April 15, 2024/ 12:00 PM

Royce Hall 314

Return from the Land of the Dead: Listening to the Untranslatable Voices from Fukushima

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Isomae, based on his first-hand experiences in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, employs Jacques Lacan’s concept of “mysterious Others” to tackle the problem of the abyss of untranslatability. Translation, according to him, is a process through which the translator subject forms subjectivity. He argues that the translator is defined by the gazes of mysterious Others, and only by returning to these gazes does the translator acquire their subjectivity. Consequently, paying genuine attention to the voiceless voices of the dead and translating their messages into the present social contexts is of utmost importance. It is crucial not because those scenes and screams will otherwise become mere fragments of memory sunk deep into the depths of the past but importantly, they hold the key to bringing solace and hope to the world of the survivors. The dead cannot express themselves and need the help of the living to pass on their message. For the living, given their grief and sorrow over the death of their family members, the shared gaze of those who care about the bereaved is necessary. Isomae likens the role of the subject translator – like a scholar working in disaster-affected areas- to the Buddhist priest appearing in Noh plays in supporting roles, who listens to the ghost’s voiceless voice and translates them into comprehensible idiom for the audience.

Jun’ichi Isomae is Professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto. He specializes in Religious Studies and Critical Theory in terms of postcolonial studies. His books include Japanese Mythology: Hermeneutics on Scripture (Routledge 2010) and Religious Discourse in Modern Japan: Religion, State, and Shintō (Brill 2014): Listening to the Voices of the Dead (Michigan University Press, coming soon).

Sponsor(s): Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies