starlady: A typewriter.  (tool of the trade)
Best thing about learning languages for [personal profile] yifu 

It's sort of ironic to ask me this question, because I got into languages to read books and learn history. Sure, I did a bit of Spanish and French in elementary and middle school, but until my sophomore year of college I hadn't done a modern language since then. For me, talking to other people is a side benefit rather than the main draw, partly because I am very much an INTJ and I don't particularly like talking to people as such. I mean, I do talk to people, and I'm good at it, enough that some people now express doubt that I'm not an extrovert. This is a testament to my learned social skills, not to my inherent personality tendencies. But the awkwardness comes back double in other languages in many social situations (partly because it's only in Japanese that I can come even close to my capacity for expressing my thoughts in English), and even more than that, as I quickly realized, the tedious thing about learning modern languages is that they make you talk to other people as part of the process of learning them. And, at least in U.S. colleges, do skits. Fucking skits. I am not a natural thespian; the only ones I ever did that I liked were the ones where they let us do a video in advance. With Latin, Greek, and classical Chinese and Japanese we just sat down and learned shit, and that part was what was the most fun for me even in learning Mandarin and Japanese.

Now that I know both of them okay-ish (Japanese much better than Mandarin, to be clear) reading things is still definitely the best part, but I like being able to get around in other countries and not be clueless too (I am that person who refuses to ask for directions. If you travel with me half the time if we need directions I will make you do the asking). I mean, none of this should be surprising--I'm a historian by vocation, and what do historians do? Sit and read shit. What do we not do? Talk to people, because our sources are all dead (note: not a coincidence, as they can't talk back that way). Ironically, when I started learning Japanese I didn't actually like manga, but I discovered CLAMP in my junior year of college and the rest, as they say, is history. I guess that's the other best thing about learning languages; it's a hell of an excuse to travel to other places, and I've had a pretty good run with that in particular. What really interests me in history is all the ways that previous societies were different, even our own, and to some extent, travel provides some of the same interest. Plus I like food, and so the exposure to other cultures and cuisines is something I've definitely appreciated about language learning. The ways different languages conceptualize the same things--or not the same things--is also one of the things I've enjoyed about learning multiple languages, for the same reason.

I'm proud to be bilingual (and trilingual), to the extent that I am, and that I am good at languages (and I am quite good), though of course all of that is down as much to the luck of genetics and the privilege of my background as anything else. But I'm also at the point where my brain isn't as limber as it was in the misty days of my youth, and I'm realizing that I need to self-learn French to at least be able to fake a simple conversation in the next ten months or so, which at the moment definitely seems a bit on the daunting side, even though French is actually quite easy. It'll be fine once I get down to it. Just at the moment, though, I wish I'd kept up with French in middle school.
starlady: (tomoyo magic hope)
Well, my class in classical Japanese ended on Friday, and I have to say, it was both pretty awesome and a fantastic use of six weeks: I went from zero knowledge to reading Genji monogatari in the original in just that amount of time, which is lightning fast. Apparently this amount of training would normally take two semesters at the college level--and as a bonus, we learned first principles for kuzushiji and hentaigana (pre-modernization handwritten forms), which is normally a whole other class in itself as well.

And in the end, my classmates and our professor and I had a pretty good time together; we were an odd group, but we were a group, particularly after we went drinking with some professors at Kandai as a group (long story) two weeks ago. I already miss them, though I don't miss getting up at 07:00 to get down to Doshisha on time.

Scattered notes: 

# I really love classical Japanese. It gets something of a bad rep for being vague, but it's certainly no vaguer than, say, classical Latin, though I do find it interesting that between the three classical languages I know (classical Japanese, Latin, ancient Greek), they all have slightly different strengths and weaknesses. To wit, Greek has a deserved reputation as being both horribly subtle and exacting (case in point: the middle voice, the dual, the optative mood) (there's a reason that the greatest works of ancient European philosophy were written in Greek), while Latin was initially better suited for precision than it was for poetry (viz. the future perfect), and classical Japanese is…somewhere in the middle relatively speaking but on a different axis, I think. All the verbal prefixes/infixes/suffixes (there aren't really any actual infixes, but they can all be strung together for so long that some combinations start feeling like infixes after a while) and resulting piled-on associations and connotations give the prose a supple strength that's wonderful to read and wickedly difficult to translate.

# As previously mentioned, Kaguya-hime of Taketori monogatari is a complete bad-ass until she's brainwashed by her ostensible kinsmen, the moon-people, into being as affectless as they are. Three words: science fiction retelling.

# The Heike monogatari is hard-core. The death of Atsumori is also one of the slashiest pieces of literature I have read in a long time, right down to mutual crying before death (on a beach no less), and I was not the only one who picked up on this. Also, Taira no Kiyomori was a total bad-ass. Evil, but a bad-ass. It was constantly disconcerting to be reminded of The Iliad when reading an oral epic from in medieval Japan, eight hundred years ago: the events of the Iliad are roughly three thousand years old.

# The Genji monogatari is still amazing. We read most of the Aoi chapter, and I have to say…wow. I've read Genji in English, in the Tyler translation, which I would still recommend to people who want to read Genji, which everyone should because it's amazing, amazingly socially calibrated and psychologically real--kind of like Proust crossed with Austen crossed with James, except a thousand years ago in Heian-kyo, and it's also, despite the title, I think, a deeply--feminist is not the right word, but the female characters are very much the center of the novel, and one does catch hints of the author slipping in some very subtle criticisms of her society, or at least, of male behavior in her society--not so much in text but at the level of plot and device, but it's definitely there. 

Unfortunately, I don't think any of the English translations (and the Tyler is far and away the single best version) are quite clued in to this aspect. The Aoi chapter (spoilers: she dies) is concerned, despite the name, principally with the Rokujô lady, whose liaison with Genji exacerbates her precarious social position and, it's clear, her own incipient mental instability. The creeping horror of Rokujô realizing that she can't even trust her own mind (in the full sense of the word, heart/mind, kokoro), that she is the spirit possessing Aoi, after pages and pages of obsessive rumination over the same confined psychological and emotional territory--it's a horror story, plain and simple, and Virginia Woolf, I think, would have recognized it. And this doesn't even add in the bodily horror of what happens to Aoi (it's very Rosemary's Baby, actually), who falls pregnant and says nothing directly after that and during her pregnancy is spirit-ridden, not just by Rokujô but by many random spirits who show up to use her as a mouthpiece for their grievances, and perpetually ill. A formerly spirited woman is reduced to a wreck of herself, so much that you can't tell whether she's alive or dead by looking at her; in their last interview, typically, Genji blathers on at her while she lies there semi-catatonic. It is a horror story, but Tyler's prose is too polished and urbane to do much more than barely hint at this. 

# For reasons still not clear to me, our class decided that what the world needs is a Genji/Lord of the Rings fusion. I'm not going to disagree.

# Given that Genji is canonically called Shining Genji, and in light of his creepy creeper behavior, I'm having a really hard time not thinking of him as Sparklepire.

# Also, on some levels, the narrator of Genji is the Gossip Girl of her world. I kind of love that, actually. (Note: narrator ≠ author, though they obviously share somewhat similar social backgrounds.)
starlady: (moon dream)
Blue light special: haiku!

In the dead of night
Geese fly under the full moon
Will my soul fly too?

真夜中満月下鵞鳥が飛ぶ
我もか。

I think I'm flubbing by counting 満 as one syllable. Whatever. I'm just pleased I was able to think of a translation.

I've been having a lot of weird dreams lately--usually when I go back to sleep in the morning, for obvious reasons. Today I dreamed that I came home and the house had been vandalized. Yesterday I had another "speeding through steampunk town in Minnesota" dream, this time with the twist that I got pulled over for speeding. Bleh.

I thought yesterday, for the first time in forever. of the subplot in The Magician's Nephew--Diggory's desire to save his mother's life, which of course he eventually does with the apples from the tree in the garden. As I left this morning I thought that my mother resembled my grandmother in her last few weeks; not a comforting comparison.

I went to the Minute Clinic at a nearby CVS and my suspicions were confirmed--I do indeed have sinusitis. *headdesk* I thought that I might have finally broken the cycle of annual sinus infections, but no. Better luck next year? The visit was $59, but I got antibiotics for absolutely free at ShopRite. Score! Who says providence doesn't watch out for children and fools?

I also finished Roberto Bolaño's 2666 on Saturday night. It's a huge, sprawling book, Bolaño's masterpiece--not a coincidence, I think, that it's posthumous--and I can't recommend it highly enough. Bolaño was obsessed with fascism, so I wasn't surprised that the novel's mainly absent hero, Archimboldi, has an encounter with an imprisoned Nazi in a POW camp; I also thought that the real climax of the work, in a strange way, was when Archimboldi adopted his nom de plume; it was all downhill from there. I'm glad, too, that the author's heirs decided to go against his wishes and publish it all in one volume, since I think its unities obviously outweigh its fragmentations: it's a book about critics, writers, serial murder victims, Nazis, professors, journalists, unified throughout by strange, subtle deepwater currents, not least of which is the author's manifest sympathy for all the members of humanity (particularly the outcasts) who grace its pages, except of course for the national socialists.
starlady: (Blaze)
I saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix yesterday with Spike and I really liked it. I thought it was a great movie, and I thought what it managed to hack out of that long 5th book is actually probably the most relevant plot-threads vis-a-vis the 7th book. Ah, fascism, the perennial vice of the British. The only place the filmmakers may have shot themselves in the foot, I think, is not showing all of the scene from "Snape's Worst Memory," but I suppose they could fix that later. Although it's a good thing they took JKR's advice and kept Kreacher. But yeah, a really good movie, really fast-paced, I liked it. And the way they played up Sirius' role was good. Although Gary Oldman seemed way saner and more mature than Sirius does in the book, I think, and I picture Tonks way prettier and less buxom. Many hearts to Michael Gambon for his portrayal of Dumbledore, although he's not the way I picture him from the book, and personally I wouldn't have minded more of that scene with Harry in his office at the end.

In other news, I'm going to Boston tomorrow. Wish me luck with that. And in other news, I made a Code Geass video. And in still other news, more than a year later, the scanlation group I work with has finally released something I translated: Yu no Hana Tsubame chapter 1. Personally it made my skin crawl, but the head of the group tells me it's supposed to be hilarious. So if you are interested, head over to Be With You Scan's homepage.

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