Edited by Catriona Menzies-Pike
[…] While the number of people fluent in both Zapotec and English who also possess the literary skills to translate poetry into English is no doubt tiny, there are of course many talented Japanese–English literary translators. New Directions has published Tawada titles translated from both Japanese and German, so the availability of translators from either language is not an issue here. For Memoirs of a Polar Bear, Tawada requested the translation be made from her self-translation into German. Unlike for Black Flower, the choice to translate into English from the self-translation is therefore not a necessary compromise but an authorial choice. The reason Tawada gave for this preference was that she had already done the work of translating her novel from Japanese into a Western language.
This justification draws on interesting ideas around the perceived lexical and cultural propinquity of languages—how much overlap they share. In choosing the self-translation—in requesting that the translator ‘fix’ it rather than the original—Tawada does not cast the original Japanese version as inchoate but as remote, or at least remoter-than; this postulates a hierarchy of translatability in which less cultural and lexical overlap corresponds to more translational complexity. Tawada’s request is also an aesthetic decision that foregrounds the self-translation because, I would argue, it best expresses the work. If form is meaning, then, unlike Toledo’s self-translation, Tawada’s self-translation is more meaningful than her original because its translation of the self puts into practice the thematic that her novel explores.
Read the rest at Sydney Review of Books.