Controversy in translation

Early in February, the Japan times published a review by Donald RICHIE (for it is he!) of Tower of London, a new book collecting some of NATSUME Souseki's (for they are his!) London writings. As you'll note if you read the review, Richie doesn't exactly criticise the book or the translator (one Damian FLANAGAN), but he still sounds like a grumpy dragon who just wants the quick-moving ones to go away.

Flanagan is also an enthusiast (as well as a scholar) and boosts his author at every opportunity. He admits that his goal is "promoting Soseki to the very forefront of world literature." ...
The value of the present collection is in the fact that even if it is negligible the author is not, and thus all information is welcome -- particularly through the kind of knowledge that Flanagan brings to his translation, his introduction and his notes.

Sort of "yes, yes, throw it on the Souseki pile", which you have to admit is understandable, given that he's spent his entire career introducing Japanese culture to English-speaking audiences. He must be getting sick of the early modern Japanese canon by now, particularly its minor outlying works. (Even by inconceivably major authors.)

Anyway, two weeks later the Japan times published a letter from Alastair DINGWALL, who introduces himself as "the publisher of the first English translation of Natsume Soseki's 'the Tower of London'". (I can't find a link for his version, sorry.) Dingwall apparently hasn't read Flanagan's translation, and so he doesn't pick any bones with it, but he does object to Flanagan's alleged (by Richie) slighting of TSUNEMATSU "Sammy" Ikuo and his Soseki Museum in London.

Yesterday, the saga continued with a letter of rebuttal from Flanagan himself. His words' minced:unminced ratio is very small. He begins by denying any denigration of Tsunematsu or his work. Next, he addresses Dingwall's translation, calling it "one of the worst translations of a Japanese classic ever to find its way into print". Ouch.

Finally, he takes aim at Richie himself:

Richie's review of my new book is described by Dingwall as being "generous and knowledgeable." It was certainly generous toward me, but it was disparaging toward Soseki himself, which is ultimately what matters. Nor was the review knowledgeable -- virtually every sentence contained a factual error and Richie compounded the offense by quoting mistranslations of Soseki's works.

Double ouch.

Now, I haven't read much of what Souseki wrote in London, and none of it in English (except for bits and pieces from his private journal in Donald Keene's Modern Japanese Diaries), so I have neither the means nor the motivation to take sides in this feud. But an accusation of quoting mistranslations in a review of a translation is rather strong, so I decided to do some googling and find the primary evidence so that we could all judge for ourselves.

Apart from titles, all of which look OK to me, Richie's review contained two Souseki quotations:

  1. "The two years I spent in London were the most unpleasant years of my life. Among English gentlemen, I lived in misery, like a poor dog that had strayed among a pack of wolves."
  2. He refused London's admirable public transportation system, did not trust himself to train or cab since "their cobweb system was so complicated"...

And here's what Souseki originally wrote:

  1. 倫敦に住み暮らしたる二年は尤も不愉快の二年なり。余は英国紳士の間にあつて狼群に伍する一匹のむく犬の如く、あはれなる生活を営みたり。 (Source)
  2. この広い倫敦(ロンドン)を蜘蛛手(くもで)十字に往来する汽車も馬車も電気鉄道も鋼条鉄道も余には何らの便宜をも与える事が出来なかった。 (Source)

I'm not going to offer my own versions, because that would just muddy the waters -- and again, because I don't want to take sides -- but I will note that the second quotation is from "Tower of London" itself. If Richie was in fact quoting an earlier translation instead of the one he was currently reviewing (which is the only way Flanagan's accusation makes sense, if it applies to that quotation too), some might call that a bit of a breach of scholarly etiquette.

Side note: I scarcely dare imagine what Flanagan would think of my current Souseki project, in which the word "buttmunch" appears.

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