This is the link for my Assignment 2 final. Pledged, IJS.
The primary goal of this project was to explore how different translation practices change the way English-speaking readers perceive Japanese poetry. I was attempting to show that Western-centric translation practices have ethical ramifications–that sometimes rather than translating a poem, the translator adapts it into something completely new. The main consequence I was trying to show was that, in attempting to make a Japanese tanka accessible to an English-speaking reader, some translators used typical Western rhyme and meter, which, instead of showing the English-speaking reader a new form, force the Japanese poem into the Western tradition. Therefore, the reader leaves the poem with the false idea that Japanese poetry conforms to Western formal conventions. Rather than making Japanese poetry accessible to a Western reader, the translation that forces a tanka into rhyming iambic tetrameter, for example, is only a half-translation. All it does is give the reader a sense of the poet’s words. While this is important, I argue that the way those words are activated through form is more important–it is the formal technique that makes the poem recognizable as a Japanese tanka. Of course, I say all this with the knowledge that there is no such thing as a perfect translation. I used three translations to show how different translation practices handle these issues differently and to different extents. While I am sure that the reader can tell which I think is best, I tried not to make value judgments the focus of the project because I didn’t want it to take away from the main point–that sometimes the act of translation misconstrues the giving culture’s technique in an effort to please the English-speaking reader.
I was also interested in a feminist critique of the translations. I believe that the Westernized translations of Akiko Yosano’s poetry also take away from her radical feminist program, her agency, and her speaker’s agency. I wanted to show that Orientalization is not just an East-West issue, but also a feminist issue. I wish I had used a translation by a woman, but I had a really hard time finding an accessible translation online or in physical form. For a while this project was centered around tanka 13, which Dr. Churchill and Dr. Mortensen discussed at length in emails, but I felt that my work on their conversation would not be original enough. I failed my project by not including a poem translated by a woman. At the time I was upset about it, but I think I was so motivated to get the project done that I wasn’t as concerned about it as I should have been. I’m a lot more disappointed in myself now that I missed that!
I’m also disappointed in myself for assuming that the English-speaking reader I wrote about would necessarily be a Western one. For example, I know that there are many people living in Asia and the Middle East who do not speak Japanese but who do speak English (which does tie into the idea of Western Imperialism, but to a larger extent than I discuss in this project). This is definitely something that I should have thought of. It seems I played into the Westernization and the patriarchal constructs I was fighting against in this essay in my project. In that respect I failed, but I certainly learned a lot, and I hope I explained my ideas clearly, though I did not do a good job of enacting them myself.