I clearly recall the day I first became truly aware of myself, I mean of myself as something that everything else was not. As a boy I liked best those dead intervals of the year when one season had ended and the next had not yet begun, and all was grey and hushed and still, and out of the stillness and the hush something would seem to approach me, some small, soft, tentative thing, and offer itself to my attention. This day of which I speak I was walking along the main street of the town. It was November, or March, not cold, but neutral. From a lowering sky fine rain was falling, so fine as to be hardly felt. It was morning, and the housewives were out, with their shopping bags and headscarves. A questing dog trotted busily past me looking neither to right nor left, following a straight line drawn invisibly on the pavement. There was a smell of smoke and butcher’s meat, and a brackish smell of the sea, and, as always in the town in those days, the faint sweet stench of pig-swill. The open doorway of a hardware shop breathed brownly at me as I went past. Taking in all this, I experienced something to which the only name I could give was happiness, although it was not happiness, it was more and less than happiness. What had occurred? What in that commonplace scene before me, the ordinary sights and sounds and smells of the town, had made this unexpected thing, whatever it was, burgeon suddenly inside me like the possibility of an answer to all the nameless yearnings of my life? Everything was the same now as it had been before, the housewives, that busy dog, the same, and yet in some way transfigured. Along with the happiness went a feeling of anxiety. It was as if I were carrying some frail vessel that it was my task to protect, like the boy in the story told to us in religious class who carried the Host through the licentious streets of ancient Rome hidden inside his tunic; in my case, however, it seemed I was myself the precious vessel. Yes, that was it, it was I that was happening here. I did not know exactly what this meant, but surely, I told myself, surely it must mean something. And so I went on, in happy puzzlement, under the small rain, bearing the mystery of myself in my heart.
Was it that same phial of precious ichor, still inside me, that spilled in the cinema that afternoon, and that I carry in me yet, and that yet will overflow at the slightest movement, the slightest misbeat of my heart?
The passage which I translated is in the early part of John Banville’s novel Eclipse, where the protagonist recalls the day when he experienced the awakening of the sense of “I” (himself) for the first time. “I” is thus an important word in this text, but when it comes to translating it into Japanese, it becomes troublesome.
The first-person singular pronoun in English is “I,” of course. Although “I” can be applied to anyone and in any occasion in English, Japanese has multiple words to indicate “I.” The impression of a speaker varies depending on which one he/she uses. In this case, I wondered whether to use “watashi (私)” or “boku (僕).” “Watashi” is the most commonly used word for the first-person singular and both men and women can use it not only in private scenes but also in public, while “boku” is generally used by men (and sometimes used by boyish girls) in more private situations and can sometimes give a somewhat childish impression. The protagonist of this work is a middle-aged man, who has a public role as actor though he has retired. He also has a wife and a grown-up daughter, so it may seem that “watashi” is better for his. However, he does not seem mature enough for his age or for his situation. For example, he escapes from his profession and his family, and such a selfish behavior irritates his wife. Considering the gap between his actual age and his childish action, I used “boku” in my translation. However, to be honest, I am still debating about this topic, for he wavers between maturity and immaturity or private and public self, so I would like to read more into the novel and continue thinking. I think it is difficult to translate Banville’s novel into Japanese retaining the layered meaning of the original text, but that is why this project was a good experience for me.