The feasibility of an English-language commentary on Genji monogatari
Paper short abstract:
This paper will discuss the possibility of producing a detailed Genji commentary in English, from the choice of headings to focus, level of detail, intended readership, and method of distribution. Examples will be taken from a single chapter in the tale.
Paper long abstract:
A new English translation of Genji monogatari was published by Dennis Washburn in the summer of 2015. In his introduction, Washburn explains that he added explanations wherever necessary, either as footnotes or in the body of the text itself. In fact, however, such information tends to be incorporated in the text rather than in footnotes. This not only makes the translation less smooth to read at times, but also blurs the important distinction between translation and explanation/analysis. With a text like Genji monogatari, there is a physical limit to how much information can be included on the same page. Recent translations of shorter classical Japanese works have featured facing-page commentaries, but this would be impractical for a text of this length. Therefore, a separate commentary may be the answer. This paper will discuss the possibility of a detailed Genji commentary in English, like those that have existed for years for the Bible and European classics. To begin with, one needs to decide the choice of headings to be discussed: what words, names, ideas, customs, or literary features, for example. Like earlier English-language translators, Royall Tyler struggled with the problem of what items to gloss and at what length. Certain entries had to be omitted during the final editing process. This paper will begin by looking at cases like this from Tyler's early drafts. It will then consider the larger questions to be faced when embarking on the proposed commentary. Should the commentary focus on contemporary readings of Genji or should it be broader in scope, encompassing important ideas from the long history of Genji-gaku? How much detail should entries include? What sort of readers should it aim for? How should the commentary be made available? This paper will focus on a single chapter of Genji monogatari, illustrating the potential value of such a commentary.
Making literary classics accessible to a wider audience