thoughts on translation

It started when I wrote an essay explaining the phrase 阳光灿烂, which is one of my favorites in Chinese. It’s difficult to describe just how beautiful I find 阳光灿烂: the literal English translation is ‘brilliant sunlight,’ but when the four characters (yáng guāng càn làn) filter through my teeth the way light filters through leaves, when I see the sun at the front, the mountains, the fires that rage in between, and the smoke that shrouds flowers on the mountainside as they burst into flame, I know that ‘brilliant’ is only an adequate translation, nothing more. There are nuances to the phrase that exist only on paper, in the original language; English loses the neat precision and perfect square aesthetic of the four characters.

Later, I read an article in which the author, who’s from Mainland China, describes her deliberate erasure of Chinese in order to fully embrace English. I’m still unsettled when I think about it now. Politics aside, Chinese is an elegant and ancient thing, crafted with artistry in mind. A mere two to four characters can hold boatloads of wisdom and meaning. How can anyone choose to forget this language for English? To be fair, English is just as fascinating and complex, if not even more so, since we can continually add words from different languages to our vocabulary and create exceptions to any rule we have. But wouldn’t it be better to know both languages intimately? There was a quote I came across that went along the lines of, “Everything I know about language is everything I know about life.”* So the more you forget, the less language you know, and your world just – shrinks.

I mean, I know where the author’s coming from. Whenever I visited China when I was younger, even if it was only for a few weeks, my conversational English always deteriorated. I could still write in English quite well, since I kept (and still keep) notebooks wherever I went, but I’d forgotten “how to English” and became proportionally better at speaking (and reading and typing) Chinese. It’s so easy to focus on mastering one language and forgetting others through disuse. But I think it’s important to know more than one language, particularly if your first is English. In this globalized era, everyone knows English. And that can be awesome and convenient, but I’m afraid that if we’re all monolinguals, we’ll miss much of what’s going on in the rest of the world.

There’s another kind of translation that I keep thinking about, lately – the translation of thoughts into words. For me, at least, there’s disconnect between what I think, what I want to say, and what I actually end up saying. This disconnect got Darcy in trouble with Elizabeth, and he had to fix it with a written letter. And this makes sense, since writing gives you time to contemplate, to take back mistakes. I can articulate my thoughts on paper so much more eloquently and fully than I can ever speak them, and it can be frustrating, especially when I meet people for the first time and I struggle to talk to them. It’s like my mouth opens and words nonsensically and uncontrollably tumble out of my mouth. But what happens when the writing stops? If I stop keeping a journal, if I don’t document my thought processes in written form, do those thoughts cease to exist? What if in the future, my notebooks are posthumously published? People will judge me based on what I’ve written, even if it was originally in private – think not just of Kafka, Plath, and Nin, but also of Shostakovich, Warhol, and Napoleon, among so many other figures in our history. Notebooks provide insight, but only if you write in them. Didion, in The Year of Magical Thinking, is able to revisit both her life and that of her husband’s through the extensive records they’d both kept – notebooks and index cards, paper scraps and Word documents. My fear of forgetting is one reason why I keep writing. I don’t want to lose my grasp on Chinese, and I don’t want to lose my thoughts. To lose those things is to lose parts of myself.

In school, we recently covered a unit over translated poetry. We read different versions each of Rumi’s poetry (in snippets) and Borges’s “Historia de la noche,” then discussed what was more important in interpretation – accuracy or poetics. When you translate, what do you abandon and what do you preserve? How well do you need to know the language you work with? (Nabokov knew English and Russian with equal fluency, and he translated his own work, thus retaining the original intent of his writing. The same goes for Samuel Beckett with English and French. So I wonder what I miss when I read the English version of Camus’s The Stranger, Rilke’s poetry, or Ocampo’s short stories – anything written and translated by two different people.) For our assignment, we had to translate a poem from a language in which we’re at least familiar. I chose a poem by 骆绮兰, a female poet from eighteen-century China. This particular piece happens to come from a set of eight, called《纪梦诗八首》 (“Record of Dreams, Eight Poems”), so you can probably tell why I was attracted to it.

I haven’t formally studied Chinese for a year now, so it felt nice to return to it. This translation’s not perfect, of course, but I like to think it’s fairly accurate. I loved the imagery she evokes here; in preserving that, I ended up with a more literal interpretation. I hope you like it!

dream3luoqilan

*I just Googled this quote to verify the source, but all I got were Tumblr posts for some reason?? If any of you recognize this quote, please comment below or message me!

je te veux

ALTERNATE TITLE: “thoughts of an art thief after stealing ib and her husband”

the first time was on a whim –
that crucial split second where one might choose
to listen to gréco instead of piaf, or take
a right turn and not the road stretched ahead,
only this choice involved a slim pocket knife
and barely detectable flicks of the wrist.

she could feel blood rush to her face,
heat tinging her ashen cheeks.
her hands trembled.
she looked down at her worn shoes,
her wrinkled dress that rustled with every step.
no one knows – no eyes have seen
what i have done.

the second time was out of desire.
she saw intimacy and her fingers itched;
her hands moved on their own, the blade
of her knife gleaming in the dim light
like her smile a few hours later
as she studied the stolen prize
on her bedroom floor.
she admired ib and her lumpy coral sweater.
how comfortable she must have been
lying in bed, pat’s arm looped over her waist,
his veins silvery pink against his skin.
how protected she must have felt, how loved,
under the constant gaze of her father
as he emptied his palette of earthy colors
onto the canvas.

she felt the eyes of everyone she passed.
hard as she tried, guilt remained palpable
in her fingers, her throat, her spine.
she glanced once at her hands and choked
back a scream at the rust-colored paint
dripping between her knuckles.
terrified, she didn’t look again.
she couldn’t stop thinking about the knife
burning in her pocket that day,
the uneven edges of the painting
where she’d removed it from its frame.
she had never felt so cold.

why had she thought she could have ib’s warmth
for her own just by taking it?
now her actions could not be undone,
and the painting sat patiently on her desk at home,
waiting to be found.

(more…)

on nabari no ou

personal accomplishment: i’ve never had a naruto phase.

that being said, nabari no ou is also a manga series about ninjas. it’s one of my all-time favorites. a long time ago back in 2012, a girl named katie was creating character bios for her first nanowrimo. while searching for suitable images on google, she came across this picture. thus began her nabari no ou phase, which continues to this day.

From mangafox:

Set in the modern age, the story is about Miharu Rokujou, who just wants to live a normal life and inherit an Okonomiyaki restaurant. At the moment, his biggest problem is the constant pestering from Kouichi Aizawa and Durandal Thobari Kumohira, who started a Nindō (忍道?, lit. “Way of the Ninja”) Club. Miharu wants nothing to do with “ninjas” and turns them down every time. But soon, he is attacked by an actual group of ninjas and is protected by Kouichi and Kumohira. There, Miharu learns of the hidden ninja world Nabari, the roles of his classmate and teacher in that world, and of the secret art Shinra Banshou (森羅万象 Shinrabanshō?, lit. “all things in nature”) within him. The secret art, containing all the world’s knowledge, is sorely coveted in Nabari. And because of that, Miharu cannot return to his normal life. He must become the “Ruler of Nabari” to survive.

a lot of people dislike nabari no ou after reading the first volume, mainly because of the rough, ‘weird’ art and miharu’s apathetic nature. please read the entire series before jumping to any conclusions or dropping the series!
(the anime’s first half is good, but it then spirals downward into ridiculous cheesiness because the manga was still ongoing at the time. so skip the anime and read the manga. or, if you must, watch the anime first, then read the manga. the latter does a much better job with fleshing out characters, tying up loose ends, etc. or, read the manga while listening to the anime’s soundtracks.
but anyway.)
the story follows miharu rokujou, who seems to be the typical indifferent junior high school student. but then there’s a plethora of other characters too, who’re all tied to the shirabanshou. the beginning is humorous, filled with the antics of miharu and his interactions with tobari-sensei, his english teacher, and kouichi aizawa, a fellow classmate. everything feels all light and slice-of-life ish. raimei shimizu only adds to this new camaraderie that’s soon tested by hostility surrounding the shirabanshou. miharu is blackmailed into using the shirabanshou by the enemy clan’s main weapon – the kira user ninja, yoite. the story soon branches out and plunges downward, throwing off all its readers. what happened to the school life fluffiness? (refer to anime’s opening theme, ‘crawl.’) the manga goes from carefree to frighteningly dark and twisted. there’s a huge cast of characters that range from ninjas to samurai to a blind mastermind to an intersexed character and more. everyone in the story is important in some way, even side characters  there is no black-and-white sense of good versus evil, which is another part of this story that i love. miharu no longer knows who to trust. who is the enemy? who is the ally? who really accepts him for who he is? who befriends him for the shirabanshou? and talk about CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. and REALLY AMAZING ART. as the chapters progress, yuhki kamatani’s art style slowly changes and morphs into the style she’s known for today. it’s really beautiful. everything about this manga is beautiful.
my favorite characters are yoite and miharu. at first, there’s a lot of tension between them. yoite is the angel of death, after all. he forces miharu to use the shirabanshou for his one and only wish, and the two work together to collect the forbidden arts of nabari to unlock the shirabanshou inside him. throughout the story, however, yoite and miharu gradually grow close, and we see that yoite isn’t an angel of death at all, though he firmly believes that. miharu begins to leave his shell of indifference and trust others again, too…
i ship them. i most definitely ship yoite and miharu. ;-;
and talk about that art. afdkhqgdwl;afgjwakj ((here are just a few examples of the loveliness to come))
~score: 5/5 stars. so many feels.~

on romance

i don’t believe in insta-love.

falling in love with someone simply because of their appearance just doesn’t cut it for me. i believe in aesthetic attraction – i’m aesthetically attracted to friends and even strangers sometimes, with nothing past that. i also think that it’s a person’s appearance that attracts you, but their personality that convinces you to stay. that sounds much more reasonable (and much better) than falling in love with some jerk because s/he is physically attractive and/or charming.

same with love triangles. they appear in books, movies, anime, manga – everywhere, really.

why?

what makes them so popular?

they always irritate me. if alice really loved bob, then she wouldn’t fall for charlie. even if he tempted her, she would stay with bob, wouldn’t she? so that she could avoid causing him pain and heartbreak. there’s been a rising trend in the shoujo heroine falling for the handsome douche bag, too, while abandoning the male best/childhood friend. even if that best friend is intelligent, hardworking, caring, and loyal.

maybe that’s just prevalent in manga.

on a less frustrating note, i prefer more subtle or sadder romance over the full-blown, cheesy, lovey dovey kind. i’m sure that the latter would be wonderful (and maybe a bit unrealistic) in real life, but i feel uncomfortable reading that sort of romance. i’d rather read about implied love – love that isn’t thrown into the reader’s face, but rather expressed through small, seemingly trivial actions. or unrequited love. hidden heart ache. two people realize that they’re in love with each other, but it’s too late. or, on the supernatural side, two people finally confess their feelings for each other, and briefly enjoy their time together before one of them loses the other forever.

yuki midorikawa is a master at expressing subtle love.

at the same time, she apparently hates drawing in the shoujo genre?

i don’t know how i feel about that.

-ktc