Kitazawa Rakuten – Film Without End – Kindai Manga Translation

際限のない映畫 – Film Without End

in Rakuten zenshū vol. 9 Onna hyakutai ero guro manga-shū (Woman’s Hundred Phases Ero Guro Manga Collection), p. 65

raku_zen_9_65_transoriginal below

Constructive Contradiction

One of the most valuable philosophical lessons I have ever received came almost incidentally while reading Kierkegaard.  I say incidentally, because I did not realize at the time that I was being so instructed, and only after the fact did I come to understand how reading SK’s writing, its meandering yet logical structure, had initiated me into a fundamentally anti-Hegelian dialectic in which thesis and antithesis, according to the generic terminology, had no ultimate synthesis.  At best, they had syntheses which, due to their multiplicity, held Abstraction and Negation (Hegel’s own terms) in suspension, never progressing to the next triad in the great march of history toward its doom.  They always looped back around or, more precisely, kept getting caught in a cycle of endless recursion.

It might seem rather indulgent on my part to periodically return to arch, idealist philosophy whenever I find myself in a conceptual jam, but I need to begin what will grow into a discussion of the particulars of this translation from a conceptual space in which you cannot take the implications of a word like contradiction for granted, as the simple and immediate gainsaying of whatever was posited from the outset.  As Michael Palin aptly warns us, that is not an argument.

So what do I mean by “contradiction?”  Well, we can see in today’s [comic] from Kitazawa Rakuten that there are a number of ways in which visual elements, be they pictographic or lingual, might be said to speak against one another and which do not involve the cosmic tussle that was Hegel’s philosophical wet dream (or nightmare, depending on how you read him).  Rather, speaking against, in this context, also implies a speaking to or with, like panels in a [comic] or words in a sentence or framing devices and their “content,” separate yet never distant from one another.  It is a fundamentally ironic diction, where what is seen or said cannot be expected to have solely an obvious reading but many other, darker readings as well, which, coincidentally, never quite obviate that one lying at the surface.

What the hell does that mean?

Rakuten’s “Film Without End” is intentionally circuitous, and I have already discussed at some length on at least one other occasion what his reconstruction of the film strip as framing device has to say about the materiality of film per se.  Yet, I have to admit that my earlier argument, though possibly still useful, misses something crucial.  In addition to the “endlessly” circular nature of a film reel winding and playing over and over, Rakuten is also playing with how juxtaposition implies or fails to imply conjunction.  On the one hand, you have a fairly linear narrative beginning from 一/1 in the upper right and ending at 六/6 in the upper left, with a clearly noted two year break between panels 三/3 and 四/4 at the bottom of the page.  It is perfectly acceptable to read it as one narrative band, yet it also can be read over and over again as the head note suggests.  This means that in translating, I had to adopt a style that was at least amenable to both readings (and hopefully more).

raku_zen_9_65_web.jpg

Japanese original

The Japanese feels very open ended as you read it, as if a specific story were being told that, nevertheless, stood in for many others like it.  Aside from the head and footnotes, which might easily be thought of as outside the film’s boundary, there is only one sentence final verb in the entire piece, and even that is couched within the hairdresser’s brief dialogue in panel 六/6.  Japanese quite often makes due without explicit conjunctions, though, obviously, they exist, so translators tend to supply those conjoining words and phrases that fluent English seems to demand.  Now, I am consistently on the fence about whether this is a good idea in general, but in this case especially, conjunctions seemed to ruin that dialectic effect of panels coming together but never quite meeting that, I believe, Rakuten was after.  It was not for me to decide and by translating legislate how a reader puts this narrative together.  And so the translation here is meant to speak against that which English seems to call for in conventional expression, so that English might speak with the Japanese in a way that it is otherwise not wont.

And it is this sense of contra-diction that I took to heart in designing the layout as well.  When thinking about how to approach this translation, it occurred to me that I am somewhat blessed in having Rakuten’s own tri- and bi-lingual manga to work from, to see how he works multiple sets of text into his [comics] (often haphazardly), so as to free myself, as he does, from a slavish devotion to sense in order to work from the perspective of effect.  The original of this text is, of course, entirely in Japanese, yet its translation by my own hand would not be out of place with any of Rakuten’s bilingual manga.  Something a dear friend of mine said while critiquing my work awhile back stuck with me, because it speaks to how a fairly serious intervention, which I undertook here, can actually ring more true at times than keeping to a light touch.  He said that no matter what I do, it is important that the text always be allowed to reveal itself as a [comic], which I took to mean that when the translation is working well, it serves as a guide to itself.

And what, pray tell, does that mean?

It means if a translation is going to take liberties, it should do so in such a way that it at least hints at how its liberties are to be read.  I would add, though, assuming my own reading of his sage advice is correct, that a translation’s liberties ought to be on behalf of the reader, to say, “this is not beyond your comprehension, and I would like to help you understand what I see” not “look at how clever I am–can you see what I did here and here and here…”  If that were the only or even primary effect that my translations had, I would regard myself as an utter failure.  The point is to reveal Rakuten’s work in translation, not merely make it my own.

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One comment

  1. […] “Modern Mirrored Words” and “Film Without End,” last week’s “The Burglaress, a Film Tale” was quite the pain in the ass, due in […]

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