About Murakami, The Beatles, and translation

I am not a big fan of Murakami nor The Beatles, but I found both to be extremely useful for my English-Japanese translation class. They are catchy, they are sexy, they are easy-to-grasp.

Murakami is quite an odd case, as Japanese university students usually feel unrelated to him, despite being strongly defended by contemporary critics (a way to oppose old, rancid, and nationalistic academia, I suppose). But when those same students read his work in English, things change completely. They feel they are reading someone different, some Other, but one who knows them very well. This is what translation does or should do: transform completely our experience of literature, alter the flows of sender-message-receiver, deform our concepts of self-and-other. Here is the short story I use with my Kyoritsu University students, though most would work. After all, Murakami’s characters are all so immature that any young uni-student would feel compelled by them.

For those of you who don’t know, The New Yorker has a vast collection of Murakami’s stories in English translation available to all readers: https://www.newyorker.com/contributors/haruki-murakami

In regards to The Beatles, Japanese university students know them only as 古曲 (kokyoku, old music). A few might have sung a song at karaoke, but that’s about it. And yet, when they read about them in a Murakami story, they feel convoked. This is because the Other-that-is-themselves is bringing some new information to them, but precisely the information that turned him into a half-Japanese, half-international-man. It was The Beatles and not Genji Monogatari that made Murakami the author that he is now; they are his greatest source of inspiration, the mantle with which he covered Japan (and NOT the other way round). For my students, a much-loved song is Help! But if you wanna give it a try, «My independence seems to vanish in the haze», is quite a hard verse for them. Ganbattte!

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