In Michael Orthofer’s most recent post on Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s The Mandarins, he focuses on the writer himself:
As we slowly wind up the discussion, moving towards The Life of a Fool and Cogwheels (which I figure will be the appropriate notes to end on), I’m still struck by how much a proper (?) sense of the author eludes me. Try as I might, Akutagawa remains something of a mystery-man to me. And though I’m generally not big on worrying about the author behind the texts I find myself looking for more of a hold here—in part because even after reading this collection, which comes after I’ve read quite a few different Akutagawa translations over the years, I still don’t feel I know him or his writing that well.
Part of the problem with being able to identify a “Akutagawa story,” may be the various translations made of Akutagawa’s work, and the nature and quality of these early translations. Quoting from Donald Richie, Orthofer brings to the forefront the negative effect marketing can have on the publication of translations:
“Another problem with the foreign translations, besides their sheer number, is that Akutagawa was translated early. As a result, these first translations range from the unscholarly to the appalling. One of their unwelcome qualities is that they insist upon the exotic—this being one of the few ways to sell Japanese literature in the early days. An unfortunate result is that Akutagawa is made to seem quaint and curious, a mere purveyor of the exotic.”
I’m not so sure things have changed that much when it comes to selling Japanese books, or any country’s literature for that matter. Although nowadays there seems to be two marketing trends that reflect some of the things we’ve been discussing in terms of the goal of translation: emphasize the foreignness, the oddness or make the book so smooth it doesn’t appear to be a translation at all.
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .
Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .
There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in Morse, My Deaf Friend— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .
The Crimson Thread of Abandon is the first collection of short fiction available in English by the prolific Japanese writer and all-around avant-garde trickster Terayama Shūji, who died in 1983 at the age of 47. This collection would be important. . .