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Hofstadter can

30/11/2009

Here are two more translations of the same initial passage.  Can you tell which one is better?

Roy Starrs:

To recover from injuries I suffered on being hit and sent flying by a train of the Yamanote line, I travelled by myself to the Kinosaki hot spring in Tajima.  If the wound to my back turned into spinal tuberculosis it could prove fatal, but the doctor assured me this wouldn’t happen. He told me that, if tuberculosis didn’t appear within two or three years, there would be nothing more to worry about – but anyway the main thing was to be careful.  And so I came to the hot spring to recuperate. I came with the idea that I would stay about three weeks – or five weeks if I could stand it.

I like how Starrs successfully makes the line about tuberculosis seem like it is the narrator repeating what the doctor told him.  I don’t like how he adds things, like the first dash and the “to the hot spring to recuperate” at the end.

Lane Dunlop:

I was struck and thrown down to the ground by a trolley car of the Yamanote line.  To recuperate from my injury, I wento by myself to a hot springs inn at Kinosaki in Tajima.  If the injury to my back should develop into spinal tuberculosis, it might prove fatal.  But I was told by the doctor that that kind of thing was not at all likely.  If nothing happned in two or three years, I would not have anything to worry about afterwards.  In the meantime, I was told, it was important that I take good care of myself. So I had come here. I intended to stay more than three weeks — if I could stand it, for five weeks.

Dunlop splits the first and second sentences each into two, which to me breaks the flow.  To me the fact that both the accident and “I”‘s coming to the hot springs happens all in the first line is part of what makes gives the opening its impact.

Like Starrs, Dunlop tries to get a better sense of the verb used at the beginning, that means literally, “Hit and thrown.”  Also they repeat the word week at the end, which is repeated in Japanese but seems redundant in their translations.  Part of that might be that in the Japanese it seems that the character is correcting himself; kind of like, “three weeks, no five weeks.”  Both also use the word recuperate, I prefer convalesce because it suggests more than just the physical injury.  Also I don’t like how they say, “of the Yamanote line,” it sounds translated.

I do really like however, Dunlop’s translation, “So I had come here,” which is in and of itself a risky translation.  The word “here” exists in the Japanese text but has been the subject of at least two scholarly essays.  The problems is that if you take “here” to mean Kinosaki, then that places the author, who is writing from the perspective of three years later, in Kinosaki.  Meaning that he left, went somewhere for three years, then came back to write “At Kinosaki,” at Kinosaki.  The other way to read it is that the “here” in Japanese denotes both spacial and temporal space.  Meaning when the author says “here,” he means Kinosaki but his voice speaks from the perspective of three years prior.  That Shiga Naoya was able to make the issue of temporal space ambiguous is one of the reasons why “At Kinosaki” is so highly regarded.  The only problem with Dunlop’s translation is that at the end of the story the word “here” is mirrored in Japanese, but Dunlop translates it as, “that place.”  To me this distances the narrator from his own account and ruins one of the biggest reasons why “At Kinosaki” is worth looking closely at.

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