Sinking into a Classical Sunset — by Translator Jay Rubin

May GLLI Blog Series:  Japan in Translation, No. 19  

June 28, 2018 is the official UK publication date for my Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories, which will contain thirty-one complete stories, one segment from an episodic story, one novella, and two excerpts from novels. Assembling the pieces, which range in publication date from 1898 to 2014, was an enormous project, and probably my last of such scale. This is not only a matter of diminishing energy. As I age, I find myself increasingly drawn to the classics, most notably to the texts of the Nō theatre.

Working on the Penguin book had me immersed in stories that had made deep ruts in my psyche over the years, and the editorial phase gave me the opportunity to live with each of them again for a while, not only the sixteen pieces that I myself had translated, but stories that had moved other translators to commit to the intimate process of turning them into English literature. I used to think that no one reads a text as closely as a translator, but an editor’s engagement with a text can be nearly as close. Both roles provide an opportunity to suck all the juice out of a story by letting it steep at length in the imagination.

Back in 1995, I started a project called “Nō for Commuters,” which was to have been a collection of essays on each of the 243 plays in the current Nō repertoire. The venture was interrupted by my translating of Murakami Haruki and other modern writers, but having recently completed the Penguin project, in which the pool of candidates for inclusion was virtually infinite, I find that solid figure of “243” (give or take a handful) especially attractive. The texts themselves have been there for centuries, they deal with what we used to call the eternal verities, and they do so in a form that varies little from work to work. That sense of classical permanence and stability is what appeals to me now, and I think of “Nō for Commuters” as my next project.  Meanwhile, I hope readers will enjoy the Penguin stories as much as I have.  The US release date is September 11, 2018.

Editor’s note:  Jay translated the text of the Nō classic, “Hagoromo” which was performed earlier this year in Tokyo.  Jay’s translation, as well as a modern Japanese translation, were projected onto the stage, so that contemporary audiences could understand and enjoy the drama in real-time.  Here is a link to a feature on the performance in The Japan Times.

Who’s next:  Folklorist and manga translator Zach Davisson on the sounds of comics

fullsizeoutput_164aJay Rubin taught at the University of Washington for 18 years and is an emeritus Professor of Japanese Literature at Harvard and a translator of Haruki Murakami and other modern Japanese writers.  He is the author of Making Sense of Japanese, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, and The Sun Gods, and editor of The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories.


10339360_10203703467893736_1000817698243960595_oDavid Jacobson
 organized this series on Japanese literature in translation. He is the author of Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko, a 2017 NCTE notable poetry book. A longtime journalist, David has written news articles and TV scripts that have appeared in the Associated Press, The Washington Post, The Seattle Times and on CNN and Japan’s NHK. Since 2008, he has worked with Seattle book publisher Chin Music Press. An experienced Japanese translator, he is on the board of the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative.

And in case you missed it…

May 1:  Roger Pulvers on Ishikawa Takuboku (Japan-in-Translation, No. 1)
May 2:  Kathryn Hemmann on outsider stories in contemporary literature (Japan-in-Translation, No. 2)
May 3:  Deborah Iwabuchi on memorable translations (Japan-in-Translation, No. 3)
May 4:  Eve Kushner on kanji’s punning potential, part 1 (Japan-in-Translation, No. 4)
May 5:  Eve Kushner on kanji’s punning potential, part 2 (Japan-in-Translation, No. 5)
May 7:  Translator roundtable on Shiba Ryōtarō’s Ryōma!, part 1 (Japan-in-Translation, No. 6)
May 8: Translator roundtable on Shiba Ryōtarō’s Ryōma!, part 2 (Japan-in-Translation, No. 7)
May 9: Librarian Ash Brown on manga in translation (Japan-in-Translation, No. 8)
May 10: Excerpt from Mori Eto’s Dive!! (Japan-in-Translation, No. 9)
May 11: Tony Malone on translations of Natsume Sōseki (Japan-in-Translation, No. 10)
May 12: Poet Michael Dylan Welch on translating haiku (Japan-in-Translation, No. 11)
May 14: Smithsonian BookDragon’s Favorites, part 1 (Japan-in-Translation, No. 12)
May 15: Smithsonian BookDragon’s Favorites, part 2 (Japan-in-Translation, No. 13)
May 16: Sally Ito on Misuzu Kaneko’s Compassionate Imagination (Japan-in-Translation, No. 14)
May 17: Frederik Schodt on The Four Immigrants Manga (Japan-in-Translation, No. 15)
May 18: Stone Bridge Press Publisher Peter Goodman (Japan-in-Translation, No. 16)
May 19: Melek Ortabasi on Japanese Literature as World Literature (Japan-in-Translation, No. 17)
May 20: Selected Japanese Picture Books by Andrew Wong (Japan-in-Translation, No. 18)

 

 

 

 

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