Publication details [#19091]

Henitiuk, Valerie. 2010. Squeezing the jellyfish: early Western attempts to characterize translation from the Japanese. In St. André, James, ed. Thinking through translation with metaphors. Manchester: St. Jerome. pp. 144–160.
Publication type
Article in jnl/bk
Publication language


Translation has typically been conceptualized as a bridge, a mirror, a window through which we gaze at the original, a fountain from which we obtain water when we cannot go directly to the stream, the action of carrying across, and so on. Most of these images have lost their power to make us take seriously how they filter or even distort what we see as being involved in the process. Setting aside such dead metaphors and instead trying to think of translation as the squeezing of a jellyfish, as one early anthology of Japanese literature puts it, cannot help but force us to come at the problem from a fresh perspective. When Japan opened to the West in the mid-19th century, translators struggled to describe their experience of rendering this newly discovered canon into a foreign tongue, and often ended up employing eccentric images in order to do so. This article considers some of those images, including the jellyfish one and a cluster referring to such chemical or alchemical processes as distillation, filtration and sublimation. It thereby explores how translation is conceptualized via figurative language, and thus how metaphor may constitute a particular view – if not a theory – of cross-cultural transposition. [Source: publisher information]