"Easyfree translation?" How the modern West knows Sei Shônagon's Pillow Book

Valerie Henitiuk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Citations (Scopus)


In the West, frequent references to thousand-year-old masterpieces such as the Tale of Genji and the Pillow Book suggest that although born in a particular national context, such works now possess a new life as international cultural artefacts. All too often, however, the globalization of Japanese literature reveals a quite astonishing persistence of Orientalist and otherwise reductive readings. This article examines Sei Shônagon's Pillow Book as an Eastern text that, from a Western perspective, acquires meaning only when articulated by the West, albeit in forms that would prove unrecognizable to its author or her contemporaries. Focusing on how they underpin or resist Orientalizing themes and attitudes, I consider the multiple and rapidly multiplying translations that it has inspired. The term “translation” is used in its broadest possible meaning to encapsulate a vast range of linguistic and cultural transfers along a continuum from literal to free, involving various forms of manipulation in the process of transforming this work into world literature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2-17
Number of pages16
JournalTranslation Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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