday, March 26, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
University of Tokyo, Japan
This presentation focuses on issues that became visible through the translation into English of the Byosha-ron (Theories of description) chapter of the volume Japanese Literary Theories: An Anthology (2017), especially surrounding the adoption and adaptation of terminology derived mainly from visual arts, first by haiku/ haikai practitioners and theorists Masaoka Shiki and Takahama Kyoshi, and soon afterwards by naturalist prose writers such as Tayama Katai, Tokuda Shusei, Iwano Homei et al.
Shasei, or sketching—usually after nature— is central to Shiki’s writing, but is also a keyword in the discussion about the faithful representation required of naturalist novels, together with moderu, i.e., the “real” people that writers model their characters after. In the 1900s, further discussions developed to include the binary opposition between byosha and kijutsu, terms which do not mirror the description-narration dichotomy, but instead are glossed as peintingu (painting) and desukuripushon (description), respectively.
By looking at the difficulties posed by the re-translation into English of such terms, this presentation will expose the complexity and originality of the theories of description developed in Japan around the turn of the 20th century. Moreover, through an analysis of the concrete examples given by the above-mentioned theorists and their (im)possible translation, it will shed new light on the process through which the modern Japanese (genbun icchi, or unified written and spoken style) was imagined as a language capable of “showing,” not just “telling,” to be used, as Shimazaki Toson put it, not merely to “report reality” but also as a “literary report.”