Discussion Group: Translating Vertiginously with Polly Barton

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In this session, Japanese literary translator Polly Barton spoke about her recent experience translating the 1997 stream of consciousness novel Karui Memai [Mild Vertigo] by celebrated writer and critic Mieko Kanai. The novel depicts the existential vertigo experienced by a nineties housewife navigating a monotonous everyday life in which nothing and everything happens (forthcoming from Fitzcarraldo Editions). The talk focused on the practical and theoretical challenges posed by translating a polyphonic text with such a distinct and deliberate style into a language with a profoundly different grammatical structure, looking at the negotiations between voice, fidelity and comprehensibility. The talk also explored dilemmas around subjectivity and objectivity, dealing with culturally specific references, translating titles, and the expectations of a Western readership. Providing specific examples from the text and reflecting also on the editing process, Polly explained some of the decisions that went into creating an English voice for Kanai that aimed to feel comparably claustrophobic, detail-crammed and vertiginous as that of the original text.


Polly Barton is a writer and translator of Japanese literature and non-fiction. Her essays and translations have been published by The White ReviewWords Without BordersGranta, and Monkey. Full-length translations include Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki (Pushkin Press, 2017), Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda (Tilted Axis Press/Soft Skull Press, 2020), There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura (Bloomsbury, 2020), and So We Look to the Sky by Misumi Kubo (Arcade, 2021). She was awarded the 2019 Fitzcarraldo Editions Essay Prize for her nonfiction debut, Fifty Sounds (Fitzcarraldo Editions/Liveright). She is based in Bristol.