Translation and East Asian texts

At a workshop made up of specialists from many disciplines concerned with East Asia, though primarily social scientists, perhaps a decade ago, I suggested at one point the need to bring culture into the mix of whatever it was we were discussing. I was stopped short by one participant who said to me and the entire meeting that none of that mattered, because in a short time (unspecified), all of the classics of every tradition would be instantaneously available in every language desired. Thus, the Iceland sagas would be, with the touch of a finger, ready in Urdu; and the _Tale of Genji_ similarly in Slovenian. I was so stunned, I was uncharacteristically incapable of speech.
Putting aside the moronic content of this man’s comment, I would be curious to hear from people about the usability of translation programs. I have used a few online, and they were altogether useless. Are they getting better? Scanners used to be terribly flawed, but they’re improving by leaps and bounds. I never expect translation– at least not in my lifetime–to become a hard science, but I’m curious how far translation programs have reached.

New China-Japan volume to appear next year

I thought I would take this opportunity to pass along the news that a volume I edited was recently accepted for publication by the University of Pennsylvania Press. Entitled _”Japan” and “China”: The Teleology of the Modern Nation-State_, it is comprised of four essays on Japan (early modern and modern) and four on China (ancient to modern), plus my own introduction. The general theme is the how the nation-state discourse has overdetermined the way in which we tend to understand everything before the Chinese or Japanese nation-state came into existence. Thus, we blithely speak of Zhou China and Joumon Japan as if such entities ever really existed. I have no interest in “deconstructing” China or Japan, but I would hope that the volume aids in the process of unpacking “China” and “Japan,” two terms that should not be perceived as transparent–anymore than “the Chinese language” or Shinto “religion” or many other topics overdetermined by our own research agendas have been
It’s one thing to make this general statement, quite another to examine what that means for history and culture (and whatever else) on the ground. That was the aim of this volume.
UPenn Press has not been in the forefront of university presses in publishing about East Asia, but they want to be.
Keep an eye out for the book, and I’d love to hear your comments.

Whither Sino-Japanese studies?

This marks the first entry in my “blog” (rather an inelegant term, to say the least–I guess we can’t blame techies for being inelegant with the English language), set up kindly by Konrad Lawson. If anyone actually reads this, please respond (assuming you have something you wish to say).
Now that the journal _Sino-
Japanese Studies_ (SJS) has gone into a state of suspended animation, will there be a safety net for those of us working primarily in the field of Chinese-Japanese interactions? Political science has, and always has had, IR which provides a nice home for contemporary political issues. But, history and literature and other fields may be back to square one. I say this not to puff up SJS out of proportion, but simply out of doubt and self-doubt that a fledgling field can stand without institutional support itself. I’ve organized and hosted a string of conferences over the past six years with Sino-Japanese themes, but I can keep doing this only so long. I gather from Konrad that there is movement among the younger cadres in the field in Tokyo right now.
Please, someone, write me and assure me that things are moving along–even slowly, I’m not fussy.
More later.