Earlier this year I read Tokyo from Edo to Showa 1867-1989 by Edward Seidensnicker and enjoyed it immensely. Thus recently, I decided to read translator Seidensticker's memoirs, Genji Days (1977) of translating Murasaki Shibiku's timeless masterpiece, Tale of Genji, along with Sedensticker's translation as one of my summer projects. Of course this memoir is more than just an account of Seidensticker's struggles with translating the famous novel. In the past I have read translations of his by such esteemed writers as Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima and Junichiro Tanizaki. Throughout the journal entries he often refers to these writers as well, especially Kawabata and Mishima since both of the m committed suicide during the writing of these journal entries that comprise the memoir, which take place largely form 1970-1974. He reveals that earlier in 1968, Mishima had essentially told Seidsticker that he was planning on killing himself, but Seidensticker was caught off guard by Kawabata's suicide that followed world recognition after winning the Nobel Prize and to which he attributes fatigue and inability to sleep as the most likely reasons for his suicide. Seidensticker makes observations about the volatile politics that were taking place in the US and on his campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. For example, he goes out of his way to see Huey Newton's speech at the campus. In another section, he discusses the ramifications of terrorist acts taken by young Japanese radicals in Tel Aviv. More often than not he is not impressed with the rhetoric and almost finds himself in opposition to the youth politics of the day, which he often sees as frivolous and not particularly deeply considered. There are more prosaic aspects such as his discussions of trips to the market, buying flowers, stop overs in Hawaii, visiting sex shops, and recording dreams. However, throughout the memoirs Seidensticker makes interesting observations about literature, Murasaki, Arthur Waley's influential translation, and The Tale of Genji. For example,he compares the essential loneliness of the American archetypal hero with that of the Japanese hero by saying:
In the one case it is because society has not yet come into being, in the other because an old tradition and old conventions still weigh heavily. In the one case geography keeps people apart, in the other the pigeonholes into which people are thrust by tradition.
He sees Murasaki as a pessimist due to the views on the decline of Buddhism and decay of court aristocracy, but an optimist in view of human nature, in that people strive to be good. Furthermore, he states that she is more concerned to crystallize the moment in the flow of nature, and make it be still. In regards to his translation, says that he will refrain from "improving" upon Murasaki, but feels that it shouldn't be hard to improve on Waley in the directions of quietness and unobtrusiveness. I found these memoirs though provoking and an enlightening look into the past and into the mind of a talented translator.