domingo, dezembro 14, 2014

Thoughts on Translation: "The Strange Library" by Haruki Murakami

The Strange Library - Haruki Murakami, Ted Goossen
Published December 2nd 2014

My first Murakami experience.

I’ve always avoided Murakami. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I don’t read Japanese. Or maybe it’s because I’m very particular about the use of stream-of-consciousness and magic realism in a story. Saramago is to stream-of-consciousness what Borges is to magic realism. José Saramago is for me the Nirnava when it comes to the stream-of-consciousness narrative technique and Borges is the magic realism counterpart. Everyone else I always found wanting when it came to these two types of narrative.

Unfortunately this vignette is not a good example of stream-of-consciousness, due to the fact that it’s very short. This story is another thing altogether. What we have here is something Kafka would have liked (or not) to have written. It’s nightmarish, haunting, and very peculiar indeed. Setting: a library posing as a torturous entity, a “sheep man”, a mysterious girl, a dog, and an old man. As with Saramago, we have lots of symbolism and imagery, ie, there’s a lot of meat to sink your teeth into. Putting all this imagery and symbolism aside, at the end of the day, it’s about a boy imprisoned in a library, but underneath it all, it’s a tale about loss, fear and loneliness. I’ve been ranting lately about the short-story being a superior kind of story when compared to the longer forms (eg, the novel). This short-story, because that’s what we are really talking about here, has much more to it than meets the eye, ie, stuff to be discovered and pondered over. I’m planning on reading it again very shortly to discover its inner workings.

I’m always a sucker for translated fiction, mainly because of its tendency to defy expectations. Sometimes it’s even better than reading it in the original, because if the translation is good, we have a dual interaction with two authors: the one writing it, and the one doing the translation (in this case Ted Goossen). We have wonderful examples of this tandem work in translation: Rilke vs Mitchel (into English), Rilke vs Vasco Graça Moura (into Portuguese), etc. I still remember one of Gass’ translations of Rilke where he struggled, I think in the Elegies, with the concept ofInnerweltraumWeltraumRaum in English. Gass’ struggle was palpable and sometimes painful to read (his overblown style of translating does not sit well with me).

I’ve read all of Rilke in German. Then I started getting curious on well he would be translated into another language, in my case, English and Portuguese. After reading him in translation I came back to reading Rilke in the original, but I still maintain that we learn a lot by reading him in two (or three) different languages. This duality, German vs English/Portuguese, is very enriching. It allows different takes on the same piece of text, because reading something in a different frame of reference that every language implies makes all the difference at the end of the day. What I wouldn’t give to be able to read Murakami in Japanese…

I firmly believe Rilke is impossible to translate. Rilke in translation is another thing altogether. Is it the same with Murakami? I need someone who reads Japanese to answer this…

As a bonus, the coloured pages and the design makes it also worth reading.

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