From the Archives: Ghosts on the Bridge

By Susan Harris

As a transition between the two parts of our double issue of Japanese writing, you might want to revisit Michael Emmerich’s essay "Beyond Between: Translations, Ghosts, Metaphors," from our May 2009 issue. Michael details the multitude of possible Japanese renderings for the word "translation," demonstrating the subtle differences between gradations of meaning; he notes that the word "translation" implies—requires—the existence of other languages, "points to itself as the bridge, the carrying across that occurs between languages."  Yet the word is "haunted by all the concepts it might translate, the words with which it may be translated." In response, Michael argues for a shift in metaphors, from the bridge to the ghost:

Rather than imagine the translator as someone who stands between languages, cultures, and nations, we would do better to cultivate an image of him as a ghost who haunts languages, cultures, and nations, existing in two worlds at once but belonging fully to neither. The translator, as a ghost, is neither wholly domestic nor wholly foreign, because he is simultaneously both foreign and domestic; he is neither entirely visible nor entirely invisible to those who stand in one world or the other, even in the finished form of his product, because he is in their world but not of it.

It’s a fine complement to the surreal work Michael selected for July, and an illuminating perspective from which to view both the current issue and the more realistic pieces coming up next month.


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