Dojo: Senshin Center
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Join Date: Feb 2002
Re: Article: A Re-transliteration of Osensei's "Kannagara no Jutsu" by "The Grindstone"
I want to thank you all very much for your replies to this thread.
As I said, I do have a purpose in the title words I chose, and all of you, especially Chhi'mèd, have helped me to fulfill this purpose. I am very grateful. The word "re-transliteration" was not chosen due to ignorance and/or to a laziness or lack of scholastic integrity. It was chosen here because the "ambiguity," the oddness of its usage (in this case), would raise issues and questions that I feel are important -- important enough to discuss.
As I see it, these columns are about promoting discussion. Aikiweb.com is not a scholastic or academic setting. It will not and cannot produce discussion in the same way that a academic seminar, for example, might. Aikiweb.com is a place where opinions are exchanged because all are held equal and have worth -- regardless of one's background or level of expertise. In my opinion, this is a good thing. Thus, I wanted to keep things at this level.
A translation, in this setting, would promote hardly any discussion at all. People would look at it and say, "Oh, good, that's nice" - end of story. Alternatively, they might say, "Hey, that is how I think," or "That's not how I think." Again -- end of story. In other words, a good translation, one in full possession of the scholastic elements that make it "well researched," would promote zero discussion here. This is because it would be THE authority in this arena and everyone else would therefore have to remain silent before its "mighty" voice.
For a translation to promote discussion, it would have to be set within an arena wherein everyone present possessed not only the text in question but also the skills and resources to translate it. Again -- this is not Aikiweb.com. Wanting to promote discussion, I did not set out to translate the lecture in question or even to retranslate it. I would not have done that for this month's column even if I did have access to the original lecture transcription and/or recording (not sure which exists, if either).
Additionally, because I did not have access to the original source, I would not call this a "revised translation" either. If anything, it is a simple exercise in the relevance of nuance and/or context -- something one does for the purposes of bringing something else to light. It is this something else which I would like to discuss here. I am interested in the overall context that is allowing us to understand Osensei's words in one way and not an other -- whatever those ways might be for any one person.
(Note: Let us state here that the translation over at AikidoJournal.com, as my own piece, would not stand up to academic scrutiny. Like my work, it lacks the elements all well-researched pieces must contain.)
In short, I wanted to take advantage of the medium, its instantaneity, by first providing a somewhat developed example, and then to continue on here in the thread to discuss those ideas that make such an example possible (or even impossible -- depending upon one's point of view). If one thinks of an art history survey class, where one is shown (and sees) the painting a moment before it is explained, summarized, discussed, or categorized as part of some movement or theme, or as being demonstrative of some sort of aesthetic principle, etc., one can get a pretty good idea of what I am attempting to do here.
I understand that the word "transliterate" already has a meaning in English (i.e. simple definition: to carry or to change into a different alphabet). If the word "transliterate" did not have a meaning, then I would not be able to play with it. Yes, I am playing with it. In my opinion, at times, it is useful to play with words, especially title words, when an author wants something to operate at several levels -- as I do here. Thus, I am hoping to move beyond, "You are not using that word exactly right or correctly." "Yes, I know." End of discussion.
Please, let me give a general description of the practice of transliteration. I would like to use Romaji as an example of what transliteration is or can be. Take the word, "Aikido." Today, this is an English word. However, we can note that at one time it was only a transliteration of the Japanese word that is made up of the same sounds (once the given conventions for pronunciation have been determined and agreed upon) but that is/was written in Kanji. The idea with transliteration is that the transferring of a word from one sound system or "alphabet" to another sound system/alphabet has zero effect on the meaning of that word. Ideally, greatly simplifying, transliteration is only about the matching of sounds using different sound-symbol systems.
However, I would suggest, whenever language can be idealized, it is dead. Language, which is a living thing, does not exist at the level of the ideal. It exists at the level of practice. At that level, language can never be anything but extremely complex. This complexity supports my efforts in the original column. For example, romaji carries none of the nuance that is clearly present in kanji characters. Thus, the word "Aikido,' in adopting the Roman alphabet, loses meaning from the get go. Meaning is NOT left untouched in the transliteration practice of Romaji. In the loss of that meaning, the overall meaning of a word is changed -- EVEN THOUGH THE SOUNDS REMAIN THE SAME. This fact is compounded as you move not only from culture to culture but also from history to history.
For example, when the word "Aikido" is read in English it is often translated as, "The Way of Harmony." An English speaker may then easily make the mistake that the Japanese word (in kanji form) carries this meaning -- it does not (though for some it could). Nevertheless, armed with the understanding (which comes from his/her own culture) of the word "harmony," the art, the practice the sounds are supposed to represent phonetically, often comes to be altered as well for the English speaker that knows the word "Aikido" only through its romaji. That is to say, for example, the practice of the art comes to be more representative of the English-speaking culture's notions of "harmony." In the end, while the sounds remain the same, not only is the meaning of those sounds likely to be altered, the thing itself represented by those sounds can be altered.
Additionally, as another example, a Japanese person from the current time-period, one not familiar with the history of the word "Aikido,"or the practice, may be able to read it, Ai-Ki-Do, and then go on to define it as, "The Way of Uniting with Ki." However, in doing so, they made a call to read the word as three related but distinct ideas (Union-Ki-Way). They did not read the word as someone from an earlier period or from a different part of the culture might opt to read the word - as two related but distinct ideas, "The Way of (the tactic of) Aiki." Etc. As a result, the practice they might generate will likely come to be representative of Ki union, as opposed to a manifestation of Aiki tactics (for example) -- which may overlap but that are not 100% substitutable. My point: Words can sound the same but nuance may be lost nonetheless due to changes in contest, and as a result, meanings change. In short, whatever happens at the level of sounds does not 100% capture what is happening at the level of discourse/practice. This, for better or for worse, is what I am attempting to point out with the playful usage of the word "re-transliterate," only I did so with an example of that very thing.
Folks that are looking back to Osensei need to worry not only about translations but also transliterations because neither one can ever occur outside of a bias of culture and/or history. This is especially true when one is going from a Kanji-based system to the Roman alphabet. This is why I am able to use pretty much the same words as those used in the AikidoJournal.com piece while somehow being able to generate a different essence in meaning from the one (perhaps) more commonly associated with Osensei's teachings (for Americans at least). This has happened because by more accurately (my opinion) translating a few key Japanese words (e.g. kannagara) I have changed the context from the usual context by which Osensei is understood in the States to one of mysticism. As a result, in my opinion, Osensei's thought, the connection he draws between physical practice and spiritual development resists being placed fully within the common areas of "traditional Japanese culture," "Shinto," "Martial Arts," "Eastern Philosophy," etc. These are places where the spiritual and physical aspects of a human being can be related or unrelated as a matter of choice. From the discursive context of mysticism, the two elements become inseparable. As a result, we have a different meaning altogether for the English word "Aikido."
In short, the re-transliteration I am referring to here is not one of sound systems but of one of discourses. The "re-transliteration" of which I am speaking is happening at a discursive level -- not an alphabetic one. I was inspired to write this upon reading the piece at Aikidojournal.com because while found the translator's translations on key words to be very common, I also found them to be two other things: 1) Odd in light of the biographical history we know of Osensei, and 2) The reason why that piece read so strangely -- forcing the piece to hold many inconsistent ideas.
Note: Not sure this will revive this thread. I apologize for the huge delay in delivery. Was in the Police Academy. Finally, have a bit of time to finish this. Apologies.