On feeling unsure about a translation; or, Ki-no-Tsurayuki and me

For the next few paragraphs, I’d like you to picture yourself as a 21st-century Japanese Studies scholar. Perhaps one day you’d be taking a class about the 10th-century Tosa Diary when the Professor asks for an essay, & for its theme you may choose any aspect of the Tosa which draws your interest. You write her an email: I realize it’s a bit unusual but could I work on the manuscript tradition? I mean, what manuscripts do we have left, where are they, which ones are used to make modern editions, what were they exactly like – what material, what form of writing, what hand, what orthography, how do they differ from the annotated text we’re currently reading, et cetera? The Professor never replies, which you take to be acquiescence (but: could she be wary of this proposal? Isn’t the topic too far away from Literature, isn’t this already History, palæography, mere technicalities far below the lofty aspirations of Spirit? Shouldn’t you try to, you know, read the entire original text first, before worrying about scriptural minutiæ?) Anyway; once possessed by the task, there’s no going back; you know your own telos, & you must go on.

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