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Pornographers in Translation

In response to:

Days of Marvelous Lays from the October 10, 1968 issue

To the Editors:

I have no real grounds for quarreling with the main thrust of Mr. Enright’s review of The Pornographers [NYR, October 10] though I’m not much surprised at his lack of appreciation. Judging from his perceptive book, The World of Dew, he was more than a little put off during his brief stay in Japan by the crude side of Japanese life, whether it manifested itself in public urination or the exploitation of women, both of which figure in The Pornographers. Mr. Nozaka would, of course, have preferred a more tough-minded approach to his novel, a critique by a man who would not demand that satire (which according even to our western classical rules must be ruthless) have something upbeat about it and perhaps conclude with the humanistic copout so popular here in the States and even in England, now that Waugh is dead.

But I would like to take up the admittedly secondary matter of Mr. Enright’s unflattering evaluation of my translation. (I’m sure Mr. Nathan is quite capable of defending himself.) I gather that he would have preferred my having Mr. Nozaka’s people talk Anglo-American, an obscure but emerging dialect at present limited to Hollywood and Berkeley Englishmen, long resident in California but far from absorbed. But I chose to have Subuyan and his friends talk very much as their American equivalents would, while avoiding such words as “broad” and “fuzz,” which I felt would call attention to themselves.

Admittedly dialogue poses a problem for a translator. Perhaps my decision was wrong or perhaps it was correct but I failed to achieve what I was trying to do. But at any rate, I find it irritating to be taken to task on this score by an Englishman who: (a) cannot be expected to be at home in lower-middle-class American, and (b) not only does not understand Japanese but is so unaware of the intricacies of the language that he blithely presumes that “low class Osaka slang” would present fewer problems to a translator than standard Japanese, however intricate….

Finally, some of my best friends were and still are Jesuits, but I am no longer one, as even a casual reading of my biographical sketch should have indicated. As for Mr. Enright’s reference to the Pope: since I’m no longer strictly bound to leap to his defense, I’ll let him take care of himself. Besides, I think the reference might well have been laudatory. This isn’t the only place in the review where Mr. Enright’s style displays a certain fuzzy ambiguity. Perhaps it’s something he picked up in Japan.

Michael Gallagher

New York City

P.S. If Mr. Enright is not the Englishman who wrote The World of Dew, I take most of it back and as a condign penance promise to buy a subscription to The New York Review of Books, even if I can’t afford it.

D.J Enright replies:

(1) The novel. The trouble with The Pornographers is that its author confidently expects the reader to laugh at things which are essentially not funny. I hadn’t noticed that the book was satire, ruthless or otherwise. But Mr. Gallagher is right: I do rather expect satire to be satirical about something and for the sake of something. I would love to know more about the “tough-minded approach” to this novel which Mr. Gallagher appears to favor!

(2) The translation (though it is ludicrous to talk about the “language” of this book as if it were a serious work of literature!). I lived in the vicinity of Osaka for three years and am at any rate not unaware that the Japanese language has intricacies. My remarks were plainly tentative. I felt (and still feel) that, in translating a novel with some slight claims to seriousness, Mr. Nathan faced a problem tougher than Mr. Gallagher’s, and that Mr. Gallagher, dealing with simple caricature-like characters, quite rightly chose a simple caricature-like idiom for them (“Gee, boss…”). Mr. Gallagher now states that this is lower-middle-class American. I stand corrected.

(3) Apologies. The biographical note at the back of the proof copy (which is all I have seen) refers to Mr. Gallagher as having been a seminarian in the Jesuit Order in Tokyo and as now being an editor for the Jesuit Writers’ Service in New York City. I apologize to Mr. Gallagher and to anyone else concerned for having wrongly assumed that he was still a Jesuit. My allusion to the Pope was pretty obviously not an attack on His Holiness, but I apologize to him too.

(4) Mr. Gallagher is not required to perform the heavy penance he mentions.

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