Haruki Murakami: Hear the Wind Sing Retranslation
Last September, The Guardian announced that Ted Goossen, a professor at NYU and literary translator, will be retranslating Haruki Murakami's first novel Hear the Wind Sing (風の歌を聴け, Kaze no Uta wo Kike), which was first published in 1979 and has been out of print in English for a while now (originally translated by Alfred Birnbaum). The translation is apparently due out sometime this year (2015). Ted Goossen also translated Murakami's The Strange Library, which came out last year plus a number of short stories from Men Without Women (hey I did that too).
Seeing this made me remember I had a copy of the book laying around! I've translated the first 10 or so chapters (some of them pretty short) and will post some here, with the caveat that y'all should buy the official version when it comes out of course. Text of the first chapter is below. Let me know if you want to read more!
"THERE'S no such thing as a perfect sentence. Like how there's no such thing as perfect despair."
So I was told, during university, by a writer whom I'd happened to meet. It wasn't until a long time later that I really understood what he meant, but at the time at least I took a little comfort in it. In knowing there was no such thing as a perfect sentence.
Still, anytime I tried to write something after that, I was visited by this sense of despair. The territory I felt capable of writing about was deeply limited. Like--even if I could write about elephants, I wouldn't be able to write a thing about elephant trainers, or something.
I spent eight years caught in this dilemma. Eight years. Long time.
Of course, as long as you make a point to frame everything as a learning experience, getting older isn't the hardest thing. So says conventional wisdom.
Starting just after I turned twenty, I made a point of trying to keep that perspective in mind as I went about life. Thanks to which I took my share of blows, I got fooled and misunderstood, and without a doubt I had plenty of weird experiences along the way. People of all kinds came into my life and talked to me, then passed noisily over me as if they were crossing a bridge, and never came back again. All the while, I kept my mouth shut tight, never saying a word. And that was how I stayed, all the way through to the last year of my twenties.
Now, I think I'm ready to talk about it.
Mine, of course, is a problem to which there's no solution, and it might well be that when I'm done speaking I find myself at the same point (or situation) where I started. At the end of the day, writing isn't a means of achieving self-therapy, just a small step in its direction.
Anyway, I'm having a frustratingly difficult time telling the truth about it. For every bit more honest I try to be, the words that comprise "the truth" sink deeper into darkness.
I don't mean to try and rationalize. The things I say here will be, for what they're worth, the best I can do at this point in time. I have nothing else to add. Still, this is how I choose to think of it: if all goes well, then long down the road, years or decades from now, I'll discover a part of me that was saved by the process. And then thereafter, maybe I'll find the words to paint this beautiful picture for the world of how elephants return home to the plains.
Much of what I know about writing, I learned from Derek Hartfield. Just about all of it, I should say. Regrettably, Hartfield was a very sterile writer, in every sense. Read anything of his and you'll see. His prose was a struggle, plus his stories were total bullshit, and his themes childish. And yet nevertheless, he was one of a very few extraordinary writers who could really wield a sentence like a weapon and carry it to war. Even ranked against his contemporaries--Hemingway, Fitzgerald, their Lost Generation cohorts--I don't believe Hartfield would come out the loser, at least if we're going by aggressive attitude. But unfortunately he, Hartfield, could never really grasp who exactly it was that he was fighting against. In the end, that's what made his writing so--as I said--sterile.
For eight years and two months, he kept on waging his sterile war, and then he died. One bright Sunday morning in June of 1938, with a portrait of Hitler clenched in his right hand and an umbrella still hefted in his left, he leapt from the top floor of the Empire State Building. His death, as his life, was not heavily discussed.
It was summer vacation during my third year in middle school, a season tainted by a vicious skin disease I'd contracted between my thighs, when I first happened to find a copy of Hartfield's out-of-print first novel. My uncle gave me the book. Three years later, suffering from an intestinal cancer which had shredded him inside, he died in agony, plastic tubing still packed into the passages in and out of his body. The last time he and I met, he reminded me of a crafty little monkey, all reddish-brown and shriveled.
I had three uncles in all, but the second one died in the outskirts of Shanghai. Two days after the end of the war, he stepped on a land mine that he'd planted himself. My third uncle, the last one left, became a magician and traveled around to hot spring spas all over the country.
Hartfield had this to say about well-written sentences.
"To write is to confirm the distance parting oneself and one's surroundings. It demands not sensitivity, but measurement" (from What's Wrong With Feeling Good?, 1936).
I timidly started measuring distances by hand as I gazed around me, beginning probably the year President Kennedy died--fifteen years ago now already. I've left so much behind in passing through those years. As an airplane with a faulty engine will jettison its cargo, then the seats, then the poor flight attendants, just trying to stay in the air; for the last fifteen years, I've been leaving behind any-and-everything, and taking on almost nothing in its place.
Who knows whether that was the right thing to do? The way has definitely gotten easier, but I shudder to think what I'll even have left to lose as the years go on and I draw closer to dying. When they cremate me, there won't be even a bone left of my body.
"When your mind's in a dark place, you only have dark dreams. But when it's darkest, you won't dream at all," my late grandmother always used to say.
The night my grandmother died, the first thing I did was to reach out and softly close her eyelids. As I guided them down, the dreams she'd borne for seventy-nine years softly faded, like a passing summer rain evaporating from the pavement, leaving nothing behind.
I have one more thing to say about writing. One last thing.
Writing is a bitingly painful act for me. Sometimes I'll go a month unable to scratch out a single line, and other times I can write for three days and three nights on end and have it all come out wrong and misguided.
All the same, there's something I enjoy about writing. Compared to the distress of just being alive, it's a lot easier to find meaning in.
It must have been when I was still a teenager, when I realized this and was shocked almost speechless. If I only thought it through and made the right move, I felt, the world would bend to my will, the value of everything would be reversed, time would change its flow...
It wasn't until long afterward, unfortunately, that I realized those thoughts were a trap. I drew a line down the middle of my notebook, and on the left side I listed the things I had gained over that time, and on the right the things which I had lost. What I'd lost, what I'd crushed, what I'd long forsaken, sacrificed, betrayed... There was too much to even list.
There's a vast, deep valley that lies between the things we strive to recognize and the things we actually recognize. The longest ruler you can find wouldn't measure its depths. The best I can do here is to write a list. It's not a novel or a work of literature, and it's certainly not art. Just a notebook with a line drawn down the middle. If you're looking for a lesson, though, I guess there might be a little bit of one.
If what you want is art, real literature, you should pick up something written by a Greek. After all, in order for true art to be born, slavery is essential, indispensable. The ancient Greeks believed so, and while the slaves tilled their fields, cooked their meals, and built their boats, the citizenry lay beneath the Mediterranean sun and indulged in poetry, grappled with mathematics. That's the nature of art.
So what kind of prose could the kind of person who goes rummaging through their refrigerator at three in the morning possibly hope to write?
Which, after all, is the kind of person I am.
Final note: I've been off Twitch for a busy few months, but will hopefully be back on soon playing a bunch of free indie Japanese games!