𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 A literary version of the Sony Walkman and the Honda Civic

Murakami’s pronouncements matter because he’s Murakami, “one of the world’s foremost novelists,” as AFP put it. But if this is why the English language press latched onto Murakami’s comments while overlooking Levy’s interview, then we’ve arrived at the sad intersection of literary authorship and Oprah-ism, wherein the media’s limited attention span necessitates the selection of a single, self-perpetuating fame figure for whom publicly-disseminated thoughtfulness is reserved.

Credit The New Yorker and other well-moneyed American publishing interests. Murakami – as English readers (including the Swedish Academy) know him – is their fabrication. Translator Stephen Snyder’s work traces the shaping of Murakami’s brand by Robert Gottlieb and examines how Gottlieb’s successor, Deborah Treisman, has fixated on conjuring “the next Murakami.” To the credulous, this is an effort to keep Japanese literature in The New Yorker’s tent; to the observant, it’s an attempt to construct an exotic, saleable façade for American fiction’s tired idioms (the lack of a viable American Nobel candidate is an exhausted topic). As Snyder has noted, Murakami’s American investors set out to turn him into a “literary version of the Sony Walkman and the Honda Civic.”

This would be fine if it resulted in the publication of more Japanese literature. But Gottlieb and Treisman haven’t given us Japanese literature. They have given us Treisman and Gottlieb. Their fingerprints are omnipresent in the New Yorker versions. Alterations are not necessarily wrongful; both previous Nobel laureates from Japan were rendered by activist translators (Edward Seidensticker and John Nathan). But Nathan translated Oe with autonomy and was published by the insurgent Barney Rosset. Now comes the age of pander, where authors provide the raw cultural and biographical materials necessary to make the publishing industry’s pet aesthetics marketable. Treisman – who “made” Yoko Ogawa – withdrew The New Yorker’s interest in one of Ogawa’s stories after the author declined to rewrite the ending.

— Dreux Richard in Japan Today

2012

𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 Wet-thighed

In the yellow time of pollen, in the blue time of lilacs,

in the green that would balance on the wide green world,

air filled with flux, world-in-a-belly

in the blue lilac weather, she had written a letter:

You came into my life really fast and I liked it.

 

When we let go the basket of the good-luck birds

the sky erupted open in the hail of its libation;

there was a gap and we entered it gladly. Indeed the birds

may have broken the sky and we, soaked, squelched

in the mud of our joy, braided with wet-thighed surrender.

 

In the yellow time of pollen near the blue time of lilacs

there was a gap in things. And here we are.

The sparrows flew away so fast a camera could not catch them.

The monkey swung between our arms and said I am, hooray,

the monkey of all events, the great gibbon of convergences.

 

— from “Totem Poem” by Luke Davies

𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 Leaving

I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates—

A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.

 

God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar—

All the archangels—their wings frozen—fell tonight.

 

Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken;

Only we can convert the infidel tonight.

 

Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities

multiply me at once under your spell tonight.

 

He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.

He’s left open—for God—the doors of Hell tonight.

 

— from “Tonight” by Agha Shahid Ali

 

2003

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