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Finishing things, Translation, Self-knowlege


I’m back. Hopefully.

So what have I been doing for 6 months? I moved, twice, translated a book, and started a new job among other things.

For me, finishing something has always been difficult. Finishing a book that I like is always a melancholy event. Part of me wishes that it could continue on forever. Finishing a part of one’s life, moving on from one place to another, saying goodbye to people you spent nearly everyday with, saying goodbye to people you care about; these things are difficult for anyone. I’m still not sure how to deal with them best. Allow oneself to become nostalgic? If I do so too much, then I end up always comparing today with yesterday, never enjoying things for what they are. Forget about what has come before? I find doing so often leads to repetitious behavior.

For 6 months I’ve been translating a book. Needless to say, the process was trying. I learned quite a bit about both writing in English and the nature of languages. Specifically, the relationship between Japanese and English. For now, my clearest thought is that translation between Japanese and English requires a compromise between two concepts of translation.

One: to express the language of the author. Words are tools we use to express concrete ideas. But tandem to the specific and literal meanings of these words is an emotional and cultural meaning. This second meaning shifts with time and varies depending on the author and reader. So when I say to translate the language of the author, I mean to adequately express that emotional and cultural nuance in addition to the literal meaning of the words on the page. The danger here comes in two forms. First, in the fact that while literal meaning can be expressed in another language, often times a simple faithful translation of literal meaning radically changes the emotional and cultural one. Second, Even if the first problem can be solved, often times sentences become muddled and unclear. Things read as if they have been translated.

Two: to express not what is said, but what is meant. A major issue that must be dealt with in a different way for every translation is this: Will this make sense to a different readership? When we speak in our native tongue, we often make cultural references as signposts, examples to draw the reader or listener in. Only when we try to relay that information across both languages and cultures do we realize the degree to which we do this. In many occasions, these signposts do not make sense outside of their native setting, or in some cases point in an unintended direction. Reading beyond these and always asking the question, “what does the author fundamentally want to say?” is a necessary step in successful translation. The danger here lies in taking too much liberty with the original text and veering into creative writing.

I will try to get these ideas into some slightly more coherent form sometime in the near future with specific examples.

And finally. I was organizing files on my computer when I came across a text file that I had written in January 2010. Without going into specifics, re-reading the file was like discovering proof that I have been lying to myself. Humans are emotionally complex. We say we feel a certain way but at the same time we harbor emotions that seem to be in direct contradiction with those feelings. Besides support from friends and family and constant self-reflection, perhaps the only way to understand this aspect of ourselves is through experiencing it in others. Through art, literature, and film.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 06/10/2010 3:10 pm

    Nice post. Intriguing finish.

    And I only sort of agree that the things we’ve written in the past are true. Reading things you’ve written in the past, especially about your own life, is like a translation project. When you wrote it you had to compromise between precisely conveying what was in your mind and making any sense at all. Whatever it is that you write is just one part of your mind, a part that sort of takes on a life of its own when you want to give it a coherent voice.

    There’s truth in any work, in the sense that it reflects something about the person who created it at the time. But it’s a different thing to say that the words you write are literally true.

    • tincolor permalink*
      06/10/2010 3:21 pm

      I agree, our words are never literally true. We used them the best we can to make sense of our experiences and feelings at the time. I guess I meant to say, I was surprised at the degree to which I had forgotten about certain feelings I had in the past. Only after discovering a record of those feelings did I remember that they had indeed been a part of me before.

      Think “In Treatment.” The things characters say in one setting or at a certain time seem contradictory to what they may have said or to what the viewer has seen before. It doesn’t mean the characters are lying, it just means that they have for whatever reason, remembered, reinterpreted or forgotten things to suit their current needs.

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