SFU English 380: Mutilation and Foreign Relations in the Japanese Novel

A class blog for students of English 380 - "Literature in Translation" - at Simon Fraser University in Autumn 2005.

Monday, September 19, 2005

On puzzlement

The feelings of puzzlement that many of you have expressed to me over the ideas presented in lecture is not a bug: it's a feature!
The intention is to allow you to encounter a foreign civilisation .... as a foreign civilisation. The (to me unsatisfactory) alternative is to intellectually colonise the other civilisation - to facilely experience that culture as if it were merely an exotic outpost of one's own. The following passage from C.S. Lewis, concerning the reading of old books, applies nicely, mutatis mutandis, to these two alternatives:
There are, I know, those who prefer not to go beyond the impression, however accidental, which an old work makes on a mind that brings to it a purely modern sensibility and modern conceptions: just as there are travellers who carry their resolute Englishry with them all over the Continent, mix only with other English tourists, enjoy all they see for its 'quaintness', and have no wish to realise what those ways of life, those churches, those vineyards, mean to the natives. I have no quarrel with people who approach the past in that spirit. I hope they will pick none with me. But I was writing for the other sort.
Thus, puzzlement is the necessary early consequence of giving Japanese civilisation the dignity of unique identity. Fairly quickly, however, your experiential engagement with Japanese literature will (all too quickly) provide the natural and certain effect of familiarity.


At 8:41 AM, Blogger sandeep_manhas said...

"Fairly quickly, however, your experiential engagement with Japanese literature will (all too quickly) provide the natural and certain effect of familiarity."

I finished reading Silence yesterday and can actually understand now when I read the book what it was that you are trying to get across to the class. Endo's book helps to clarify and, more importantly, highlights the differences between Western understanding of how life works and the aesthetics of Japanese culture. Endo's analogy of the swamp and Japanese culture explains this phenomena very well. It would help anyone in the class to read this book an soon as possible, it clears up alot of questions, at least for me it helped.

At 12:38 AM, Blogger Ray said...

Well, the "experimental engagement" has already begun to make sense of the Japanese movies (and anime) that I watch.
The one topic I'd hope to understand the most is silence, due to the movie "Dolls". Although some people gave it horrible reviews, I think they're the ones C.S. Lewis is talking about...

At 2:05 AM, Blogger Dr. S.A. Ogden said...



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