Amateur Translation Commentary: Cross Channel’s Prologue

Concerning my furthest past,

In a faint time, in distant mists、

Where I was laden with riches in my own gorgeous room.

There was a bed, draped with veils, and a small ornate European chair.

But I always liked the feel of the floor.

Especially some days.

From the window stretched out the curtain of a black, starry night.

Cut within the frame was the spray of lights, held into my eyes.

In the glass that split me from the sky, I saw myself.

This enclosed damsel.

Clothed in a western dress. This graceful girl.

Who could you be?


Take note that I consider myself a quite good writer in English (har har), but not in Japanese. Most of this required AGTH and Translator Aggregator. An essay by Simon Leys talks about how a Chinese translator, Lin Shu, who did not understand Western Languages at all, translated Western works into Classical Chinese by getting people who knew the language to read it out to him. His translations were apparently so good that they usurped the original. These, then, are exercises in English, more than in Japanese. The text is more mine than his, for now. My Japanese is stitched together from copious Google Searches, a base knowledge in Chinese (which helps the Kanji part), and copious rigorous amateur translation. The result is that I can read the language better than I can speak it or listen to it.

So this is the supposed work that people declaim “it’s impossible” or “it can’t be done” which is just the type of thing that makes me want to try it anyway, even as an amateur in one language. I like the idea of Translation as Study and Lifestyle, something which only the most esoteric translation studies books take into consideration, as well as Simon Leys. To translate, as he claims, is to not just fully own the book, but in a sense to decenter the author and make it your own. Which I’m all in for, because my sense of literary ego demands that I surpass my predecessors in language. All writers aim to manipulate and kill their predecessors. We’re callous shallow selfish creatures after all that refuse to settle for anything but the highest motions towards the highest aesthetic.

Anyway lets start.

It’s a thing for a translator to also use previous translations as reference, which I only have the Amaterasu one to go by. My focus here though was more on rhythm and the motion of the words, which determined some of my choices in removal and addition.

A first line always rings, and so I’ll remember that first line for life. The reason I added ‘Concerning’ was to demarcate the topic (of course it wouldn’t work for much else because ‘wa’ is used so much, but it does here), also allowing it to be more conversational, because then it feels like Taichi is addressing the reader, and most importantly it almost matches the rhythm of the original (3-1-2-1 vs 2-1-3-1). The problem is that the ‘furthest past’ sounds more off than ‘oldest memory’ from the original translation, but I really needed a single syllable there to match the ring. Recall, recollection, memory, etc.. are all too overwrought.

On the other hand, the second line contains a quite serious omission, which is ‘sae’. My translation is poetic, through repetition, but then it loses the sense of that emphasis. The meaning then changes from psychological to aesthetic, because it no longer becomes a subjective statement reaching out into a past “where even the date was vague”, an ‘In Search of Lost Time’ kind of thing. “On a faint date”, “…where even the date was vague” and such alternatives. It also elevates beyond the conversational, because ‘time’ is more metaphysical than ‘date’. Some may argue that this makes it artificial and crass, but I think it fits the soundtrack, since this whole moment is atmospheric, rather than comical or serious.

The third line is pretty impossible to translate word for word without making it clunky. As Borges mentioned, English has a double register, which means aristocratic and rich are completely at odds in terms of how they sound and what they convey. “Wrapped in aristocracy and elegance, gorgeous private room” is the direct translation. But since I decided to go for laconic poetics as this register in English I couldn’t suddenly change into such big words. “Laden with riches” has such a Middle-Eastern princess feel, and conveys the idea of being engulfed by objects. Furthermore think of it as a swap with the previous sentence. In the previous one I effaced conversationalism for aesthetics, in this I exchanged the rich aesthetics of the sentence for conversationalism. Although the translation itself strikes Taichi as being either haughty or a proud ojou-sama type figure. Since its conversational I removed ‘private room’ for the subjective.

Small and ornate chair are the additions, and I put the canopy bed for a ‘bed draped in veils’ just to elevate the Harem Princess aesthetics of the previous sentence. Furthermore ‘tengai tsuki no shindai’ demarcates the canopy from the bed, so a bit of expounding is required. The ‘small ornate’ is an addition. That’s where my aesthetics come in. If the later sentence is there to convey his rejection of the riches, and his material wealth, in exchange for the comfort and sight of the sky, then a slight emphasis on that is needed.

Anyway I like how the whole scene seems to unfold cinematically, beginning with an abstract, which is the past , then pushes into a concrete metaphor for the abstract which is the shady mists, then pushing into the setting, and then settling on the objects, and finally the psychological notion towards the objects.

I don’t know why but “liked the feel of the floor” seems better than “liked sitting on the floor”. To me it feels warmer and more concrete. Because I can’t think of how to convey the ‘ichiban daisuki’ part any better.

Why I didn’t use “these days” and used “some days” instead was probably to convey aloofness. Although to be honest I wasn’t here whether the grammar here was being specific or general so I just went with my gut.

Yep here’s the core part. Everything rests on this image since it characterizes the visuals after all. So this was where I had to bring my poetic cannons out.

I think “mado kara mieru” is a cliche or poetic phrase in Japan, at least that was my notion since the Christopher Tin album has it as a song. And it definitely has a ring to it, or a romanticism. So to convey that subjectivity I used ‘stretched’, and also like the Japanese I eschewed the subject, giving the air of an engulfing subjectless vision. Also I have this notion that there’s a pause before the “starry night” because when you swap the topic so that it encompasses a huge bunch of stuff before laying it on the single defining image, it sounds like there’d be some kind of caesura there. Thus the comma. The curtain image can be kept.

This was probably the hardest part. I tried all combinations like “a scatter of stars”, “a traipse of twinkles”, “a scatter of flickers”, the original Amaterasu “scattered twinkles” and a whole lot of other combinations. I didn’t want to use twinkle because actually I personally hate that word (twinkle is so weak especially when the root word of ‘matataki’ has the notion of dancing ingrained into it, and anyway its usage in nursery rhyme sets up its status as a cutesy boring word. Stars, being one of the primary conceit in all poetry, doesn’t deserve such a mowed down term). I also wanted to convey the feel of all those great tingly Sci-Fi book titles “Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand”, “Flow my Tears, The Policeman Said” and their like. So in the end I settled for “spray of lights”, which inherently contains the motion of scatter from a unified source, as well as liquid momentum. And ‘lights’ as a word is more amorphous than stars, so while I don’t think the flickering effect was conveyed enough, it works.

I also wanted to have the image of captivation as burnt in photograph. The Japanese “me wo ubawareru” dictates the eyes as passive object anyway. The translation “my eyes were drawn” doesn’t capture it photographically.

This is also another daring omission, because Romeo uses the more abstract notion of external and internal, and the separation, to indicate a more complex moment. I wanted concrete poetics so I went straight for particulars, like “split from the sky”. Depending on your viewpoint, whether you want Romeo’s more complex notion (subjective vs transcendent, form, reflection, all feel like a more abstract encagement) or my more simple natural romantic ‘reaching out’ is all taste dependent.

The rest is just a follow up on the aesthetics (following up on the register and all that). Enclosed Damsel follows the ‘laden in riches’ sort of haremized aesthetic. Placing “who could you be” in one line rather than having the comma makes it a more direct conversational.

These are the thoughts an justification that went into my translation of the prologue. Of course I know that the later stuff becomes a lot more complicated, multiple-voiced, satirical and all that stuff, which I’m expectantly waiting for.