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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The "Noh Mask Effect"

I found this web page showing an effective moving three-dimensional graphic of the noh mask effect - the capability of a fixed mask representing different emotions in the control of a skilled actor.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Civilisation Fundamentals

The course thesis that civilisations each have their unique identity -- essentially, a set of assumptions, virtues and traditions -- which is accepted unconsciously by its members and is absolutely untranslatable, receives incidental support from a CNN article, here, treating the aftermath of the recent Al Qaeda bombings of hotels in Jordan.
The article reports that:
Family members of Jordanian-born al Qaeda in Iraq chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi have renounced the terror leader, telling King Abdullah II on Sunday that they would "sever links with him until doomsday."
Setting aside here any matters of content relative to Islamic terrorism, the relevant point for our course is the reason why al-Zarqawi has been cut off by his tribal family now and not for any of his previous acts of terror. In a phrase, al-Zarqawi has in this case violated a value fundamental to the identity of the wider tribal culture whichto which he belongs by birth. The article gives a specific quotation from his family group which states the violation in its own cultural terms:
"A Jordanian doesn't stab himself with his own spear," they wrote. "We sever links with him until doomsday."

"Geisha" & Cultural Translation

Regarding the motion picture that Tina linked us to as part of her presentation on geisha, one review after its recent release is headlined "Geisha' loses Japanese nuances on big screen" -- which, after our current course, we could have predicted ....

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Group Blogs

We'll use this post as a place to broadcast our class' group blog URLs. Now that everyone is confident about what they are doing, no-one will mind others scoping their blog.

When you do visit another group's blog, why not leave them a comment to say you've been, and any compliments and suggestions that you may have. That would be blogosphere synergy: an aggregate of individuals improving the quality of the larger system.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


I remember saying in the hurly-burly of Thursday's seminar discussion that I would blog a couple of passing points. I cannot, alas, bring to mind what they were. Can any one of you recall?

Group Project Workshop

In our second hour this coming Tuesday we will move to the Assignment Lab in the W.A.C. Bennett Library, room 2105, for a workshop on your Group Project and on related library research methods. I will be available to answer questions, give advice on blogging, and examine and critique your progress to date.

Here is a link or three to some blogging of mine on How to Blog Effectively.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Final Paper Criteria

The term paper, thirty-five hundred words long independent of footnotes, has an open topic based on your literary analysis of any two or more of our required or recommended Course texts. Your collective engagement with the course material is strong and varied and would be emasculated or emammalated by pre-set topics. In order to ensure that your individual topic is strong, concise and workable, everyone must have his or her thesis statement validated by me, in writing, on or before Thursday November 24th at the conclusion of my Office Hours.
You can consult with me in my office (AQ6095) both during regular Office Hours or by appointment, where I will also willingly go over your thesis paragraph with you. I am also available by e-mail right up to the deadline on specific points of refinement.

Update: Remember to send me e-mail from your SFU account only.
Update II: I have decided to extend the deadline four days until midnight December 5th. The arrangement agreed upon to balance the effects of the CUPE job action on the mid-term paper deadline is in effect. Please verify with me individually your status in this regard.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Blog Use in Academia

An excellent & concise blog entry from EdTechPost detailing "some uses of blogs in education" here. I recommend it highly as an excellent introduction to the ways in which blogging will, to a virtual certainty, become integrated into university practice to the same degree as e-mail, on-line registration, and digitised databases are now.
Click the diagramme below for a full-size version of the author's
matrix of some of the possible uses of blogs in education.

Sunday Funnies Out: Manga In

From AOL News:

TOKYO (Nov. 7) - "Doonesbury" and "Peanuts," make way for "manga." Come January, the Sunday funnies of several major North American newspapers will have doe-eyed women in frilly outfits, effeminate long-haired heroes and other trademark images of the Japanese comic style. The reason? Newspaper editors want to attract more young readers. A study released earlier this year by the Carnegie Corporation put the age of newspaper readers at 53 and climbing - hardly a recipe for circulation growth. More here >>.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Will Japan Accept a Female Monarch?

TOKYO AP Oct 25, 2005 — An advisory panel on Japan's monarchy will propose allowing women to ascend the throne, the chairman said Tuesday, in a boost to a measure that has broad support in Japan and could relieve pressure on the imperial family to produce a male heir.

Full story here.
The inability of the Japanese Royal family to produce a male heir -- also, a robust male heir -- is an unspoken anxiety among the Japanese nationalist cults.

Update: Nope! Looks like the Japanese Royal establishment is clamping down on the side of absolute andrarchy
TOKYO (Reuters) - A cousin of Japan's Emperor Akihito has questioned proposals to allow a woman to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne, urging that other options such as reviving pre-war princely houses and the practice of royal concubines, should be onsidered first to maintain the male imperial line.

Ultra-Tradition - Sumo - & Blondes?

I introduced in lecture Tuesday, regarding the work of our present author Banana Yoshimoto, the nihonjinron group - an intellectual and literary movement which claims that Japanese people and culture are not just unique in relation to the world but "uniquely unique."
To help explain, I gave by way of analogy some examples of Japanese justifying their economic policy of protectionism in regard to international balance of trade: "Canadian beef cannot be digested by Japanese stomachs," for instance. An article in today's Washington Post, here, includes a wonderfully pertinent case of Japanese reacting to foreigners joining their Sumo wrestling leagues. Read the whole article, but one quotation is perfect:
But in a nation where outsiders are still regarded with unease, the stream of foreigners invading the most Japanese of sports -- and one whose rituals are strongly tied to the domestic Shinto religion -- has generated both controversy and backlash. Critics contend that the new European stars have longer arms and legs and allege that this gives them an unfair advantage. The huge growth in foreign-born pros led officials in 2002 to impose a limit of only one foreign wrestler per sumo stable. Some stables, all of which are permitted to be owned and operated only by Japanese citizens, maintain private policies barring foreigners.

Guest Speaker Tuesday, Nov 8th

Our next guest speaker is scheduled for next Tuesday, November the 8th. Robert Mustard will speak to us on the differences in fundamental assumptions between the anglosphere and Japan, and on the history and spirit of Japan as it is reflected in the uniquely pacifist Japanese martial art Aikido.
Mustard is the world aikido master; having spend over twelve years in Japan as sensei at the main Yoshinkan Dojo in Tokyo. As presented in lecture, Mustard is an important character in Newdigate Prize winner Robert Twigger's essential book on the the relationship between Japan and the anglosphere, Angry White Pyjamas: A Scrawny Oxford Poet Takes Lessons From The Tokyo Riot Police.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

"Literally" in Translation

Last lecture I put strong emphasis on precise speech. One of the greatest challenges to translation, & perhaps the most widely convincing evidence for indeterminacy in translation, is vague or loose speech or writing.
Umberto Eco is a writer, theorist, critic and translator of renown. He has this to say about translation:
The job of translation is a trial and error process, very similar to what happens in an Oriental bazaar when you are buying a carpet. The
merchant asks 100, you offer 10 and after an hour of bargaining you agree on 50.
Given the essential instability of the tokens of exchange in the translation market, the more crucial the integrity of their original minting - i.e. the need to choose the word that most closely matches your specific thought.

Translation, in fact, takes place at its original stage entirely within the individual. The process is this. The individual has a thought and wants to express it. Both in oral and written expression, there is a process that the individual goes through -- in its extreme form, experienced when writing as writer's block and in speech as stage fright -- which involves a negotiation between the idea and one's store of words & phrases. In other words, translation occurs between idea and word. This can also be described as a translation between inner and outer: between one's ideas & intentions and then the one's interloctor(s)' s understanding.

In this also, the specificity of the word is vital. The challenges are great: as indicated in this article -- or, perhaps better, this audio essay - by Jesse Sheidlower, an Editor-at-Large for the Oxford English Dictionary, in which he argues that "literally" is not to be used literally. (For what [little] it is worth, I think the argument is misguided, though cogent and erudite.)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Indeterminacy of Translation Revisited

Today's lecture built on last Tuesday's introduction to translation theorist Naoki Sakai. Last week detailed the individual problem of the translator's necessarily paradoxical subject status - an addressor but not the addressee's addressor, and an addressee but not the addressor's addressee - which Sakai incorporates into his larger thesis of the fundamental problematic of radical subjectivity in translation. Today, the subjectivity problematic was applied on the larger, national, level. Sakai's theoretics, which have similarities to Michel Foucault insistence that bureaucratic departments create rather than serve systems of knowledge, develop the argument that the nation of Japan and the Japanese ethnos are both constructs of scholars and bureaucrats who initiated projects to translate the set of dialects, languages and cultures clustered on the "Japan" archipelago between China (in the Heian era) and between England and America (in the Meiji era.)

For Sakai, "Japan" is defined as that unity which stands in a translational relationship to another linguitically-identified unity. Likewise, "Japanese History" is entirely "that which arises from the activity in Departments of Japanese Studies." Accordingly, Japanese nationalism is explained as a reaction to the insecurity engendered by the inescapable indeterminacy in translation -- i.e. in the very genesis of "Japan" -- that affirms an (artifically) strong nation-hood with a degree of strength that matches, and thus cancels, the degree of insecurity-indeterminacy.

The individual student will evaluate this metaphyic according to his or her own lights. My position is that, for an instance, it is indeed true that the category or the concept of "English Language and Literature" was created when Oxford University began that programme and that faculty early in the past Century. However, the elements of English Literature -- the books, authors, readers and bibliographia -- and the English language had definite ontological status before they were conceptualised. So, it is false, not to say peurile, to argue, for instance, that English Language and Literature were created in Georgian Oxford, though it is true to say that "English Language and Literature" was.

This in the end is simply to say that we are here re-visiting the Scholastics' debate between nominalism and realism -- the age-old problem of universals.