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Internal Translation and Intratextual Reading

Kazuo Ishiguro as Transcultural Writer


Kazuo Ishiguro is a writer who invites his readers to consider the concept of translation in its broadest sense. His interest in not so much in the process of linguistic translation as it is in the movements of concepts between cultures. For example, in a 2001 interview with Cynthia Wong, he stated that a question he asks himself when writing is: ‘Does the line have substance? It’s not just a clever line, is it? Does its value survive translation?’ On this basis, Rebecca Walkowitz has used Ishiguro as an example of how contemporary literature is now often ‘born translated’, with writers anticipating and accounting for the fact that their work will be read in different languages and cultures.

The idea that the value of a line lies in its capacity to ‘survive’ the movement between cultures and languages implies that the aim of translation, and of writing a work that is ‘born translated’, is somehow to transplant a concept wholesale from one cultural and linguistic context to another. However, in Ishiguro’s more recent works, the presence of imagistic and structural echoes between his own novels indicates a reflexive turning inwards, and an examination and questioning, within his own body of work, of the way in which concepts change as a result of their translation.

This talk therefore examines the process of ‘internal translation’ within Ishiguro’s oeuvre by performing an intratextual reading of his novels. It discusses two types of echoes that occur across his body of work. The first of these are imagistic, brief moments of similarity between disparate contexts. The second of these are structural, wherein parallels between interpersonal relationships insert a greater amount of context. In both cases, the effect of reading across two of more of Ishiguro’s novels is to induce a sense of disorientation in terms of the position of the reader. To read any of Ishiguro’s novels in isolation, it is often clear to which ‘interpretative community’ (to use Stanley Fish’s term) the implied reader belongs: for example, when reading The Remains of the Day, the reader is invited to define themselves in terms of difference from the stuffy and conservative narrator, Stevens. However, when reading for the intratextual relationships across Ishiguro’s works, the space occupied by the implied reader becomes much more uncertain. In this process, this talk suggests, Ishiguro’s internal translations work to unbind the reader from their interpretative communities, and in doing so being into question unacknowledged complicities.


Dr. Ivan Stacy is associate professor in the School of Foreign Languages and Literature at Beijing Normal University, and currently a Visiting Junior Fellow at the Technical University of Dresden, where he is working with Prof. Cornelia Wächter on a project called ‘Global Complicities’. He is the author of The Complicit Text: Failures of Witnessing in Postwar Fiction (Lexington 2021), and has published articles on themes including complicity, dystopia, cosmopolitanism and transcultural literature, and the carnivalesque in writers including Kazuo Ishiguro, W. G. Sebald, Thomas Pynchon and China Miéville, the television series The Wire, and contemporary Himalayan Buddhist film. He has lived and taught in the UK, mainland China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Bhutan and Libya.

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