[KS] Comedy in Translation--"claimed he was actually 150. The Japanese all gaped at him..:)."

Kye C Kim kc.kim2 at gmail.com
Fri Mar 4 02:23:15 EST 2011

Death and Comedy

This post/query is not strictly about comedy in translation.

I recently ran across an interview with Prof. Jay Rubin on translating
Haruki Murakami in Asahi Shimbun and found myself wondering about
comedy in translation  and comedy in East Asia in general.

Here is the link to the article:
  Translator sees U.S. influence in Murakami's humor and writing style

The popularity of Murakami's works in translations across the globe
and the vocal appreciation of "Murakami humor" by his readers clearly
suggests, if not demonstrate, that humor can come out funny even
through a translation, all in all a very good news, I think, for those of us
happy to find a laugh and a light moment of smile.

I found "I am 150" absolutely hilarious, in English,and apparently so
did the Japanese, of course, here referring to Prof. Ledyards
"Court Jester" post.  This is surely one of the earliest recorded comedy
in translation from Korean to Japanese.

On the darker side, I found that Prof. Indra Levy of Stanford U had already
given a presentation on death and comedy and translation during one of
the Japanese session of the 2009 AAA Annual Meeting.
The link is here
but as it covers all the other other sessions I will just note the details of
her discussion.
 Comedy in Translation
 Indra Levy, Stanford University
    Comedy is the first thing to get lost in translation, a rule
apparently writ large by Meiji literary history. This age of
translation sounded the death knell for
    the comic traditions of popular Edo fiction, leaving a gap that
few translators felt compelled or equipped to fill in. Tsubouchi Shoyo
explained the dearth
    of Meiji comic fiction as the inevitable product of prodigious
study, the very impetus for translation itself. And yet, the central
trope of translation—as a
    literary activity both driven and haunted by the incongruities
between languages—had much to offer as a new source of laughter.
Indeed, this trope was
    consciously exploited by Honma Kushiro in the preface to his 1907
translation of Mark Twain’s “Adam’s Diary,” arguably the first example
of a Japanese
    translation that successfully conveys the humor of an English
literary text. Interestingly, Honma was directly inspired by a public
debate between two
    prominent translators—Hara Hoitsuan and Yamagata Isoo—over the
comic nature of Twain’s “The Killing of Julius Caesar,” an incident
that precipitated
    Hara’s premature death the following year. Using Honma’s text and
the Hara-Yamagata debate as points of departure, this paper will
explore what was at
    stake in the implicit relationship between translation and
laughter. When, and in what contexts, did the act of translation
generate laughter in the Meiji
    period? And how did Honma manage to harness that potentially
derisive laughter for the purposes of self-conscious parody?

Of note is the observation "Tsubouchi Shoyo explained the dearth of
Meiji comic fiction as the inevitable product of prodigious study."

Perhaps humor is the least of virtues in times of war, famine, and
anguish, though it probably helps precisely in such times.

I write this after some thoughts over on encountering unexpected comedy
in what would be only an occasion for sadness and tears like funerals
in Korea.

Might some list members comment on
1. Native tradition of humor/comedy/satire in Korea, Japan, China
    in both pre-modern and modern times.
2. Interactions and influences of various traditions of humor/comic
   sensibilities, say of English/American writers on Korea, Japan,
   China, and indeed mutual influence amongst East Asian comic
   sensibilities, both in writing and film.
3. Current state of translatability of comic/humorous sentiments
    between Korean, Chinese, Japanese, English, etc, per personal
4.  I am still looking for a copy of a collection of Chinese Humor,
    which ,if my memory serves me right, was. wickedly funny and
    a source of great comfort and pleasure after a grueling day of


Joobai Lee

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