More Investigations

Back to the real point of this blog – yeah, it’s a Murakami blog these days despite my two recent posts on the Japanese language. If you’re a new reader, here’s the idea: Haruki Murakami’s 1985 novel Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World presents an interesting case study in translation and author revision. Alfred Birnbaum translated creatively (perhaps too creatively at times), and Murakami himself made changes in the text for the version that appears in the 1990 Complete Works box set. Birnbaum’s translation was published in 1991 by Kodansha International.

Chapter 15 “Whiskey, Torture, Turgenev” does not have many changes. Birnbaum makes a few creative leaps here and there, but nothing outside of a translator’s regular poetic license. In this chapter, the goons cut Watashi’s belly, his coworkers from the System come check him out, he gets sewn up at the hospital, he reads some Russian literature, has a nap, and then gets a call from the granddaughter.

There is one paragraph that gets cut between the two Japanese versions. Take a look at the 1985 version:




And now the 1990 version, which is clearly missing a paragraph:



Strangely, Birnbaum’s translation includes aspects from each of these versions. I’ve marked the matching segments in red and blue above and below:

I shut the book and bid the last thimbleful of Jack Daniel’s farewell, turning over in my mind the image of a world within walls. I could picture it, with no effort at all. A very high wall, a very large gate. Dead quiet. Me inside. Beyond that, the scene was hazy. Details of the world seemed to be distinct enough, yet at the same time everything around me was dark and blurred. And from some great obscure distance, a voice was calling.

It was like a scene from a movie, a historical blockbuster. But which? Not El Cid, not Ben Hur, not Spartacus. No, the image had to be something my subconscious dreamed up.

I shook my head to drive the image from my mind. I was so tired.

Certainly, the walls represented the limitations hemming in my life. The silence, residue of my encounter with sound-removal. The blurred vision of my surroundings, an indication that my imagination faced imminent crisis. The beckoning voice, the everything-pink girl, probably. (164)

Birnbaum’s translation includes the paragraph about movies from the 1985 version (although Birnbaum cuts The Ten Commandments (十戒) and The Robe (聖衣) to fit the English “rule of three”), but it also includes the line that Murakami uses to replace that daydream: 私は頭を振ってそんなイメージを追い払った。私はつかれているのだ。Birnbaum gives them their own paragraph.

This seems to suggest one of two things: Either Birnbaum was translating based on both the original and revised versions, or Murakami made his revisions based on Birnbaum’s “adapted” translation.

Based on publication date alone, it seems like the former must be true, but I’m not so sure. The translation easily could have been completed in 1988 and then taken three years to finalize. We know from Jay Rubin’s book Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words that Rubin was asked to vet Hard-boiled Wonderland in Japanese for a publisher and that Birnbaum had already been selected to translate the book (and perhaps he already had). That would have given Murakami time to look over his own manuscript, especially if Birnbaum had cleared changes with him and pointed out locations he adapted.

More investigations are required.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how nice a chapter this is. It’s long, but Murakami plays the Murakami game and lets his narrator get drunk and ramble with charm about Turgenev, Stendahl, and Dostoevsky before the thought process comes full circle and links both halves of the book. Magic.

Cool Word – 触れ合う


I’ve got another article in the Japan Times today: “Being laughed at can help your Japanese evolve.”

Two months in a row! I’m on a role. But long-time readers will notice that I’ve really just mined content from two of my favorite posts: The Apper-ative Tense (blatant misuse of the word “tense” there) and 笑われていいとも!

Yer getting lazy, Morales! I did add a pretty sweet metaphor with that caveman thing, though.

At any rate, I’ve been laughed at more recently. On my first day of work here in Chicago, the guy in the neighboring office came over to say hello and introduce himself. We talked, and I mentioned how I hadn’t had many opportunities to use Japanese in New Orleans: 日本人と触れ合う機会が非常に少なかった。

He paused for a moment and then, with an inquisitive look on his face, mimed hugging someone.

I had that momentary fear, that shiver of embarrassment, and I questioned whether or not I knew the actual meaning of 触れ合う (ふれあう). “Did I just say, ‘I didn’t have any opportunity to rub up on Japanese people?’” I wondered.

So I made a kind of disappointed face and then said, 変な日本語を使っちゃってすみません。To which he laughed.

But now I think he was just taking the piss. A quick check of the definition shows that ふれあう can mean “brush against,” but it can also mean exactly what I thought it meant: “interact with.” It’s one of those words that gets tossed around in organizations that do cultural work, and I remember it getting used a lot in my town when the Lithuanian artists-in-residence were there: They wanted to take advantage of the chance for kids to get involved with art and with foreigners.

So now I have to go back and reconsider what exactly it was that I said that day that was strange. Maybe it was my pronunciation. Or maybe he was just taking the piss.

I think this is the appropriate response to laughter: Pause, reevaluate, continue on. I didn’t let it get to me. I still talk with the guy, and I still talk with others. Whatever you do, don’t let a few silly mistakes force you back into the cave. The cave is dark and lonely and there is no Japanese.