Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Translation is Adaptation

Translation in its basic meaning is rendering a text written in one language into an equivalent text in another.  It aspires to fidelity but this can mean truthfulness to the form of the text or its sense, and the sense can mean the text’s meaning or its aura; and, furthermore, the exact nature of the sense the translated text means to convey depends on the judgment of the translator.  

A translation may be passably successful but rarely, if ever, even adequately successful.  A translation at best only approximates the original text; it necessarily transforms and distorts; it unfailingly fails to capture the real character of the original text.  As Italians express so tersely, traduttore traditore

This is inevitable in so far as languages differ in their constitution, not only lexically but, more importantly, sonically — lexically because a word in one language differs from a corresponding word in another language in its semiotic territory and attendant connotations, and sonically because each language possesses its own particular sound, rhythm, and cadence.  Translating poetry is, for this reason, an ever unbeatable task.  The aforementioned Italian dictum, which may be translated as “translator is a traitor,” may be more naturally rendered as “translation is treacherous,” but in either case, the sense of the pun is lost as is the peculiarly Italian cadence.  

The problem is inherent in the art or science of translation, true, but more accurately and importantly it is that we are misled to thinking of translation as an effort to achieve equivalence just because the languages are all equally verbal.  But, rather, two languages are actually like two different mediums.  A painting redone in engraving is not a painting but an engraving, and they are appreciated and evaluated accordingly; even a watercolor copy of an oil painting is a different animal altogether.  A clearer example is a novel made into a film; the filmed novel never really reproduces the novel because words are abstract while pictorial images are inexorably concrete.  A sentence like “A woman stood at the window, looking down on her garden and beyond the fence” will have to be photographed in a film with a woman of a certain age and constitution, costumed in a particular style standing in a specific posture by a window of certain design, shot either from the back or from a distance outside facing the window.”  There is no such an indefinite entity as a woman, a window, a garden, or a tree in photographic representation.  A novel rendered as a film is an adaptation, even though many spectators expect it to be a faithful rendering almost like a translation; it should bear a title different from that of the original novel and described with the phrase “adapted from” or “based on.”  

A poem in translation must be understood, too, as a rendering that captures only some of the sense of the original.  Ezra Pound’s rendering of Chinese poems into English is far from faithful but show that he understood that translation can only aspire to very rough approximation.  He knew the truth that Translation is Adaptation. 


Vacant Store - 空き店

When I walk by a vacant store and, peeking inside, see the place completely emptied, I feel a pang of sadness through my marrows and hear a death knell.



Sunday, August 20, 2017

Green-Wood Cemetery

One day late in May, on 28 May to be exact, I had a sudden thought that I wanted to remain in New York perpetually.  I had already asked a friend, serving as my executor, to scatter my ashes over the Hudson so that eventually I will reach my beloved Italy across the Atlantic Ocean.  But my life in New York since my retirement in 2001 has been very happy and I just didn’t want to leave behind my home here.  To stay in New York I must have a grave; so, I started searching for cemeteries, and the Green-Wood was my choice; I had visited it before and found the place very beautiful.  

On 22 June, I rang the Green-Wood Cemetery and made an appointment for 5 July.  On that day, I was shown around to see the available lots.  I chose promptly one of the four sites and one specific plot there; and back in the office I made a payment and it was all done.  Curiously, I was cheerful going to the cemetery and through the whole procedure, and I was even more elated coming home.  

Only when I was back home, I realized that 5 July, the day I acquired my plot was the day when my love Tokiko and I got formally together.  I had no idea of this remarkable coincidence when I chose that particular day to visit the cemetery and purchased the plot that very day.

Furthermore, I noticed a few days later that 5 July 2017 fell exactly on the 60th year anniversary of our union, the felicitous return-of-the-calendar in Asia, the cycle that combines the 12 zodiac signs and 5 elements.  I was dumbfounded; I am in no doubt that Tokiko dwelled in my mind and guided me all the way.  She passed away in 1995; and since I still have her ashes, we will be together once again after my passing. 

As mysteriously, too, 38 days passed between my first thought of the perpetual abode in New York and the purchase of the plot, and, moreover, reviewing my journal, I discovered that 38 days later, on 12 August, I came up with the design for my headstone, featuring the Sanscrit character for kahn, my zodiac sign, the rooster. As I explain elsewhere 38 is the magic number in my numerology. 

My life with her lasted 38 years; and if I lived to 2033, I will have lived 38 years without her.  I will then be 100. 


On 31 August, I went to Supreme Memorials in Brooklyn and ordered my headstone, exactly 19 days after I devised the design for it, the date I now chose deliberately.  I also stopped at Leone Funeral Home, recommended by Supreme Memorials, to arrange the interment of  Tokiko’s ashes and my cremation.  On the way home, I realized, again to my astonishment, that Leone matched her sign Leo, her birthday being 30 July, exact opposite of mine, 30 January. 



The scaffolding with a sheathing of opaque plastic outside my apartment has been shielding the sunlight and keeping my room perpetually under a heavy cloud, now for over nine months, and I wonder if it is not slowly affecting me mentally with  the sleepy condition of sunlight deficiency I christened Nonsolitis, which I am now suffering in addition to Diabetes Type 2 and Artritis, the condition of fatigue and ennui induced by large scale art exhibitions; on the other hand, the sleepiness may be of a cause unknown to me, in which case, I can still call it, yes . . . Non-so-litis.


Monday, July 31, 2017

My Numerology 19

I was born in 1933 and left Japan for the US in 1952; my life in Japan was 19 years; this was the start.  

In 1957 I got together with my love, Tokiko, who passed away in 1995; we shared our life for 38 years, 19 twice.  My teaching career also lasted 38 years; I took my first job in 1963 and retired in 2001. I assumed a male identity until 1971, when I regained my rightful womanhood; I was 38 then. 

If I lived until 2033, I will have had 38 years of single life; I will then be 100.  Cool.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Green Tea Over Rice

The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice is the title of one film by Ozu Yasujiro, the translation of Ochazuke no Aji. Normally, at meal time, Japanese eat three bowls of rice with okazu, the term inaccurately translated as side dish. Everything other than white rice on the table is okazu, which may be fish or meat (but never both) and vegetables, all seasoned (predominantly with soy sauce). When you have eaten all the okazu and still have some rice left in the third bowl, you pour green tea and maybe have a pickle and finish the rice, slurping it with the rim of the bowl on the lips, though this is considered bad manners. This is ochazuke, literally .  It cleanses the palate as the dessert is designed to do in European dinners.  Sometimes, instead of tea, leftover soup might be poured on the rice. The lower social crust, constrained economically, is not generous with okazu as the upper crust, and this, combined with the slurping, explains the ochazuke as "gauche." Ochazuke is a matter at the familial table; tea is never poured over rice in any formal dinner or at the table with invited guests.  Rice bowl is held in one hand (left) and eaten with chopsticks in the other hand (right); if you are left-handed, you are corrected from the time a child starts using chopsticks.  We learn the word right and left as the chopstick hand and bowl hand.  Noodles are meant to be slurped; it is a fast food of old times, popularized by workers on the run, like firefighters, messengers, construction workers, etc.  So, it is viewed as ridiculous if noodles are not swallowed fast.  Itami Juzo's early film Tanpopo (just before A Taxing Woman has scenes that have to do with the right way of eating noodles.  In a book of essays, he, a gourmet and a great chef himself, talks how Japanese cook spaghetti like udon (far beyond al dente).  I wrote this in response to a friend’s query on the title of the Ozu film. 


Black Ballerina

In my next life I want to be born a black girl with a midnight black skin, smooth and flawless; and I want to be a ballerina, with long legs and feet of strong arch and perfect turnout. I am willing to do all the hard work to be good enough to receive training at the School of American Ballet.  Just an idle thought that flurried into my mind as I watched a young black woman walk near Lincoln Center, very likely an SAB student.