Thursday 9 December
The Japanese novelist, Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), is perhaps best known for his dramatic suicide. Following a failed coup d’état attempt in 1970, Mishima committed ritual suicide by disembowelment (seppuku). Only two years before, he had written a popular novel, Life for Sale (Inochi urimasu , Penguin 2019). The novel may be described as bleak, trashy, kitsch, camp, shallow and sexy. However, I argue that Mishima employs these ‘frivolous’ qualities as a way to carry out a perceptive critique of the breakdown in human relations following Japan’s wartime defeat. I also touch on my more recent translation of Mishima’s Sci-Fi novel, Beautiful Star (Utsukushii hoshi , Penguin 2022). This novel contains some beautiful lyrical passages, but also some extended philosophical musings among aliens on the value of human life. Compared to Life for Sale, its more serious, high-brow tone presents the translator with its own set of problems and contradictions when trying to produce an ‘accurate’ and ‘fair’ representation of the original Japanese version. In this talk, I describe my own engagement with these two novels as a translator through attention to practical matters, such as the broader contexts, tone, grammar and word choice, and the different stages that a translator encounters when embarking on a major translation project.
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About the speaker
Stephen Dodd gained two BA degrees in Chinese (1977) and Japanese (1980) from Keble College, Oxford. He obtained a PhD in Japanese Literature from Columbia University (1993). After teaching at Duke University (1993-94), he moved to SOAS, University of London, where he was Professor of Japanese Literature until 2019. He remains Professor Emeritus of Japanese Literature at SOAS. He has written a wide range of articles on modern Japanese literature. He is also the author of Writing Home: Representations of the Native Place in Modern Japanese Literature (Harvard East Asian monographs, distributed by Harvard University Press, 2004), and The Youth of Things: Life and Death in the Age of Kajii Motojirô (Honolulu: Hawai’i University Press, 2014). To date, he has translated two novels by Mishima Yukio: Inochi urimasu (1968), under the title of Life for Sale (Penguin, 2019) and Mishima’s sci-fi novel, Utsukushii hoshi (1962), under the title of Beautiful Star (Penguin, due spring 2022). He continues as an active researcher into modern Japanese literary authors, including Mishima.
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