On Translation/訳すということについて

Yasuo Akai

First of all…
From now on I will write here about things that revolve around left-wing activisms or people’s movements—things written or spoken by the activists and also things that inspire them, be they books, blogs, theories, films, or the other forms of art. I will also write about media—including the mainstream—critically.

The purpose of my posts is to introduce you to the terms often used by the activists across the world and also to explain the backgrounds and contexts of them. I do this because I want to encourage you to talk with the activists of the other parts of the world. For example, a May 1968 Situationist slogan, “Be realistic, demand the impossible!” is still today sprayed on the walls by the rebelling students. You may not have a time to read Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle[1], but to know the memes shared by the activists is not bad. It is also not bad to know that neither all the students who spray the slogan read that book.

I assume that the most readers of the Tokyo Spring blog are politically active in many ways. Some of you may be fighting against the local governments that try to evict the homeless people from the parks. Some of you may be helping the disaster victims. Some of you may be union organizers, organizing especially temporary workers. Some of you may be environmentalists. Some of you may march to pressure the participants of G8, G20, WTO, and COP. Some of you may be occupying somewhere. Some of you (many of you!) may be rallying against nuclear power plants. Some of you are theoreticians.

Imagining such readers, I am embarrassed by the fact that I have done little. Having thought of what I can offer, I am writing this. Probably what I know or how much I know is not so important, but how I venture into the activist ethos or the forest of the memes may be. Therefore I want to make how I translate things as transparent as possible.

I write in both English and Japanese
I first write in my second language, English, and then translate it into my mother tongue, Japanese. I want to provide a forum where both Japanese speakers and non-Japanese speakers can take part in. My English is not perfect, but I try to clarify what I say as much as I can.

What I do here is not so different from what the protagonist of Xiaolu Guo’s novel A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers[2] does. X, a girl from a Chinese countryside keeps her diary in clumsy English during her stay in London. She endeavors into the forest of things and signs, observing how the people talk and also what they do not talk, and then creates her own dictionary.

Everyone has his or her unique inner dictionary, I would say. Please imagine—or remember—how a child learns the mother tongue. A newly learnt word is examined many ways. It is compared, categorized, collocated, and translated into actions, images, and sounds. Funny collocations are often invented and then corrected.

This is also the case for leaning the second language. In the 19th century in a Belgian city, Joseph Jacotot, a French teacher observed it when he taught Flemish students French. The best learnt word by his students was not what he taught, but what his students grabbed on their own. They understood French without going back to Flemish.

My posts are about learning
In his The Ignorant Schoolmaster[3], French philosopher Jacques Rancière recounts Jacotot’s educational adventure. Observing how his students learnt French, Jacotot rethought the relationship between a teacher and students. A conventional view of the role of a teacher is that the teacher eliminates an intellectual gap between him and his students. First he lets his students know what they do not know, and thus they learn a thing to fill the intellectual gap. Again, he goes on to let them know what they do not know. It was problematic for Jacotot that it was a teacher who defined what students did not know, meaning that the very act of teaching became maintaining the gap. Learning should not have been this way, he thought.

My posts here will be first and foremost about learning. I will cite many things not because they give answers to problems, but because they are repositories of questions. I emphasize that we should learn how to formulate questions. It is fair to say that we in Japan have learnt many things since the 3.11. For example, the conscientious engineers and scientists have given us valuable information about the ongoing nuclear disaster. On the other hand I often observe that people do not ask those experts right questions. Such people often ask what to do. But, experts are those who can explain what is going on, and it is us who decide what to do.

Only an expert can deal with the problem, we are too often told. The authorities try to maintain an intellectual gap between experts and us, defining what a problem is and what is not. At least we should be conscious about this structure.

“An emancipated community is a community of narrators and translators”[4] At an anti-nuclear demo I attended, a speaker delightedly announced that AlJazeera English reporters came to see the demo and interviewed him. Of course it was good that the demo was covered by the mainstream media, but if you regularly checked the global news outlets, you could not be so optimistic. When the Japanese government shamelessly declared “a cold shutdown condition,” AlJazeera also let a spin doctor tell how well-managed the way the Japanese authorities handled the accident was. The nuclear industry is a multinational entity that intervene the global media. This appears more obvious if you watch the BBC or PBS. These news outlets basically say, “Japanese were traumatized by the atomic bombs, so it is natural for them to overreact to the nuclear disaster. Germans are control freaks, and that is why they want to get rid of nuclear power.”[5] They use ‘cultural gaps’ to mask the real problems. By the way, this is also the case for another problem, say, the economic crisis. For instance, Greeks are lazy, we are told—that is a sheer lie, however.

That is why we should bypass the pundits, and talk with other parts of the world, comparing and paraphrasing things. All the problems, be they nuclear, wars, environment, precariats, or inequality, are not unique to one country. There is a third world in a first world et vice versa.

I once heard a Japanese activist complaining about some American activists comparing the 3.11 to Hurricane Katrina or the BP oil spill. He meant that the Fukushima disaster is far more serious. I understand his grievance, but in my view it is also understandable that the Americans comprehend the 3.11 by comparing it to what they already know. Moreover, the systems that cause those disasters are essentially the same. What we should do is to try to comprehend Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill in return. We should understand how the people across the world express their grievances and rages.

It seems to me that the people like the Japanese activist are too afraid of being interpreted. Their attitudes are similar to those artists who hate critics, saying, “I didn’t say that by my work! Stop making sense!” But, I challenge you to translate your terms into theirs, et vice versa. I am talking not only about language, but also about images, sounds, and the other means. One way to develop a shared understanding is paraphrasing. You ask me, “What do you mean by that?” I paraphrase. Again, you ask me, “Can I put this way?” You paraphrase. An emancipated community is a community of narrators and translators.


私がここですることは、郭小_の小説『A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers(恋人たちの中英小辞典)』[2]の主人公がすることとそれほど違わない。中国の片田舎から出て来た女の子Xがロンドンに滞在する間不器用な英語で日記を綴る。物事と記号の森に分け入って、何を人々がはなし、また何を人々が話さないかを観察しながら、彼女は自分だけの辞書を創る。



[1] Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, ZONE BOOKS, 1995, Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith, originally published in France as La société du spectacle in 1967 by Buchet-Chastel. 邦訳、『スペクタクルの社会』、ちくま文庫、木下誠訳、2003年。
[2] Xiaolu Guo, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, Chatto & Windus, 2007.
[3] Jacques Ranciére, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, Stanford University Press, 1991, Trans. Kristin Ross, originally published as Le Maître ignorant : Cinq leçons sur l'émancipation intellectuelle, Fayard 1987 - 10/18 Poche, 2004. 邦訳、『無知な教師 知性の解放について』法政大学出版局、梶田裕、堀容子訳、2011年。 
[4] Quoted from Jacques Ranciére, The Emancipated Spectator, Verso, 2009, Trans. Gregory Elliott, p.22. First published as Le spectateur émancipé, Editions La Fabrique, 2008. 
[5] For example, see Frontline: Nuclear Aftershocks by the PBS: http://video.pbs.org/video/2187854464

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