Wednesday, August 6, 2008

On "Romaji Diary" by Takuboku Ishikawa, translated by Sanford Goldstein and Seishi Shinoda **

Diaries, for me, are generally a tough sell, ranking probably only above collections of letters and computer manuals. This would seem to be somewhat counterintuitive. After all, a glimpse into someone's private life should be fascinating--we all like to snoop. But snooping into the life of someone we don't know who knows a bunch of people we don't know? Ishikawa's diary is apparently renowned for its forthrightness, its willingness to tell all, no matter how bad it makes the narrator look. In that sense, it has much in common with From a Darkened Room, the abridged-abridged diary of Arthur Inman. What it doesn't have in common are two other things. For a Western reader, there are not really any insights into current events of the time (in fact, I'd say the diary on the whole is more personal save a few catty comments about other literary people, all of them Japanese). Rather than a lifetime of journaling, Ishikawa's diary takes place all within two months. Perhaps the more interesting thing about Ishikawa's book is the manner of writing it--in Romaji, the Roman alphabet, rather than the Hiragana symbols more typically used, and for the time even more radical because Romaji was not even common as a tool. As the translator notes, this was like an English speaker writing in Esperanto (or I might say more like writing English using the Arabic alphabet). Why? To keep others from reading it, I suppose. I guess someone must like such things enough to publish them, however.

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