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Light and Darkness: Natsume Sôseki's Meian: A New Translation By V. H. Viglielmo Paperback – 5 Mar 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 364 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (5 Mar. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1460982312
  • ISBN-13: 978-1460982310
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.3 x 22.9 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,254,141 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Natsume Soseki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natsume_Soseki Translator V. H. Viglielmo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V._H._Viglielmo

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Amazon.com: 3 reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Amazing psychological analysis and composition method 6 Jan. 2001
By M. OKAZAKI - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is the last and unfinished novel of his works. He died suddenly without finishing it.
It is the story of the wife, who suspects if her husband loves another woman, and him, who can't forget a past lover. Abandoning his composition style of the individual narrater so far, he represents the different world views from each viewpoint of all the characters. The world of the characters are revealed as the panorama from the point of view of the God. The composition method of each plots proceeding contemporarily is just the modern method of the novel, so I can remember that surprise as if the completion of the Japanese modern novel sprang up under my eyes, the first time I read this novel. The Japanese contemporary novel has already begun at 'Light and Darkness.'
This complicated composition method doesn't aim to lose the entertainment reading novels. Rather in reverse. It clarifies the various relationship among each people from their different viewpoints and digs out the psychology of each characters. It is psychological and historical at once. Each plots are the psychological analyses with the amazing insight and at the same time the preparation for the following ones.
Readers may pierce the Dostyevskian in this novel. However, and more, they will be surprised at the complicated psychological structure of Japanese women. I have thought even now that there are no analyses of the Japanese culture superior to it. It is why the woman keeps the depth of their own culture in many cases.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A Tale of Two Meians (or three if you count the first English translation) 26 April 2014
By William Ridgeway - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
Light and Darkness: Natsume Soseki's Meian, a new translation by V. H. Viglielmo was published in 2011 (CreateSpace) -- so the recent reviews on this page must refer to Viglielmo's 1971 translation (Peter Owen). [Full Disclosure: I am the editor of Light and Darkness: Natsume Sōseki’s Meian]

Very few English translations of Japanese literature receive the kind of luxe treatment as that of John Nathan’s new translation of Meian (Light and Dark): it is in hardcover with attractive book jacket (incorporating Sōseki’s own psychedelic design for Kokoro), even a handsomely designed hardcover without the book jacket; deckle edge, (sometimes used in paperbacks, but when was the last time you saw it used in books on Japanese literature? Dawn to the West?); each of the 188 sections illustrated with an uma-heta drawing by Natori Shunsen, just as they appeared in the daily newspaper installments of the Asahi Shinbun in 1916); set in large, easy-to-read font, with a fine Introduction and A Note on the Translation, 421 pages.

Nathan could have used this opportunity to reformat the text from the short 188 sections into long chapters, but he wisely retained the 188 sections. Little is gained, for example, by reading Kokoro in 110 short chapters instead of in its familiar tripartite structure. Conversely, Meian, one imagines, would benefit little from reformatting into lengthy chapters. Nathan acknowledges: “The tyranny of the daily installment is perceptible in the text” (n6, page 16), referring to cliffhangers and recapitulations, but says editors were reluctant to modify the master’s manuscript.

That old chestnut about contrived cliffhangers and redundant recapitulation goes back to Donald Keene’s dreary assessment of the novel, which he confessed bored him from beginning to end. For many years, Viglielmo was the lone voice in the wilderness extolling the virtues of Meian: “generally considered to be the greatest novel of modern Japan.” But few were those (American academics) who agreed with him. In fact, it was despised and rejected: ”One of the most tedious exercises in the Japanese language,” said Jay Rubin. “There is not a line in Meian that touches one…and because of the detachment, or the indifference, the technical virtuosity that he displays often has the effect of pedantry,” said McClellan. “I think it is boring—I prefer Sanshiro to Meian,” said Seidensticker. “My favorite is Sanshiro—because it’s open-ended,” said Murakami Haruki. Now, in the fullness of time, both Viglielmo and Nathan recognize Meian as Soseki’s masterpiece, the culmination of his craft. And, if this is true, Meian’s position in the Soseki canon must therefore displace Kokoro—heretofore always the heart of the Soseki canon and Soseki curriculum—and assume its rightful place. Especially buttressed as it is with the cachet and prestige of the new Meian translation by Nathan, a self-identified “Sōseki-ist,” and the impact of the Soseki’s Diversity Conference to bolster it even more.

But of course the new is built on the old. In his Harvard lecture, Nathan calls Viglielmo’s translation too literal, always striving for equivalency. This dismissal might be seen as the ritual slaughtering of the elders to make way for the new—were it not for the fact that Nathan is only thirteen years younger than Viglielmo. Translators must consult with previous editions, if only to confirm that theirs is indeed different.

In his Note on the Translation, Nathan compares his translation with Viglielmo’s “overarticulated” style (referencing only the 1971 translation).

JN’s literal rendering in English:
But his critique could not proceed beyond that point. Dishonoring himself vis-à-vis another person. If ever he should perpetrate such a thing how terrible that would be! This alone lay at the base of his ethical view. On closer inspection one had no choice but to reduce this to scandal. Astonishingly, the bad guy was Kobayashi alone.

VHV:
And yet his assessment of such a hypothetical scene could not go beyond that point. If ever he should lose face in front of others, it would be dreadful. This was all there was at root of all his ethical views. If one tried to express this more simply, one could reduce it to the simple fact that he feared scandal. Therefore the only person in the wrong would be Kobayashi.

JN:
But he was unable to develop his critique beyond this. To disgrace himself in the eyes of others was more than he could contemplate. Saving face was the fundament of his ethics. His only thought was that appearances must be preserved, scandal above all avoided. By that token, the villain of the piece was Kobayashi.

JN explains:
“I am confident that this is what Sōseki intended, but inasmuch as it offers no resistance to interpretation it represents compromise. Not that I always acquiesced to the pressure to domesticate the translation. On the contrary, I labored to preserve in my English the varieties of difficulty in Sōseki’s Japanese.”

In comparison, VHV’s translation indeed does appear overarticulated next to the idiomatic (at times “highly idiomatic”) prose of JN. The work of translation for JN is “creation and creative writing,” as he says (which explains the beautiful prose of his translations of A Personal Matter and The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea). Avoiding overarticulation in translation is difficult, especially when Sōseki’s prose itself at times takes on a distinctive and pointed precision: “Percussing the patient in hopes of stimulating an echo of her genuine feelings” (JN translation). This passage was also quoted by Siever in the Japan Times as an example of Nathan’s translation sometimes “overly stilted.” As JN and others have observed, Sōseki’s narrative in Meian moves between the overarticulated (precise) and the obscure/ambiguous in a chiaroscuro method of contrasting light and dark. The literal translation (if that’s what VHV practices) will always strongly bear the mark of this distinction over the idiomatic rendering.

Something is lost in Nathan’s “updated idiom” into American English; it is like transposing Downton Abbey into American English. Gone is that “mid-Atlantic” accent of Keene, Seidentstick, et al.). To my ears, Soseki’s prose, especially dialogue, always sounds British (his famous two-year stay in London cannot account for this, but his major literary influences—mostly British—could). It was a shame, I felt, to cut the British spelling and Briticisms from VHV’s 1971 Meian translation—but that is exactly what we did. In VHV’s new translation, typos and other errata have been corrected, lacunae filled in, some obscure passages clarified. But it remains a literal translation. It is the sort of literal and “literariness” of Soseki captured by VHV that brings out the “strangeness” of the text, which, for example, is exactly what the newly acclaimed translators of Dostoevsky—Pevear and Volokhonsky—were lauded for: succeeding in reproducing idiosyncrasies of content and style.

Nathan says he wants “to provide the reader in English with an experience equivalent to what the native reader experiences in Japanese.” But that is impossible because there is no monolithic Japanese reader. All he can offer is his idiomatic, beautiful Nathanized prose—without the strangeness. Worse still, the reader in English will find no consummation, no transcendence, no transport, no redemption—because there is none in Sōseki’s novels.

VHV’s new translation is also rendered in American English but retains something of a Jamesian aura. Indeed, Frederick Jameson thought so too on reading the first English translation: “Analyzing translations…can lead one into the comical situation in which it is the translator (in this case V.H. Viglielmo) who one is, in reality, comparing to Henry James, all the while imagining oneself to be thinking about Sōseki.”

Light and Dark is meticulously edited (which can’t be said for many books these day, even those from university presses), the only erratum I noticed right away was Natsume Sōseki Meian no Dabi instead of Natsume Sōseki Meian Dabi no shō (page 18). It must also be pointed out, however, that Tsugiko is not O-Nobu’s “younger neice,” but her cousin (p. 7), and 1916 is not the eve of, but the middle of, WWI. “Latitude” is a clever rendering of yoyū (used consistently through out), an important word for Sōseki, and a school associated with his name, but “Latitude School” for yoyū-ha would sound odd. Referring to Mrs. Yoshikawa as Madam (even without the “e” on the end) is an interesting, if not jarring, Gallicism to introduce amid the Anglo-American vocabulary.

Perhaps the age of Meian is now upon us, thanks to these two new English translations. Also translated into Chinese, Korean, French, and Spanish (less than half the number of foreign language translations of Kokoro--nothing compared to the 44 languages of Murakami translations), Meian in Japanese and in translation can inspire more research and scholarship, conferences and symposia, that is commensurate with its “new” status as Sōseki’s masterpiece and maybe even as “the greatest novel of modern Japan.”

All readers, Japanese literature students and teachers: read both translations. Compare and discuss!

A Synchrony of Two New Translations of Meian

To wrest control of the copyright for Light and Darkness that VHV had surrendered to Peter Owen forty years ago “for a pittance,” WNR decided to help VHV self-publish a new translation (inspired, in part, by Jay Rubin’s retranslation of Sanshirō for Penguin).

March 2011 Light and Darkness: Natsume Sōseki’s Meian. A New Translation By V.H. Viglielmo published (CreateSpace, An Independent Publishing Platform).

April 2011 WNR visits Columbia U Press/Weatherhead booth at AAS conference in Hawaii to propose VHV’s new Meian translation for Weatherhead Books on Asia series.

April 2011 WNR sends complete new Meian translation PDF to DR, Weatherhead

June 2011 DR emails “After a review of your PDF file of Meian, the publications committee at the Institute has decided it’s not the right project for us at this time.”

August 2012 Dreux Richards, Japan Times contributor visits Honolulu, interviews VHV for his life story, one in a series of articles to include Norma Field and Ian Hideo Levy.

Sept 2012 JN gives “Contending with Meian” lecture at International House Japan: “finishing translation of Meian” – first public announcement of JN’s new translation.

April 2013 Discovering that a new translation of Botchan was published in Penguin Classics, WNR contacts Penguin and proposes VHV’s new translation of Meian, Soseki’s true masterpiece, as a Penguin Classics. Senior Editor John Siciliano confirms in email that Meian is not being considered for publishing with Penguin Classics: “It's an interesting suggestion, but I know of another translation forthcoming from a university press, and I can't quite justify saying yes to this one having said no to that one. Thanks again for thinking of Penguin Classics.”

Nov 2013 JN translation Light and Dark published by Weatherhead Books, Columbia University Press.

Jan 2014 Kyoto Journal No. 78, Special: “Translating Soseki’s Last Novel, Meian (Light and Dark)” by Dreux Richards. Instead of Japan Times article exclusively on VHV, Dreux Richards publishes this article on both JN and VHV, on each translator’s life and his translation of Meian. Meian, the life of the book, and the book in the life of the translators.
5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
The Lotus of Truth Grows from the Muck of Daily Life 26 April 2001
By Bob Newman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
No doubt some novels are much more difficult to translate than others, but the problem is usually that the translator must transform the scintillating language of the original into equally attractive language in the translation. Works like "The Master and Margarita" (Bulgakov) or "The Devil to Pay in the Backlands" (Guimaraes Rosa) come to mind. What to do, though, when the original consists of purposely vague and banal conversation for hundreds of pages ? This is the problem faced by translators of LIGHT AND DARKNESS, Natsume Soseki's last work. Soseki's concern with human psychology, the minutiae of daily life, and Buddhist philosophy create a novel that is structurally deep and subtle, but boring in form. Soseki focusses on contradictions in human nature---love vs. self-centeredness, honesty vs. falsity, egoism vs. selflessness, for some examples. His five main characters show varied combinations of positions on these continuums and the novel may have been meant to show their transformation towards more enlightened states. Their progress is slow, almost imperceptible. There is a soap opera-ish quality introduced by the fact that it was serialized in a newspaper in 1916 over 188 days. They engage in endless conversations of extreme mediocrity--the dialogue is nothing if not wooden in English, but I wonder if it could be more exciting in Japanese ? Perhaps it would only seem more natural.
Tsuda goes to the hospital for a minor operation. O-Nobu, his wife, visits him, visits her relatives and gets some extra money which the couple needs because they are rather extravagant. Kobayashi, a poor, unemployed former friend, visits Tsuda and advises him to change his attitudes, vaguely threatens to reveal his (not so colorful) past to O-Nobu. Kobayashi visits O-Nobu too, but nothing happens. Tsuda's sister tries to get him to realize his obligations towards his parents. Mrs. Yoshikawa, the wife of Tsuda's boss and a meddler, tries to get Tsuda to change his ways too, sending him to a hot spring resort where at last he meets Kiyoko, a former love, of pure heart, now married to another man. That is the entire story. The reader must concentrate on attitudes and psychology because action is nearly nil, conversations banal. Soseki's ability to probe each character's psyche, both male and female, is at its brilliant height. We don't learn the conclusion because Soseki died before the novel was finished. While Buddhist philosophy and stories planned on a vast scale may appeal to some, I would have to disagree with the translator's comments in my edition. LIGHT AND DARKNESS is neither the best modern Japanese novel, nor Soseki's masterpiece. It is atypical. I am glad that I read it, but that is more because I wanted to know Soseki's work. Put it down to curiosity if you will. If your taste runs to philosophically complex and extremely insightful literature, you may find this a wonderful novel. It is certainly original. However, even though LIGHT AND DARKNESS is widely praised in Japan, I have to look at it from the point of view of potential readers in other countries. I would not recommend it to people looking for "a good novel" in a standard sense, or for an idea about Japanese literature in general.
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