In The Fall of Language in the Age of English, Minae Mizumura’s refusal to succumb to the dominance of the universal language is both political and aesthetic, as evidenced by the lyricism of her text. To her credit, the author does not employ theoretical jargon, but rather the same lucid prose that characterizes her novels. Luckily for English readers, Juliet Winters Carpenter and Mari Yoshihara’s skillfully crafted translation renders the nuances between katakana and hiragana into English. Indeed, Mizumura’s prose, use of narrative framing, and manipulation of the national language embed the justification for preserving the latter in the text.
This volume covers Mizumura’s encounter with the international writing community, the translingual formation of national languages, and a pragmatic assessment of education policy. It is not just Mizumura’s compelling prose, however, but also her use of literary techniques that gives her license to cover such a wide breadth of topics. Her introduction, in the form of a personal essay, conveys the ambiguous identity of a Japanese woman brought up in the U.S. and schooled in French literature. Readers witness how the author’s polyglot upbringing predisposes her to view writing as a medium one must struggle with, rather than one for free self-expression. As such, Mizumura makes a case for writers, not theorists, to ascertain the meaning of world literature. Gradually, the hegemony of English over Japanese shifts from a personal, to a communal, to a national, and, ultimately, to a global concern.
The Nivaklé are an indigenous tribe of the Gran Chaco, a sparsely populated region of Paraguay referred to as “the green hell.” These stories pertain to ethnographic statements by indigenous informants, compiled by the anthropologist Miguel Chase Sardi. Masking cultural identity is a recurring theme in this polyglot society’s mythology. Enacting submission to preserve agency seems contradictory. However, the narrative devices employed render a convincing mode of defying assimilation. By translating the informant’s statements I attempt to extract the narrative potential of these myths, in addition to making the work intelligible in English.
The Unfurrowing of Birds
We treat them like lepers because their mother became a savage. Collecting parrot eggs with her husband incited the change. Something shifted as he hacked a hole in the trunk and extracted the parrot’s nest within.
“Catch them,” he called down as he dropped a frail egg. His wife caught it. Instead of placing it in the basket, the woman broke the shell and consumed the chick. She swallowed the following one whole.
The nest was nearly empty. Her husband peered down and discovered that so was the nest. READ MORE…
Juliet Winters Carpenter is an award-winning translator of Japanese poetry and prose noted for promoting contemporary Japanese authors (including Minae Mizumura, Noboru Tsujihara, and Ryōtarō Shiba) to English readers by rendering their distinctive prose into precise yet colloquial English. Pushkin Press reissued her translation of Machi Tawara’s Salad Anniversary in a beautiful edition last month. Carpenter describes the wry self-awareness that comes across in Tawara’s poetry with a sense of kinship, suggesting that a degree of self-cognizance, in addition to close reading and writing skills, is required from a translator.
Elisa Taber: Kenneth Rexroth famously commented on Japanese poetry and translation, “It is (…) more essentially poetic. Many, especially Japanese, editors and translators have been embarrassed by this intensity and concentration and have labored to explain each poem until it has been explained away.” You seem to encapsulate, rather than expound, the meaning of each verse, by translating the tanka form in three lines rather than the customary five. Were you wary of over-explaining Tawara’s work?
Isolation: that is the most powerful emotion that emanated from most of the stories in The Woman Who Borrowed Memories: Selected Stories of Tove Jansson. As I read them, breathlessly, I was plagued with that wonderful, excruciating sense of unease that radiates from a good, strong, melancholic book. It’s the tingling that comes before the numbness; that profound yet unknown sensation of loss that makes you sigh.
The stories mostly center around one protagonist and are written either in first person or a close third. Set in Scandinavian landscapes, strange and nameless cities or within the confines of a house, these stories follow the protagonists as they become locked in their own minds, detached from the world around them, either physically (the illustrator in Black-White), mentally (Aunt Gerda in The Listener) or emotionally (the sculptor in The Monkey). Often they are propelled into mysterious travel, accompanied by a stranger to whom they are instantly drawn and who highlights their own weakness (The Wolf and A Foreign City). Other times they are experiencing some undefined breakdown of their own, revealing only the symptoms, and not the cause, to the reader (as in The Storm or The Other).