Suehiro Maruo’s Yume no Q-saku

Transcreating Georges Bataille’s Eroticism

Currently, the theory of Translation Studies constitutes a prolific field of literary studies promoting, then, an intense debate regarding the relationship between literature and visual arts. As a practical field, translation has been a fundamental tradition and a paramount tool in the Western civilization and culture. However, it was only from the eighteenth century onwards that the translation process gained theoretical components, which led to the development of translation theory. For a long time, the ideas developed by the Scottish teacher and theorist Alexander Fraser Tyler (1747-1813) were very significant in this field of epistemology. According to this critic, the expression “faithfulness to the original”, in regard to either content, style, syntax or tone, constituted an imperative for a “good” translation. The notion of fidelity remained unshaken for centuries and it has established itself as a strong premise for later translation studies.

Between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, poets were especially concerned with the field of translation and questions concerning the act of translating. However, from the twentieth century on, translation studies, still clearly marked by Tyler’s premises, became part of academia, alongside with linguistic and literary studies. Since then, the old questions about translation came to be reshaped constantly and new issues were brought to discussion.

In contemporary reflections on the theme, the archaic notion that all qualified translations should always be “extremely [faithful] to the original” – mechanically transporting the source text’s meaning and style to the target language – loses its status quo and starts to be guided by other parameters. From this perspective, the translation process is no longer understood as the mere act of transferring identical meanings, forms, syntax, etc. from one language to another. It is a complex process of recreating, whether in the target language – or in several languages – ambiences, styles and shapes. From this recreation stems an intimate and complex relationship between the source text and the target text, or rather, artistic object, demanding a constant exercise of reading, of interpretation and of rewriting.

As rightly pointed out by Walter Benjamin in his text The Task of the Translator (2000: 17):

Translation thus ultimately serves the purpose of expressing the central reciprocal relationship between languages. It cannot possibly reveal or establish this hidden relationship itself; but it can represent it by realizing it in embryonic or intensive form.

So, let us rewrite Benjamin’s statement by saying that translation tends to express the most intimate relationships between different types of arts and between different languages because that is what the contemporary theory of translation strives to achieve.

One finds in the sciences, as in contemporary aesthetic, that countless authors/artists/thinkers exchanged, anthropophagically and unceasingly, ideas, forms, themes, styles and concepts. Also, one cannot overlook while reading a theoretical, literary or philosophical text without recognizing, to some extent, germs of another text. One can state it is rarely seen as a work of art, be it pictorial/cinematic/theatrical/musical without recognizing textures, themes, quotes, traits, or interrelations, whatever they may be, with another art form. It even could be said (and this concept has been thought by Brazilian modernists), that the cannibalistic procedure is an inherent characteristic of art and culture. It would not even be possible today to design a translation pure and faithful to “the original”, since the idea of “original” per se has lost some its “aura”, or rather, does not have much “originality”.

Be as it may, in the context of aesthetics, more precisely in the field of translation of “creative writing”, contemporary criticism has been developing a new approach concerning the real of translation by mostly following the path established by Benjamin (2008: 67) who stated that “translation is a form”. Translation as a form features a relatively autonomous character due to its emphasis on form. Thus, why not think of it as (re) creation and not only as copy? Contemporary theorists have also begun to think about it in the same way. Innovative studies are gaining importance and they have started to infiltrate themselves into the realm of translation, such as the concepts of transcreation, plagiotropism and transtextualization brought forward by the Brazilian poet and critic Haroldo de Campos, for whom:

The translation of creative texts will always be recreation or parallel creation, autonomous but reciprocal. The fuller of difficulties this text, more recreatable, more seductive as an open possibility of re-creation as well. A translation of this nature not only translates the meaning, translates the sign itself, that is its physicality, its very materiality (sound properties, visual imagery, in short everything that forms, according to Charles Morris, the iconicity of the aesthetic sign) (CAMPOS apud DINIZ, 1999: 35).

The understanding of translation as transcreation enabled the emergence of a field of knowledge: the intersemiotic translation studies, which aims to study the relationships between different artistic expressions which were only previously studied in comparative literature. Julio Plaza (2003: 14) thought of intersemiotic translation

As [a] critical and creative practice in the historicity of the means of production and re-production, such as reading, as metacreation as action on event structures such as signs of dialogue, as syntheses and rewrite […]. That is, as thought in signs, such as traffic directions, as transcreation of forms […].

Thus, based on the assumptions developed by intersemiotic translation studies, we will analyse some excerpts of Bataille’s Story of the Eye and Yume no Q-saku by Suehiro Maruo, focusing on some formal strategies used in semiotic translation. Such a procedure allows us to approach the latter as a translation. In this sense, it is worth noting not only the intimate relationship between these works, but also the paraphrasing made effective from Bataille’s novel, which is then recreated by Maruo’s drawings.

Suehiro Maruo (born in Nagasaki in 1956), one of the main icons of Japanese underground manga and one of the greatest contemporary mangaka, has been regarded as one of the most visceral artists of his time. Oddly enough, Maruo is also considered an icon of Japanese popular culture. His universe is constructed from a plethora of references, interchanging themes and aesthetics that range from French literature (Marquis de Sade, Arthur Rimbaud, Georges Bataille, among others) as well as North American writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe and early twentieth century literature, in addition to modern Japanese texts (Yukio Mishima, Edogawa Ranpo). Maruo is also interested by other modes of expressions such as German expressionism, Butoh, surrealist painting, etc.

Likewise, French writer Georges Bataille (1897-1962), one of the main icons of modern French literature and who was also close to the vanguard groups of the early twentieth century, especially the surrealists, has inherited from modernist writers the taste for the forbidden and the transgression of the libertines, such as The Marquis and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. From these two milestone French writers one could think of the appreciation for a morbid, perverse and pulsating eroticism, as well as the utterly divergent conceptions of the usual representation of the erotic.

Bataille’s reflections on eroticism pervade all his theoretical and literary works as an important set of texts that defines a singular situation of eroticism. The erotic, he proposes, presents us with unusual and terrifying ways of achieving the utmost degree of pleasure. According to his perspective, this ecstatic experience can only be compared to the feeling which is experienced before death: a mixture of horror, pain and extreme pleasure finding its paroxysm in frantic ecstasy that exceeds and suppresses other sensations. At this point, some of Bataille’s and Maruo’s notions of eroticism must be presented since understanding these concepts will allow us to point out and analyse the most persistent thematic intersections/interrelationships which can be found in the works approached in this article.

For Bataille, sexual activity can be regarded as a common trait shared by both human beings and animals, for it constitutes a means that guarantees the species’ continuity. However, only the former could convert it into an erotic activity, expanding the purposes beyond the mere continuity of the species. that of mere the species’ continuity. In this sense, the seemingly purposelessness of eroticism would be grounded on an endless psychological search, which could be summed up as a nostalgical search of disconnected subject for its lost continuity. Furthermore, Bataille states that such an erotic search coincides with mankind’s awareness of death whose main purpose would be to render back the nostalgic desired continuity to human beings, who, in turn, aware of their discontinuity, can only understand their precarity when placed before experiences which put their own subjectivity into question.

Thus, eroticism and death dramatize an unbearable truth unacceptable for life itself: the discontinuous human being (all of us) is bound to disappear. Bataille, nonetheless, believed that eroticism and death offered to mankind, in turn, an openness to the impossible, and could convey, at the same time, an “impression of continuity” to the chaos of being aware of the petite mort and the dernier instant, which keep human beings in standby. For that reason, in his writings, Bataille conceives death and eroticism as self-destructive former experiences.

The creatures in the Batallian universe dance with death, which horrifies and excites at the same time because it evokes the limits of life. Thus, instead of destroying them, the presence of death allows the impossibilities of life reveal themselves right before death. There is no middle-ground between life and death, pleasure and death, sex and death. They are all mixed up. The horror in the face of death excites life. Such undecidability is paramount when it comes to death, and all that conjures up Bataille’s notion of eroticism alongside other indissociable concepts such as interdiction, transgression, lewdness death, excess, delirium, inebriation, among others.

Besides being utterly aligned to the notion of eroticism proposed by Western writers such as Bataille and Marquis, Maruo’s concept of eroticism is intrinsically anchored by the premise of the Japanese aesthetic movement rooted in the beginning of 20th century, known as ero-guro nansensu. The disturbing, decadent, lewd and aberrant universe of ero-guro praises erotic practices such as bondage, mutilation, asphyxiation, etc. All these have fascinated Maruo since the beginning, particularly the realm of deviant and mutilated bodies, alongside all sorts of lewdness and profanity. Maruo’s books put into perspective the most diverse and extreme sexual perversities. A daring stance that stands against the rigid and oppressive Japanese morals. His visual narratives – packed with bleak and wasted settings devastated by wars and populated by hectic, disturbed, overexcited and sexually oriented characters whose bodies are overexcited, disfigured and in decay – compose a hideous and horrifying dramatic scene: a blending of grand-guignol drama and of the freaks shows typical of the end of 19th century. Maruo’s eroticism is always associated with the grotesque and stands directly against standard and institutionalized sexual practices, establishing once and for all a profound liaison between crime, death, deviant bodies, and sensuality.

Thus, one could state that in both Maruo’s and Bataille’s works, the overwhelming sexual desire is constituted by and “il y a en elle un élément de désordre, d’excès, qui va jusqu’à mettre en jeu la vie de ceux qui la suivent”. There is a disturbance, engendered by sensuality, “un sentiment d’être noyé, analogue au malaise que les cadavres dégagent”, which, in turn, resembles the disturbance caused by the presence of death (BATAILLE, 2004: 92).

Working with the writings of Bataille or Maruo is certainly a unique opportunity to access the most beautiful and terrifying domains of complex, creative and convulsive intelligence. Both of them enclose, shamelessly, the beautiful to the grotesque, enjoyment and violence, life and death, ecstasy and horror and explore, in an extreme way, the misshapen forms of transgression, playing with paradoxes and bending them to the point of diluting their borders.

The Bataillian novel Story of the Eye (2003) narrates, in the first person, the adventures and misadventures of inordinate teenagers indulging in the most diverse transgressive erotic experiences, exploring, in every chapter, bordering situations between eroticism, bassesse, excess and death. On the first page of the novel, the narrator/character marks the time of the appearance of the second character (one of the most meaningful ones in the story), describing her and reproducing, in direct speech, her first speech, describing soon afterwards, her actions. Both speech and action define the eroticism inherited by the displacement of excitement and objects of desire.

According to Susan Sontag (1987: 68), that shift in the locus of desire is “an erotic obsession that assails many common objects” not only bodies, but “a number of things – arranged in a defined sequence – which are captured and exploited in some convulsive erotic act”. In the first paragraphs of Story of the Eye, one is faced with that shift in the following situation:

Il y a avait dans le couloir une assiette de lait destinée au chat.
– Les assiettes, c’est fait pour s’asseoir, dit Simone. Paries-tu ? Je m’assois dans l’assiette.
– Je parie que tu n’oses pas, répondis-je, sans souffle.
Il faisait chaud. Simone mit l’assiette sur un petit banc, s’installa devant moi et, sans quitter mes yeux, s’assit et trempa son derrière dans le lait. Je restai quelque temps immobile, le sang à la tête et tremblant, tandis qu’elle regardait ma verge tendre ma culote. Je me couchai à ses pieds. […] Elle se leva soudain : le lait coula jusqu’à ses bas sur ses cuisses. Elle s’essuya avec son mouchoir, debout par-dessus ma tête, un pied sur le petit banc. Je me frottais la verge en m’agitant sur le sol. Nous arrivâmes à la jouissance au même instant, sans nous être touché l’un l’autre. (BATAILLE, 2008: 08-09)

The erotic and transgressive atmosphere of Bataille’s writing permeates the whole work of Maruo. However, in this article, we will focus on a specific story contained in the Yume no Q-saku (book entitled Recette de la soupe au caca) that performs a beautiful translation of some chapters of Story of the Eye, and also a broader dialogue with other works by Bataille such as the text Solar Anus. The opening page of the chapter Recette de la soupe au caca presents a sort of subtitle, Solar Dick, which clearly establishes an intertextuality or transmediation/transcreation of that work by Bataille. The transcreation exercise made by Maruo perfectly illustrates the assertion argued by Thais. F. Diniz (1999: 30) who considers translation as “product of a process”, “an allusive text to the other(s) text(s) that keeps them in a particular relationship or represents them in some way.”

The precise, simple and pure line of Maruo’s drawings and the refined poetic writing, but direct and graphic at the same time of Bataille’s text introduce us to a paradox, since their style and writing put side by side the cruelty and bassesse found in their works. As Claudio Willer (2005: 5) points out, Maruo’s narratives (imagistic/textual narratives, one complementing the other), translate a specific worldview related to the experiences of excess, horror, ecstasy and death – fully realized in Sade’s and Bataille’s literature which are, then, recreated in unusual images.

Likewise, in the opening page of the chapter Recette de la soupe au caca, the narrator introduces the story, calling and dialoguing directly with the reader: “Hey, hey, have you ever heard? Someone said that Milk is for the pussy and saucer is for sitting the ass” (MARUO, 2005: 57). Such a statement acts out as a sort of epigraph of the chapter, illustrating this specific fragment of Story of the Eye: “Milk is for the pussy, isn’t it?”, said Simone. “Do you dare me to sit in the saucer?” (BATAILLE, 2001: 03). Returning to the manga, a few pages later, as we can see in Figure 1, we find disturbing images which illustrate the situation described above, intensifying it by showing teens taking dishes, crouching down and defecating on them. Regarding this intensification of the subject or image from the source work in the process of transmediation, Benjamin suggests: “In translation the original rises into a higher and purer linguistic air, as it were. […]. Thus, ironically, translation transplants the original into a more definitive linguistic realm, since it can no longer be displaced by a secondary rendering” (BENJAMIN, 2004: 19).

Milk is for pussy and saucer is for sitting the ass / Source: Recette de la soupe au caca

From that point, the quotations and intertextuality emerge constantly in the manga. The translation made by Maruo makes obscene fantasies of Bataille’s literature possible imagetically. The frenzied state of agonized excitement and the subversive erotic experiences of the Bataillian’s universe are, through Maruo’s drawings, transmediated into a visual field which not only makes it ‘possible’, but also visible.

As in Story of the Eye, the characters in Recette de la soupe au caca are insane and limitless teenagers who share the same desires as Bataille’s characters, pushing their erotic games to their limit. By exceeding to the limit without extinguishing it, the teenagers experiment, in an almost dreamlike state, with obsessions that go beyond the limits of bodies to the point of intermingling with the objects that surround them. From the floor to the stairs to the banister, anything can become objects of desecration. Concerning pornographic imagination exploited by both Mauro and Bataille, Sontag remarks, “The obscene manipulation or profanation of such objects, and of people in the vicinity, establishes the action of the novel” (SONTAG, 1987: 68).

Playing on the banister / Source: Recette de la soupe au caca

In Story of the Eye, the eye, as an object of desire, pervades the entire narrative, metamorphosing into objects that resemble it at some point (an egg, testicles of a bull, the sun), and culminates in a “bolder transgression than all other precedents.” (Ibid.: 68), forever changing the meaning and function of such an object. Let us look at the development of the scene:

Se caressant les jambes, elle y glissa l’œil. La caresse de l’œil sur la peau est d’une excessive douceur… avec un horrible côté cri de cop ! […]
À la fin, Simone me quitta, prit l’œil des mains de Sir Edmond et l’introduisit dans sa chair. Elle m’attira à ce moment, embrassa l’intérieur de ma bouche avec tant de feu que l’orgasme me vint. (BATAILLE, 2008: 98-99)

As we can see in Figure 3, the transgressive playing initiates the narrative with a close-up on an eye that, afterwards, appears as something apparent to a black hole and which will then be pushed into a vaginal black hole. This performative spectacle is watched by two boys who will soon start playing with this eye. The close-up technique employed in films to enhance scenes is widely used in the medium of manga. Perhaps this has been one of the ways found by Maruo to translate/elucidate the importance of the eye to the narrative, drawing attention to this ubiquitous object in Bataille’s novel.

Playing with the eyeball / Source: Recette de la soupe au caca

These visual playthings aesthetically soften the actions, which are supposed to be scary, and thus removing their weight, and moving them to a circumstantial realm in which the guilt exists, for instance, as a self-prohibitive or self-punitive engine. Instead, the sense of guilt intensifies and prolongs the pleasure in an uninterrupted and violent way. For Bataille (2004 : 92),

La connaissance de l’érotisme, ou de la religion, demande une expérience personnelle, égale et contradictoire, de l’interdit et de la transgression. […] L’expérience mène à la transgression achevée, à la transgression réussie, qui, maintenant l’interdit, le maintient pour en jouir.

In an attempt to retain the ambiguity of the forbidden matter, one increasingly exceeds the (im)possibilities. Then, one experiences the deepest ecstasy, almost divine, which is only compared in intensity to that which is experienced by madmen, saints, martyrs, and dying people.

The little death / Source: Recette de la soupe au caca

The actions are gradually brought about to their extreme, culminating in the little death when approaching deadly actions. Then, a new terrifying setting is established, forcing the reader to confront the horror that was maintained astray at all costs. For Bataille, the act of dodging the horror is a big mistake, “since the horror reinforces the ‘attraction’ and excites the desire.” (SONTAG, 1987: 65).

According to Sontag (ibid.: 65), before Bataille, themes such as transgression and death have never been treated in such a sophisticated way. Thus, the scenes described in his text bring to the center of the plot an awkward beauty that, before becoming execrable, casts doubt on the well-defined notions of pleasure, desire, eroticism, beauty, good, bad, etc. His notion of eroticism deals inseparably with violence and death (the second as the culmination of the first), leads the characters involved in the actions (particularly the victim) to go beyond the surface of a seemingly measured world, a “drab world in which men lead their estimated life”, and puts them in the vacuum of total disproportion. In this vacuum, “death and violence rave and cannot stop out of respect for the law that orders the social human life.” (BATAILLE, 2004: 92).

In both Bataille and Maruo, the eroticism takes a totally forbidden dimension as it brings to the erotic realm themes such as death, excess, madness, scatology, incest, necrophilia, etc., which define and materialize their definition of eroticism, which results in the bright ecstasy that opens the door to the impossible. Hence, from the skilled eye of Maruo and his hyper-creative thinking comes a sophisticated translational operation, which according to J. Plaza’s discussions, originals and translations, although they are constituted as different languages, are directly linked by an isomorphic ratio, which defines translation as a rebuilding process. This way of thinking the translation process empowers the translator by shifting the translator’s position to the one of the creator; generating a piece of work which is at the same time a new equivalent. As was stated by Benjamin (2004: 19) “just as translation is a form of its own, so, too, may the task of the translator be regarded as distinct and clearly differentiated from the task of the poet.” (Ibid.: 19).