The first time I read part of "The Six-foot Sickbed" was in Professor Jean-Jacques Origas' master's course seminar. I immediately fell in love with this work. The reason is, this work had a kind of forcefulness, a presence in society, a spiritual sharpness with a fusion of feeling and I was immediately charmed by it. However, I did not think I would be translating it in the future! Understanding just these few lines was already extremely difficult.
Time passed and I came to analyze and translate excerpts of this work in lessons myself. I was gradually becoming daring. Then, one day, I finally had a thought. Shouldn't I try doing a complete translation?
Thereupon a difficult problem arose. Although "The Six-foot Sickbed" is not very long, it actually deals with a variety of subjects. Masaoka Shiki talks about pictures, poetry, drama, religion, history, and geography in turn; not just that, he also touches on hunting, fishing, fashion, cooking, the Negishi complex, and current issues enlivening the newspapers; his themes even cover flowers, cranes and reflections of childhood. And these are no more than a few examples forming a “lexicon of love” in the real world. In other words, in order to be able to really understand what Shiki is talking about, the translator needs to become an encyclopedia editor.
A more difficult problem is that the author of “The Six-foot Sickbed” actually writes a variety of compositions. Diaries, letters (including both letters sent and letters received), lists, poems (haiku, waka, chōka, Chinese poetry, shintaishi), anecdotes, reflections, dreams, short plays, arguments, attacks, painting analysis, critiques, considerations, and so on... Moreover, without notice Shiki will switch from literary writing to conversational, from one text to another, sometimes all in one text.
This kind of diversity demands a great deal of flexibility from the translator. Consequently, the translation of this work, while naturally being challenging, was also wonderfully energizing. The reason is, Shiki’s écriture is a bodily fluid. As it springs forth from a sickly body, it is lively and full of energy. And it fascinates, inviting unending surprise.
Translating Shiki’s work is taking in pain and becoming sensitive to the beauty of the world as though he, himself, were speaking.