Category Archives: Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin vs. the Shock of the New

The Oregonian recently profiled Ursula K. Le Guin, who at 80 is still writing (albeit more poetry than fiction) and has taken on a prominent role in protesting the Google book settlement. Her age keeps her from teaching like she used to, but she adds that her health isn’t the only thing that holds her back from leading a classroom:

“[T]here is also that gap between the young student and the old teacher, which all teachers, if they’re honest, worry about,” she says. “The language has begun to change, literally. You may be going along saying things that are perfectly clear to you and they don’t know what you’re saying, and vice versa.”

Given her concern about copyright, stories like “The Free-Appropriation Artist” in the New York Times may justify her wariness; she’s concerned about the sanctity of the author at a time when more attention is drawn toward people who are actively trying to undo it. The Times story revisits the much-discussed recent cases of German novelist Helene Hegemann and novelist-essayist David Shields, both of whom are getting attention for testing the boundaries of fair use and freely borrowing from other texts. Shields’ book, Reality Hunger, lobbies hard for a literary culture that does more heavy borrowing and mash-ups, and I’m a little skeptical about how pioneering or promising that idea is. (Though to be fair, Shields isn’t arguing he’s doing something brand-new—just that writers ought to be doing a lot more experimenting in this space then they have.)

Le Guin has reasons to resist; in recent years she’s expressed disappointment that she didn’t get enough credit as an influence on the Harry Potter series. But she may not be as far removed from the new enthusiasm for heavy borrowing as her complaints about J.K. Rowling suggest. In a 1982 interview with the Missouri Review, she discussed her 1971 novel The Lathe of Heaven in the context of how science fiction thrives on such mixing and matching:

You could almost call it, “Homage a Dick.” I was openly, I trust, acknowledging the influence. My approach was like saying, “This is one great way to write a novel, invented by Philip K. Dick.” That’s one thing about science fiction: writers in the genres are less uptight about imitation and emulation than “mainstream” people. Writing should really be more like music, with its healthy spirit of borrowing—as in the period of Bach, as in all healthy artistic periods. Everybody borrowing from each others’ tunes and ideas like crazy and nobody worrying. There’s plenty of music to go around.

But that quote is easily accessible on Google Books, so perhaps Le Guin might have a problem with it?

Genuinely Good and Genuinely Political

Writing at Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell, an associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, asks if there are any “genuinely good, genuinely political novels” available. He sets the baseline for a genuinely bad political novel by mentioning Ralph Nader‘s new book, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!. But lacking any strict definitions of what “good” and “political” mean, the commenters were free to run rampant. And so they have—as I write this, there are 202 comments.

I’m responsible for one of them comments, pitching Ward Just, though I’m pretty sure he’s not the writer Farrell is looking for. Just is a keen observer of political personalities and of what public service does to a person’s (OK, a man’s) sense of ethics, but I haven’t read anything he’s written that forwarded a political argument. That’s a difficult, if not impossible thing to do in a way that isn’t awkward: Caleb Crain quotes Stendahl in the New York Review of Books as saying, “politics in a work of literature is like a gunshot in the middle of a concert, a crude thing and yet it’s impossible to withhold one’s attention.” Crain breaks out the quote in the context of his review of Daniyal Mueenuddin‘s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. The short-story collection isn’t overtly political when it comes to its setting, Pakistan, but does suggest that the wealthiest classes there have grown only more hubristic as time goes by. Is that still a political work?

Two-hundred-odd comments aren’t going to resolve the matter, but the discussion did take an interesting turn into whether science fiction is the best available source in fiction for political ideas, for better or for worse. The author who seems to come up most often on that front is Ursula K. Le Guin, who apparently wouldn’t disagree with the commenters’ claims about her work. As she told an interviewer last year:

The world is so weird that (as the Magical Realists showed us) the only way to describe it is by accepting its weirdness – we begin to understand it by accepting the fact that we can’t understand it. … And fantasy and sf are good tools, the best tools, for getting perspective on the big social and political stuff (think of Orwell’s “Animal Farm”), and for figuring out what might be changed in our society – for better or worse – and what change might involve (think of “The Handmaid’s Tale”).

In any event, the thread is worth a look, especially given that it appears to still be going strong after three days.

Toward a Complete Guide to Haruki Murakami’s Translations of American Writers Into Japanese

Last May I blogged about Haruki Murakami‘s translations of major works by American authors, including The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, and more. At the time I idly speculated about the depth of Murakami’s translation efforts. Today I received a little more clarity. The list below comes courtesy of Naoko Mayuzumi (aka Miss Brolly), based on the Japanese Wikipedia entry for Murakami and her own research.

I’m deeply grateful for the time she took to assemble this; it’s a fascinating list. I’m not surprised that there’s so much Raymond Carver in here, nor is it shocking to see the early-’80s Sudden Fiction collection—both contain plenty of exemplars of the minimalist style that Murakami made his own. But it’s interesting to see a little John Irving thrown in there, and a whole lot of Chris Van Allsburg and Ursula K. Le Guin. I’ve tweaked some of the formatting here, but everything else, including links, comes direct from Mayuzumi.

List of American Books and Essays Translated (from English to Japanese) by Haruki Murakami

Note: The month and year in parentheses indicates the time when the Japanese translation was published in Japan.

By author:

C. D. Bryan:

The Great Dethriffe (published by Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd. in November 1987)

Truman Capote:

I Remember Grandpa (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in March 1988)

One Christmas (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in December 1989)

A Christmas Memory (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in November 1990)

Children on Their Birthdays (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in June 2002)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (published by Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd. in February 2008)

Raymond Carver:

Where I’m Calling From (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in July 1983; includes “Why Don’t You Dance?,” “Tell the Women We’re Going,” “Cathedral,” “Sacks,” “Are You a Doctor?,” “Where I’m Calling From,” “So Much Water So Close to Home,” and “Everything Stuck to Him”)

At Night the Salmon Move (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in July 1985; includes “Feathers,” “The Pheasant,” “Vitamins,” “Put Yourself in My Shoes,” “Jerry and Molly and Sam,” “My Father’s Life,” “At Night the Salmon Move,” “For Semra, with Martial Vigor,” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is”)

A Small, Good Thing (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in April 1989; includes “They Are Not Your Husband,” “Neighbors,” “Bicycles, Muscles, Cigarettes,” “I Could See the Smallest Things,” “Popular Mechanics,” “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” “A Small, Good Thing,” “The Bridle,” “Boxes,” “Whoever Was Using This Bed,” “Menudo,” and “Elephant”)

Carver Country: The World of Raymond Carver (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in October 1994)

Carver’s Dozen (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in December 1994; collected and translated by Haruki Murakami; includes 10 stories ["Fat," "Nobody Said Anything," "Are You a Doctor?," "Collectors," "So Much Water So Close to Home," "Why Don't You Dance?," "Cathedral", "Where I'm Calling From", "A Small, Good Thing," and "Errand"], 1 essay ["My Father's Life"], and 2 poems ["Lemonade" and "Late Fragment"])

The Complete Works of Raymond Carver (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc./Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc.)
* Volume 1: “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” (February 1991)
* Volume 2: “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” (August 1990)
* Volume 3: “Cathedral” (May 1990)
* Volume 4: “Fires: Essays, Poems, Stories” (September 1992)
* Volume 5: “Where Water Comes Together With Other Water / Ultramarine” (September 1997)
* Volume 6: “Elephant / A New Path to the Waterfall” (March 1994)
* Volume 7: “No Heroics, Please” (July 2002)
* Volume 8: “Call if You Need Me” (July 2004)

Raymond Chandler:

The Long Goodbye (published by Hayakawa Publishing Corporation in March 2007)

Bill Crow:

From Birdland to Broadway (published by Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd. in January 1996)

Jazz Anecdotes (published by Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd. in July 2000)

Terry Farish:

The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup (published by Kodansha Ltd. in November 2005)

F. Scott Fitzgerald:

My Lost City: Personal Essays (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in May 1981)

The Scott Fitzgerald Book (published by TBS-Britannica Co., Ltd. in March 1988; a book by Haruki Murakami about Scott Fitzgerald, but it includes his translations of Fitzgerald’s two essays, “On Your Own” and “The Rich Boy”)

Babylon Revisited (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in April 1996)

The Great Gatsby (published by Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc. in November 2006)

Jim Fusilli:

The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (published by Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd. in February 2008)

Mikal Gilmore:

Shot in the Heart (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in October 1996)

Mark Helprin:

Swan Lake (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in December 1991)

John Irving:

Setting Free the Bears (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in May 1986)

Ursula K. Le Guin:

Catwings (published by Kodansha Ltd. in March 1993)

Catwings Return (published by Kodansha Ltd. in December 1993)

Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings (published by Kodansha Ltd. in June 1997)

Jane on her Own (published by Kodansha Ltd. in September 2001)

Tim O’Brien:

The Nuclear Age (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in October 1989)

The Things They Carried (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in October 1990)

July, July (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in March 2004)

Grace Paley:

Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in May 1999)

The Little Disturbances of Man (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in June 2005)

J. D. Salinger:

The Catcher in the Rye (published by Hakusuisha Publishing Co., Ltd. in April 2003)

Mark Strand:

Mr. and Mrs. Baby and Other Stories (published by Chuokoron-sha, Inc. in October 1998)

Paul Theroux:

World’s End and Other Stories (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in July 1987)

Chris Van Allsburg:

The Wreck of the Zephyr (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in October 1985)

The Polar Express (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in December 1987)

The Stranger (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in August 1989)

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in November 1990)

The Widow’s Broom (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in June 1993)

The Sweetest Fig (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in September 1994)

Ben’s Dream (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in April 1996)

The Wretched Stone (published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha in November 2003)

Two Bad Ants (published by Asunaro Shobo in September 2004)

The Garden of Abdul Gasazi (published by Asunaro Shobo in September 2005)


Collections:

Watashitachi No Rinjin, Raymond Carver (Published by Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc. in March 2009; the title translates to “Our Neighbor, Raymond Carver.” Murakami collected these essays about Carver by nine writers/editors who personally knew him from Remembering Ray: A Composite Biography of Raymond Carver [except “Ridin' With Ray and the Old Game” by Jon A. Jackson and “Raymond Carver” by Michiko Miyamoto] and translated them [except Miyamoto's essay which was written in Japanese originally]):

* “Raymond Carver: A Still, Small Voice” by Jay McInerney
* “Raymond Carver Had His Cake and Ate It Too” by Tobias Wolff
* “All-American Nightmares” by Marcus Morton
* “The Days with Ray” by James D. Houston
* “Ridin’ With Ray” by Jon A. Jackson
* “What We Talk About When We Talk About Carver” by David Carpenter
* “Raymond Carver” by Michiko Miyamoto
* “Hope This Finds You Well and All” by Gary Fisketjon
* “Bulletproof” by William Kittredge

And Other Stories―Totteoki No America Shosetsu 12 Hen (published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in September 1988; the title translates to “And Other Stories―12 Treasured American Short Stories.” Five Japanese translators brought their favorite American stories and translated them for this collection.) Murakami translated the following stories:

* “The Moccasin Telegraph” by W. P. Kinsella
* “Thirty-Four Seasons of Winter” by William Kittredge
* “What’s Your Story” by Ronald Sukenick
* “Samuel” by Grace Paley
* “Living” by Grace Paley

Getsuyobi Wa Saiakuda-to Minna Wa Iu Keredo (Published by Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc. in May 2000; the title translates to “They Call It Stormy Monday.” American short stories and essays collected and translated by Murakami):

* “The Carver Chronicles” by D. T. Max
* “Good Raymond” by Richard Ford
* “The Vietnam In Me” by Tim O’Brien
* “Nogales” by Tim O’Brien
* “Loon Point” by Tim O’Brien
* “John Irving’s (Revised) World” by John Paul Newport
* “I Am A…Genius!” by Thom Jones
* “Secret Agent” by Denis Johnson

Birthday Stories: Selected and Introduced by Haruki Murakami (I think this American edition just contains the original stories in English. The Japanese edition of this book, published by Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc. in December 2002, contains translations of these American stories by Murakami.)

Murakami Haruki HybLit (published by ALC Inc. in November 2008; a bilingual book containing three stories, selected by Murakami, in English and Japanese: “On the Rainy River” by Tim O’Brien [Japanese translation by Murakami], “A Small, Good Thing” by Raymond Carver [Japanese translation by Murakami], and “Lederhosen” by Haruki Murakami [English translation by Alfred Birnbaum]; “HybLit” in the title is the compound of “hybrid” and “literature”)

Sudden Fiction is translated into Japanese by two translators (Haruki Murakami and Takayoshi Ogawa) and published by Bungeishunju Ltd. in January 1994. The following stories are translated by Murakami:

* “A Sudden Story” by Robert Coover
* “Mother” by Grace Paley
* “The King of Jazz” by Donald Barthelme
* “Reunion” by John Cheever
* “Twirler” by Jane Martin
* “Five Ives” by Roy Blount Jr.
* “Song on Royal Street” by Richard Blessing
* “The Merry Chase” by Gordon Lish
* “Popular Mechanics” Raymond Carver
* “Turning” by Lynda Sexson
* “Say Yes” by Tobias Wolff
* “The Hit Man” by T. Coraghessan Boyle
* “A Questionnaire for Rudolph Gordon” by Jack Matthews
* “I See You Never” by Ray Bradbury
* “The Bank Robbery” by Steven Schutzman
* “Tent Worms” by Tennessee Williams
* “Sitting” by H. E. Francis
* “Dog Life” by Mark Strand
* “The Hatchet Man in the Lighthouse” by William Peden
* “Happy” by Joyce Carol Oates
* “The Anatomy of Desire” by John L’Heureux
* “Class Notes” by Lucas Cooper
* “The Neighbor” by Russell Banks
* “Reading the Paper” by Ron Carlson
* “Speed of Light” by Pat Rushin
* “Gerald’s Song” by Philip F. O’Connor
* “Blind Girls” by Jayne Anne Philips
* “The Signing” by Stephen Dixon
* “The Quail” by Rolf Yngve
* “The Artichoke” by Marilyn Krysl