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« The Google Books settlement: five brief observations | Main | This (Last) Week's (Slightly Delayed) Acquisitions »

November 15, 2008



On point 5, there were interesting newspaper articles about the Japanese-language translation of Memoirs of a Geisha, which was probably not taking as an "accurate reflection" of recently historical Japan by all, but certainly by some of the audience. My understanding is that regardless of the facts of the lives of geisha in Kyoto during the time period (and these were disputed hotly by some), was that the book just came off odd in Japanese. (Which is a shame, I thought, because the translators went to a lot of work to learn the appropriate dialects for the characters.)

And this is, of course, leaving out Orientalism (and orientalist novels) on the broader scale.

I would have to dig to find the articles again, but I'm certain that the Yomiuri shinbun had some of them.

Vance Maverick

Back in the day on rec.arts.books, the peculiar Jorn Barger would claim that it was possible to teach an AI system about human relationships by feeding it the works of Iris Murdoch. Objections along the lines you suggest here were nonchalantly misunderstood.

Jonathan Dresner

This is quite frustrating. I use novels (and poems, short stories) along with other primary sources in my historical teaching, but I'm extremely picky: I only use works in which the author is writing about their own time and about milieux they experienced. As you note, historical novels can get everything "right" but always end up distorting things as a result of the process of dramatization; as historical sources, they have all the historiographical problems of secondary sources as well as all the historiographical problems of fiction. By the time I get done explaining that to my students, it's time to go on to the next chapter anyway.

a frequent visitor

Precious material, even if they get everything wrong... I think the greatest lesson to be learned from fiction - if, as said, it's to be thought of as an educational tool at all - is source criticism. We know novelists are no experts - therefore, although they may open our eyes to certain possibilities, there's no-one saying we ought to really take their word for it. The great thing is, they inspire us to learn more while not possessing the authority of science (I think the layman is much likelier to consider as the truth something a scholar wrote than any fictional account) to make us adopt their views unconditionally and finally.

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