Eiichi Yaminishi, November 26, 1963

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NORMAN MAILER’s Letters
142 Columbia Heights
Brooklyn 1, New York
November 25, 1963

Dear Eiichi,

First I want to thank you for all the trouble you took in analyzing the separate connotations of each word in the haiku. The error on miezu is not Henderson’s[1] fault, but mine. I don’t know how it happened, but it is inexcusable for I’m usually most careful about such matters. My guess is that the error cropped up in the galleys and I did not check them carefully enough. At any rate, I hope you will correct it in The Presidential Papers or add a note about the error. Incidentally, Henderson’s literal translation of the poem gives soon for vagate, indication for keshiki, and appear-not for miezu. His translations are often very free, but since he is scrupulous to give a literal translation first of each word in the haiku, one is free to make one’s own translation. In this case I use Henderson’s version. Truthfully I did not think I could improve upon it, for it is one of his best. I agree with you that cry is much too open as a sound and does not give the sensuous equivalent of a locust’s chirp, but the difficulty is that we have no equivalent in English for the double sound of the locust’s voice, nothing like koe, and so a sound like chirp is too closed. One could substitute something like tick-tock went the locust, which might give more of the feel, but tick-tock has unfortunate connotations for it is used often in children’s nursery rhymes, and cry, while unfaithful to Basho, is a most evocative word in English. If ever I have the fortune to come to Japan and the opportunity to study the language for some months, I think that I might try to begin by immersing myself in the haiku for I have a suspicion that the secrets of the Japanese language may be contained in the form. Certainly I have the impression that one of the great differences between Japanese and English is that English is constructed upon the narrative line of the voice, in which the natural break in association is the pause to take a breath—whereas Japanese may be built more upon the interval between each blink of the eye. So many of the haiku gave me the impression of a short but exquisite movie.

A week or two ago a letter came from Josh Greenfield,[2] in which he spoke warmly, even dithyrambically about you, and said in passing that my reputation is very high in Japan. I know, dear friend, that this is due more than anything else to the devoted, sensitive and intelligent work you have done on my behalf over all these years. I’m only too aware of that, but someday I hope I will have the opportunity to shake your hand and talk to you across a table. It was a fortunate day which brought your first letter to me.

Now for the news of the serial. I’ve completed the first two installments and should have galleys of the first to send to you within a week. It’s fairly good so far but of course there are many difficulties and ambushes ahead. If I can keep the level up to the first two installments I think I will have however a novel we need not be ashamed of. The difficulty of course is the lack of time. An average of ten to fifteen thousand words a month is not too bad in itself, but the fact that one must do this every month does increase the strain. I would describe the novel to you but I have a natural reluctance for summary and indeed would prefer you to pick up the first installment with no sense at all of what is to come. So if you will be patient for a week I think your announcement will gain force from the fresh impact of the first installment on you. For the present, it may be enough to say that it will be a short novel (90 thousand words) in the nineteenth century tradition, to wit, it is concerned with good and evil, and its exploration will take the form of a narrative with a reasonably developed plot.

As for the rest, I would like you to use the picture which is on the back of the jacket of The Presidential Papers for that book. I do not know which picture Josh Greenfield refers to but the photograph in the rocking chair catches the mood I was in when I was writing the introductions for the collection.

In any case, my dear friend, I await your reaction to the first installment of the novel. It is, by the way, to be called An American Dream, and the first installment has the chapter title of The Harbors of the Moon.

My warmest regards to your wife and to your children,

Norman
This page is part of
An American Dream Expanded.

Notes

  1. Henderson was a Japanese translator who worked on the poems in The Presidential Papers.
  2. Josh Greenfield, a friend, visited Japan regularly.