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Sakaguchi Ango

Wind, Light, and the Twenty-Year-old Me: The Aftertalk



Sakaguchi Ango, Maplopo
Sakaguchi Ango, Wind, Light and the Twenty-Year-Old Me, English Translation, Maplopo

Sakaguchi, Wind and Light Aftertalk, PART TWO
Last updated: February 10, 2022

Doc (D) and Reiko (R)

R: One thing that was difficult about Ango was that his sentences just go on and on; it connects and connects and connects without any periods. So we didn’t know how to connect those different ideas into a single long sentence and I remember having difficulty with it. I wanted to use “and,” but you didn’t like using it so many times, so we had to switch the order of things and use our heads, so everything would fall together nicely. But after finding the semicolon, I was very, very happy.

D: Yeah… yeah, because that opened up everything so we could honor the longer sentences… are they sentences? …that longer method that he uses. We were able to do that because of the power the semicolon gave us, without having to flip things around and deal with “ANDs” and “ORs.” Remember, there were lots of “SOs” in there as well, and I was like, “there are so many friggin SOs.” The ways we were trying to get these sentences to make sense in English weren’t working. And it all came from Kafka. We were reading and I was like, “Do you notice all the semicolons? This might come in handy.” And I wrote about it on Linkedin, or whatever. You were like, “I already got that.”

R: It was very good timing to be reading Kafka at this point. Kafka was Czech?

D: He was, yeah. It was also great because he has these sentences that go on and on without a single paragraph break for pages, that really made the semicolon stand out.

R: It was good that we happened to be reading a translated book because we could see the translator’s technique in bringing Kafka into English. It’s interesting; we found many similarities in these two people we happened to be reading.

But candor is his strength. He doesn’t shy away from things. And, I wonder if this is… I don’t know; is this common for men to think about fifth grade girls as women?

D: For sure—definitely a good find. This story was also interesting because of the way Ango is talking about these young girls; remember, I was having trouble with that. It felt really odd and uncomfortable describing twelve-year-old girls as “alluring” and “alarmingly sexy.” Very strange.

R: I thought so too. 

D: That’s why nobody interviewed him about this. [laughter]

R: [laughter] But candor is his strength. He doesn’t shy away from things. And, I wonder if this is… I don’t know; is this common for men to think about fifth grade girls as women? Do men think of young girls as women already at that age? When do you start that idea?  

D: Oh, no no… not unless you want to end up in prison for the rest of your life. What I think he’s getting at, is that maybe they possess certain adult characteristics—this is why we settled on “coquettish”—and why I was spending so much time looking at the definition of that word and how it’s applied. I wanted to get a really good feeling for whether I could use that word and not feel embarrassed, or bad, or put him in a bad light if he wasn’t trying to say a certain thing.

R: It was a good move because he’s not by any stretch of the imagination trying to be overly friendly with them. He’s being scientific, in a sense… analyzing them in a scientific way. 

D: Right. He’s noticing their behavior. That’s why “coquettish” works as a word because he’s not saying they are women, but he’s saying they exhibit certain characteristics that are the kinds of characteristics mature women possess. Sometimes there are younger girls who are a bit ahead of the curve on that sort of thing and that’s why that word exists. But, to answer your question, men don’t think of young girls as women at that age at all, I think. There are some girls at that age that act like an older woman might, or, as a teenager might, I think. Maybe they have older sisters, or maybe their mother, like in the story—this one girl’s mother is described as being lascivious, and kind of sexy—and Ango is picking up on them mimicking that behavior.

R: Wait, are you talking about the mother of Yamada? Yamada isn’t the girl who’s sexy. Ishizu is. [laughter]

D: Oh that’s right. See, that’s what I’m talking about, I can’t place any of these names and situations. But, um, I think the basic idea holds true, right? Still it was weird to use those words especially when I don’t know the whole context of the sentence yet; all I’m getting is “twelve-year-old, sexy, alarming…” and I’m like, “What? This is so weird.” But, we figured it out. He’s definitely not mincing words. He’s talking about… she’s going to be stepped on… 

R: Yeah, that part is strong. But, um, he’s interestingly fascinated by this type of girl, right? Not these exact girls, but this type of women who possess this shadow of sadness but who are idiotic as well. Do you remember when we were translating the conversation with Dazai, Sakaguchi and Oda? And Dazai says, “I want to be in love with a beggar woman.” So, Dazai and Sakaguchi probably share the belief that a beggar woman and a prostitute both possess a certain innocence. They have a tough life, and because of that tough life, they maybe have less demands on life. So, in a certain way, that’s an attractive quality?

D: You mean they have less desire to be alive or an appreciation of life? What do you mean? 

R: Less demanding of a man; more carefree, perhaps. Ango was saying this girl has an almost… about Ishizu…

D: Amenable spirit?

R: Uh, that’s Yamada… [laughter] —an optimistic and untroubled soul. He has a certain idea about these—what he calls—idiotic women who have a kind of purity about them. 

D: Do you know why? Does he have like a…  is there something in his history that suggests he would be attracted to that sort of person other than what we just read? I think maybe that’s the answer… 

R: Um, I don’t know, probably he was disappointed by calculative women in life, so he feels much safer around these less calculative women. 

D: Yeah, he definitely seems to appreciate the lack of that characteristic in some of these girls. Every man, I would hope, would appreciate that. In the talk with Oda and those guys, what does Sakaguchi say about women? 

R: He said… oh, he actually said, “There’s nothing intrinsic about them.” So, as far as I know, he had this relationship with the writer, Yada Tsuseko—she was kinda popular back then, and he wrote about her in at least three different stories—she may have been the first person who broke his heart. And he was haunted by the memory of her for a long time. When they met, he fell in love with her instantly, and they got along well. They were both this kind of rising-star-type writer and she was beautiful, and he thought maybe they would get married, but it turned out she was having a love affair with an executive staff member of a famous newspaper company. So she was not entirely honest with Ango, and Ango later found out. So, probably, that soured his view on women.

D: Sounds like it for sure. He was writing about her, you said? Where? 

R: In different stories: “Nijūnanasai” (Twenty-seven years old), “Sanjussai” (Thirty years old), and “Izukoe” (To where). 

D: Really? That’s cool. Hmmm. Okay, … uh, what else?

His writing is very unique, and he doesn’t seem to like using periods so he keeps going on and on with his commas.

R: I was glad we went over the original, abridged version again because we changed quite a lot and it got a lot better; I was surprised to find it had room for improvement. It’s funny what Kafka’s translator (Breon Mitchell) says in his preface… what does he say? It was his dream to translate Kafka and he now dreams of how he could have done it better… or, something like that. It’s always true that we can find something worth improving when it comes to our own work.

D: Yeah that’s true. I mean, that’s the thing, I think we were just making it flow better, or massaging it, and not that things were wrong with the translation—and that was the problem with the boxer page. The boxer page was all like that. We didn’t run into that issue with Nakajima and we didn’t run into that issue with Dazai. It’s just Sakaguchi’s style.

R: His writing is very unique, and he doesn’t seem to like using periods so he keeps going on and on with his commas.

D: You often like to say he might have been under the influence when he wrote this… [laughter]

R: Yes, I think so. [laughter] When we went over his timeline, we saw that around the time he wrote this piece, he was suffering from an addiction to stimulants and regularly drinking in excess.

D: Mmmm… he likes to repeat words as well…

R: Yeah, so there are four or five appearances of the same word close together.

D: Right. There was that one word that you just kept in there in Japanese, and we came back later to figure it out. Your notes from that part are really cool because you had all the different possibilities we could choose from. I think just that bit of editing probably took two hours or so to figure out which word to put where. I remember that pretty clearly. Yeah, he doesn’t like periods for sure, and he likes to repeat things. There are two paragraphs where he was quite literally repeating himself about the, uh… what does he say? Going to the brothel. Yeah, it’s almost like word for word, the same sentence.

R: That seems to be his crutch word… I don’t know if it’s intentional or not. He repeats specific situations in different stories as well, but tells them in a slightly different way. I was sharing this, right?

D: Right… Maybe there’s another guy who collects snakes, [laughter] but the boxer’s name is R instead of S… [laughter] Why does he just get a letter? Everybody else gets a name. They’re outed. He just calls this guy “S.” [laughter]

R: He might have just forgotten the boxer’s name.

D: Why didn’t give him a fake name? So funny….  It was pretty cool going to the library to get…

flip to part three.