Sneak Peek 2: Hideya Hayashi

Translation as a ‘Minor Language’: ‘Translation of the Letter’ in Yoko Tawada’s Moji-ishoku (Saint George and the Translator)

Hideya Hayashi

Kyoto University & The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Japan)


Translation cannot exist without its original. However, is it impossible for translation to become more than the ‘minor’ one? This presentation shows how Yoko Tawada (1960-) grapples with this question in her novel Moji-ishoku (Saint George and the Translator) (1999). It features a heroine performing extremely radical word-for-word translations from German to Japanese. She divides words into fragments, as a result, the letter’s role as a word’s minimum unit comes to the foreground. I call it the ‘translation of the letter’ transferring image rather than meaning, and discuss its literary meaning with the concept of the ‘materiality of the letter’ (Paul de Man). Then it will become clear that the extremely radical word-for-word translation in this novel—the ‘minor language’ that can belong to neither German nor Japanese—destabilizes not only the authority of the original but also the authority of the ‘major language’.


Hideya Hayashi is a doctoral student of Kyoto University and a research fellow of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. He is the author of War sie nicht mein […]?”: Die Rhetorik der Melancholie in Hölderlins ‘Hyperion’ in Neue Beiträge zur Germanistik 149 (2014), which won the prize for young researchers by Japan Society for the Promotion of German Language and Literature in 2015.