Monday, 26 February 2007

The Art of Blogging

So then, boys and girls, here we go, off to the wild yonder of Blogland together at last...

I shall consider this blog a part of the hallowed wealth of worldwide diaries. Not perhaps quite a diary of a Heian court lady, much less a diary of Samuel Pepys; my aspiration should be more along the lines of Edward Seidenstecker's marvellously under-rated book Genji Diary, his jottings of his life in Japan and America throughout the 1970's when he embarked on the small task of translating The Tale of Genji. It's full of vivid descriptions of everything from Kawabata Yasunari to Watergate, though what sticks in my mind most is nothing to do with Japan at all, but rather his affectionate eulogy to Harry Truman.

Anyway, as one project reaches its maturity, another begins to grow. Last week the new edition of Kokoro appeared and I must say it looks rather splendid. Peter Owen Publishers have done a great job. I started this project of getting Soseki's novels in English translation back into print some six years ago and never imagined it would take quite so long to achieve fruition. The idea was that I would write a book myself about Soseki's life in London and then get his most famous novels republished with proper critical introductions (hardly anything of Japanese literature in English has ever achieved that). Truth to tell it has been a bit of a long slog. Penguin, whom I first approached in 2000, turned me down on the grounds that Japan's most famous writer was too obscure, and various other others referred to Soseki as a 'dead, unknown Japanese writer'. Even Peter Owen Publishers themselves - who first published Soseki's novels in the 1960's - were not too keen initially. But it's all come good in the end. The Tower of London book won a prize and the new editions of The Gate and Kokoro are exactly how I think classics of world literature should be - full of background information and stylish artwork.

Now even Penguin want to get in on the act and are apparently considering putting Soseki into their Modern Classics series and Kodansha are about to publish a book in Japanese about my interest in Soseki. (I must confess to having written this in English and having had it kindly translated by Kodansha as the thought of writing another book in Japanese, like my first one, gave me a slightly sinking feeling.)

One of the best things for me about the whole Series series is that it is a wonderful showcase for the calligraphy of Kosaka Misuzu, my erstwhile calligraphy teacher. Oh, the afternoons that we passed scrawling over ink pot and paper in the KRAC in Kobe as she tried and failed to teach me how to write with a beautiful hand. I was I am sure her worst ever pupil; but it's great to know that the connection has lead to her calligraphy now adorning Soseki's novels in bookshops across the English speaking world.

One very sad note however is that last week I discovered that Alan Turney had died. Alan was the translator back in the 1960's of the terrific translation of The Three Cornered World (the only Soseki novel still being published in Britain when I started this project) and of Botchan. It was reading the translations of people like Alan Turney and Jay Rubin that I became interested in Soseki in the first place and I had been in contact with both of them about relaunching their translations. I felt that these translators had never really got the credit they deserved which is perhaps why after translating a couple of Soseki novels, Alan Turney appears to have devoted himself to his pupils in Japan. Anyway, he is gone, but not forgotten, at least in Damian's world...Alan, we salute you.


BIREI said...



今日、携帯のサイトで「MODERN GODS]の文章を発見しました。




Zack Kaplan said...

Greetings! This may seem to be an odd question, but I was curious about why you were discouraged by the thought of producing another book in Japanese. I suppose this is where some personal history comes in on my part.
I only found out about you today in the search for superior/ suggested Soseki texts (I am far from being able to read them in Japanese) and I am inspired by what I've read so far about your actions and efforts to expand the understanding and influence of the texts and culture.
I am studying to become a translator in the future, and have been hoping to publish a few texts in Japanese as well as in English. I've heard a lot about the extreme difficulties of fully closing the gap in another language and understanding innuendos etc. on the level of ones native language lately, and to say the least I've been a little worried about the success of my dreams for the future. Would you say that even after all the work you have done in Japanese it is a significant strain to think in Japanese for longer periods of time or for the duration of more comprehensive works?
Thank you for taking the time to read my comment. I’m sure it’s a little oddball!
And, I feel you on the calligraphy thing . . . haha

Damian Flanagan said...

Hi Zack,

Apologies for the delay in responding. I've been off on various travels during the summer and woefully neglecting the blog.

I wouldn't worry about getting to a stage where you feel comfortable reading and writing in Japanese. If you are dedicated enough, you will certainly get to a stage where you can do this - though I think all of us can feel uneasy about expressing ourselves no matter what language we are writing in.

I made a comment about writing another book in Japanese giving me a sinking feeling mainly because I'm now at a stage where I feel I've spent enough (perhaps too much) time concentrating on Japan and the relatively small world of 'Japanese Literature' and feel I would like to open things up to a wider diversity of subjects and readers.

Here though is a bit of advice from Mr. Soseki (who, incidentally, hated the whole business of translation as anathema to his own fiercely creative urges). Someone once wrote to Soseki telling them that they had translated the first hundred pages of I am a Cat into English. Soseki confided to his friend Takahama Kyoshi that while he was grateful for this person's efforts, frankly it would be more valuable if instead of doing this the translator tried to write a single page expressing himself.

So while I think the whole process of translation is very important in introducing different modes of thought, personality and culture to peoples around the world, ultimately the study of Japanese, and Japanese literature, or any other literature, is above all else a means of you developing your own unique personality and ideas.

Anyway, good luck and look forward to hearing of your progress.