[Note: So, I begin posting my personal writing here with an anecdote that is still related to the primary purpose of this site – an actual blog post. Most of you probably won’t feel the connection to the experience that I did, but it’s important to me, so I felt I just had to get it out there.]
Today, Hideo Levy visited my school and gave a lecture in my Japanese literature class.
A bit of background: Ian Hideo Levy is an author who was born in the United States but moved to Japan to write creatively (in the Japanese language, for a Japanese audience). Prior to leaving the States, he received the National Book Award (1982) for translating the Man’yoshuu, one of the oldest collections of Japanese poetry. After moving, he went on to win several prestigious awards for his prose.
Naturally, Levy had many interesting things to say about writing and thinking in the language of a place he could never seamlessly be a part of. However, one of his comments that left the greatest impression on me was about translation, rather than his own prose. He told us a quote, “訳者は役者” (yakusha wa yakusha, “Translators are actors”), meaning that a translator is a person who tries to put himself in the mindset of the original author, to channel the emotion of the original work. He proceeded to read to us the following poem:
tago no ura yu
fuji no takane ni
yuki wa furikeru
Coming out from Tago’s nestled cove,
white, pure white
the snow has fallen
on Fuji’s lofty peak.
What Levy pointed out about this was the difficulty of translating the line “mashironizo” – what English phrase could effectively convey the emphasis that the poet placed on the whiteness while still retaining that sense of wonder?
Even though I just translate as a hobby, I could very much understand what he meant – that is the role I do my best to fulfill, though I may not have been taking it quite as seriously as a professional might. I’ve found the text of a previous speech of his that includes this idea (http://www.bunka.go.jp/culturalforum/english/kako/2006_04.html, the link immediately below the banner, pages 12-13). While the words themselves are insightful, though, actually hearing Levy was really something. As he read the original poem in Japanese, I could feel his enthusiasm, the passion he had for the work, in the tone of his voice. It was… moving, in a way.
It gave me a nice feeling about what I’m doing here.