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Banana fish

 
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J.D.Salinger. "A Perfect Day for Banana Fish"
It's a short story about a guy who had to be married soon. He spends time with his girl on the ocean, a very nice day, at the end of the story he shot himself. I was puzzled by this, because there wasn't anything that would motivate a suicide in the story. Later I read almost all Salinger wrote and the idea of suicide is totally orthogonal to his world.
Later yet, I read somewhere in the Russian Internet that the meaning of the story is quite cryptic: suicide was committed not because the guy was unhappy, the opposite, because he *was* happy. There was a hint that "banana fish" alludes to some Zen coan or something in Japanese culture, I am not sure. I tried to google the problem out and to my great surprise I did not find anything meaningful.
Anyway, my first reaction was that such an interpretation is totally farfetched: who would ever kill himself because he was well... just too happy? :roll: But the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. As it is a weakness to kill yourself at the moment of your unhappiness, as it is a strength to kill yourself at the culmination of happiness. I do not think I will ever do it, but if I did, that would be the only motivation.
But I still do not know what Banana fish is.
 
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maybe he wanted to die a happy man.
 
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Originally posted by Mapraputa Is:
There was a hint that "banana fish" alludes to some Zen coan or something in Japanese culture


Are there bananas plants in Japan? I dont think so. Too cold. If this allusion is part of Japanese culture its very improbable that they use this without a strong significance of bananas in their culture.
Axel
 
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Here's your answer: What is Bananafish?
This probably is pure nonsense conceived merely to engage people in these such discussions. I can imagine Salinger chuckling to himself looking at all these intelligent people creating one outlandish conjecture upon another, trying to explain/interpret his moment of insanity.
[ January 11, 2002: Message edited by: Nanhesru Ningyake ]
 
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The implication being that he pigged out on happiness - or that "perfect day" and just could not fit back through the hole into regular life, so he died.
Interesting dedication:


J. D. Salinger: For Esme~with Love and Squalor

 
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< lurking >
 
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Originally posted by Mapraputa Is:
[QB]J.D.Salinger. "A Perfect Day for Banana Fish"
It's a short story about a guy who had to be married soon. He spends time with his girl on the ocean, a very nice day, at the end of the story he shot himself. I was puzzled .[QB]


Obviously, there was a story.
But from what you have described, there are three possibilities:
(1) Accident ;
(2) His girl was dead ;
(3) Mental problem ;
 
Mapraputa Is
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Ha! "Mental problem" is what the story suggests, as far as I remember. But this character doesn't belong to this one story only and from other contexts it doesn't look like real explanation, more like Salinger smiled at it.
My theory is close to what Cindy said.
 
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Originally posted by Mapraputa Is:
Ha! "Mental problem" is what the story suggests, as far as I remember. But this character doesn't belong to this one story only and from other contexts it doesn't look like real explanation, more like Salinger smiled at it.
My theory is close to what Cindy said.



But what if your girl (man) died before the end of the story, wouldn't you want to kill yourself as well?
 
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J.D.Salinger. "A Perfect Day for Banana Fish"
It's a short story about a guy who had to be married soon. He spends time with his girl on the ocean, a very nice day, at the end of the story he shot himself.


She's not his girl. Can't remember the exact relationship.
It's been a few years since my spetskurs "Selinger v russkom perevode"... (tutorial on "Salinger in Russian translation").
Teacher's thesis was that Salinger was widely misunderstood by Russian readers because of very poor translation. I never liked Salinger much, but took the course because I liked the teacher and was interested at the time in problems of translation.


Later yet, I read somewhere in the Russian Internet that the meaning of the story is quite cryptic: suicide was committed not because the guy was unhappy, the opposite, because he *was* happy. There was a hint that "banana fish" alludes to some Zen coan


It's full of Zen stuff. There's a koan as an epigraph -- the one about one hand clapping (khlopok odnoi ladoni). (I think the wife on the phone in the opening sequence waving one hand to dry the fingernails is supposed to represent the naive, unenlightened approach to understanding the koan.)
The title's translated badly in Russian, too. Something along the lines of "Khorosho loviatsia rybki-banani" I think. Misses the significance of "perfect day" -- that particular, perfect day when Seymour blisses out and kills himself.
I think there's supposed to be some Zen significance in the number of banana-fish (6 is it?) that the little girl pretends to see -- the number corresponds to how many teachings or ideals somebody Zen is supposed to accomplish in their life. Seymour's apparently pleased that this is the number of fish the girl sees.
The problem I had with trying to improve the Russian translation is that we could never come up with a good way to capture one beautiful moment. After the fish part, Seymour touches the little girl's foot while she floats by in the water, then
"Ow," says the owner of the foot.
(I'm quoting that from distant memory, so there's a chance I'm not getting it perfect.) At this moment, I think, refering to the girl as "the owner of the foot" is ineffably tender. (Contrast that with the weird "are you looking at my feet?" bit in the elevator a little later.) But it's lost completely in the Russian '"Oi," skazala ona' or whatever it was. In Russian, you simply cannot own a body part. Plus there's all sorts of communist/marxist/etc. baggage associated with "owners." I remember being frustrated that the original translation missed the beauty and I coudn't capture it either.


But I still do not know what Banana fish is.


Isn't it just a made up sort of thing for the sake of the story -- sort of like a "cherebiashka" (or whatever that thing was)?
 
Mapraputa Is
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My God...
Michael Matola, where you were hiding all this time?
She's not his girl. Can't remember the exact relationship.
My fault, I confused two girls. One was his girlfriend, and another, with whom he spent a day, was a little girl, 6-7 olds maybe. She wasn't "his" in the sense "his daughter".
[Later comment: I was wrong again. It was his wife, they spent honeymoon in Florida. And the girl was 3 years old]
Teacher's thesis was that Salinger was widely misunderstood by Russian readers because of very poor translation.
I agree that translation is poor.
But it wasn't the main reason for misunderstanding, I think. Look at what happens to other Western ideas in Russia!
I just found an interpretation in Rusnet. They also send to Zen and say that in Zen philosophy a death is not a tragedy at all.
The title's translated badly in Russian, too. Something along the lines of "Khorosho loviatsia rybki-banani" I think.
"Khorosho loviatsia rybkA-bananKA", singular, "rybki" is plural. But singular in "collective" sense. Like "fish" referring to all fish, not just one specimen. So your translation isn't too wrong
Another horrible translated title was Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It was translated as 1) "while flying over the cuckoo's nest" (my attempt to translate back ) 2) "cuckoo's nest" was left "as is" and since cuckoo is only cuckoo in Russian, the Russian reader is deeply puzzled: just how Cuckoo's nest relates to the story?
Misses the significance of "perfect day" -- that particular, perfect day when Seymour blisses out and kills himself.
Absolutely.
At this moment, I think, refering to the girl as "the owner of the foot" is ineffably tender.
Interesting. I do not feel anything special about this expression (surprising, uh? ) and I wonder if the translator did. You can know the language very well, but if it's not your native language you may not feel it. Oh well.
I remember being frustrated that the original translation missed the beauty and I coudn't capture it either.
Yes, I often had a feeling of frustration reading translations. They left me at a loss. Translated text was so strange, so I wondered *what* was written in original? :roll:
Isn't it just a made up sort of thing for the sake of the story -- sort of like a "cherebiashka" (or whatever that thing was)?
Cheburashka
[ January 11, 2002: Message edited by: Mapraputa Is ]
 
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maybe translating russian to english works better than english to russian? i remember getting into reading chekov for a while. i liked his work. it was a long time ago(late 70's) but i still remember what "the cherry orchard" was basically about"
 
Mapraputa Is
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Originally posted by Michael Matola:
The problem I had with trying to improve the Russian translation is that we could never come up with a good way to capture one beautiful moment.



I found the word!
It is "khosyayka". Female form from "owner"; male form is "khosyain". It is a warm, cozy word without negative connotations. Another word for "owner", "vladelez", is never used in regard to body parts, but "khosyayka" is. Probably not in conversation, it's more a literature expression, but Salinger's character is rather sophisticated person, so the word would fit nicely. Now I understand what you mean by saying "ineffably tender". Why I didn't think about it when I read your post? I personally would call it slightly humorous, rather than "ineffably tender", maybe this why I did not understand what you are talking about. On the other side, humor gives a feeling of tenderness, so maybe you are right...
"Khosyayka" main meaning is "owner", but it is rather conversational word, it wouldn't be used in legal or economical texts. Then, because it was made form "khosyaystvo" which means household, female form has a shade of "housewife". Even more subtle meaning is "most important woman in the family" if there are more than one adult. Sometimes people visiting families call the oldest woman "khosyayka" (in this meaning it probably close to "hostess") and this has a notion of respect. Such usage is also a bit old-fashioned, so the women would probably smile.
Calling a little girl "khosyayka nogi" would bear this notion of respect with quite a humorous effect. I think, it would even stress "tenderness" you were talking about.
The best part of all this is that it proves Jim Yingst's thesis that English literature works can be greatly improved by translating into richer languages.
 
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There is one more use I missed - "khosyayka" addressed specifically to little girls. When they try to cook something, happy mother can call her daughter "khosyayka" as a form of very tender encouragement. I especially like this overtone because it stresses kid's female nature.
Nobody would think about all this situations reading "khosyayka nogi" - the owner of the foot, but they create the "ineffable tenderness" effect on subconscious level.
P.S. I wonder, why we do not see Michael Ernest in this thread. He is probably busy stopping security holes; yesterday somebody cracked his Web server and put pictures of the chieftain of the World Proletariat on it.
 
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Originally posted by Mapraputa Is:
But I still do not know what Banana fish is.


The best way to find out is to ask J.D.Salinger himself. I asked him and he says "Banana Fish" is another name for fugu fish. A play with words was also intended as "fugu" is similar to "fugue" .

I have not read the story, so I am not sure sure if he was trying to pull my leg.
Cheers
Laloo
Fugu wa kuitashii, inochi wa oshishii
[ January 12, 2002: Message edited by: Lalooprasad Yadav ]
 
Mapraputa Is
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Ha! That's interesting. I do not even care if it was what Salinger mean
 
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Originally posted by Mapraputa Is:
I found the word!
Calling a little girl "khosyayka nogi" would bear this notion of respect with quite a humorous effect. I think, it would even stress "tenderness" you were talking about.


Molodets! I really like "khosiaika nogi." Sure I know all the khos- words. "Khosiaika" was always fixed in my mind as "hostess," "housewife," or "matriarch" -- like you pointed out -- but I never realized it could be used with body parts.
And I realized when I reread the Salinger original the other day that one of the reasons I felt the expression "owner of the foot" needs to have "foot" translated it that it ties back to preceeding sentence in which Seymour kisses Sybil's foot. So it was the kiss that establishes the tenderness, and refering to the girl as "the owner of the foot" allows the tender act to transfer from one specific part of the person to the person as a whole.
 
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Dudes, you are all way out of line. First of all, the story begins with the woman talking on the phone to her mother. It becomes evident that she's a hardened, spoiled, materialistic, and manipulative little thing. Wheras Seymore (especially if you read his siblings account of him) is, as you say, reached a near "Zen" state. Seymore is brilliant, actually the most brilliant of seven brilliant children and their spiritual leader. But, I believe he can only deal with people in the abstract.
Why this marriage? I think he got into it believing that he would be able to connect to this woman somehow and the relationship would grow from there. The subtext of "Bannanafish" is that she's obviously much more sexually sophisticated that him and is battering him around with this leverage she has. "Bannanafish" are described as long things that peek in and out of holes. Sound a little phallic to you?
He can't handle a real relationship with a woman, particularly not one so controlling as her. And he blows his brains out because of it.
Too bad. Seymore plays a key role in his family and you can see what a generous and loving soul he is. I'll leave you with a poem he wrote when he was nine :
John Keats, John Keats
John
Please put your scarf on.

--Ana's husband Robert (yeah, I know get my own id)
 
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actually, bannanafish comes from the fact that jd's father used to hold him by the waist above the water and tell him to look for banannafish. i dont know if this really means what i think this means...
 
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