An article in the Dong-a Ilbo yesterday touts Korean literature as the next “‘hallyu’ boom”… in Japan. If my experiences in academia are any indication, there has been more interest in Korean literature on that side of the East/Sea/of Japan, but it’s hard to talk about a “boom” of any kind of literature these days.
Dong-a’s evidence: Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was well reviewed by a Waseda professor in the Asahi Shimbun, sold out its first run and is heading into a second printing, and Shin Kyung-sook’s Please Look After Mom is expected to do well based on its success in English-language countries and Europe. Interesting that that’s what they think it’ll take for PLAM to make it in Japan. Says a representative from the BC (literary) Agency:
“If the novel was exported directly to the Japanese market, it would not gain notable influence. But since the received a good response in the West, it will gain popularity in Japan as well.”
Hm… As Prof. Choi Mi-kyung, winner of the 2011 KLTI Translation Award, pointedly reminded everyone, there are other target languages for Korean literature than English. And literary critics do have more clout in Japan than, say, in the U.S. — let’s see what gets in there next.
(Thanks to Jun Yoo for the link)
Jean-Georges makes some tastiness that I’ve tasted at Jean-Georges, but I’ll have to try this too.
Darned if this and Maria Vongerichten’s (his wife) show The Kimchi Chronicles doesn’t do more for the Korea for the world project than anything cooked up over here (still in Seoul).
Come on! Wolverine’s bokkumbap? I know someone who will be excited about this…
It’s just the blogs, but this made the WSJ? Heh. I liked the song in spite of myself…
I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, but there’s been some controversy (and excitement!) over a Drama Special on KBS that aired this past weekend called Daughters of Bilitis Club (클럽 빌리티스의 딸들) that depicts three lesbian narratives. Dramabeans has a good write-up of it:
Here’s the official KBS2 page for the show and the trailer below (sorry, Korean only — haven’t found an subbed version yet):
Check it out — I’m going to!
The latest issue of Asymptote, an online journal that I only just now became aware of, is featuring an interview with Brother Anthony, Translator Extraordinaire, and in it he lays down some serious sass for the interviewer.
Here is a sample passage:
A translator’s identity can influence the outcome of his or her work. To take the example of a Korean translation, if you are Korean and translate a Korean text into English, you are likely to ‘foreignise’ the original, to use Venuti’s concept, revealing cultural differences. But an English translator would tend to domesticate the original, suppressing the foreign elements and focusing on making the text readable to an English-speaking audience. When I was translating Eun Heekyung’s The Gift of a Bird, for instance, I paid particular attention to explaining particularly foreign aspects of Korean culture through footnotes.
I disagree strongly. I do not think that these options have anything to do with a translator’s national, cultural identity. It all depends on the nature of the translator’s commission from the publisher or the translator’s personal decision regarding the best balance between accuracy and readability in any particular case. …
He goes into more detail, citing specific examples of how translators can deal with culturally specific terms without resorting to footnotes, and then he says this beautiful thing:
We should not forget that the most specifically cultural aspect of a novel resides not in the words but in the way it consists of a narrative surrounded by silences. The unsaid is always as important as the said; but the Korean unsaid is radically unlike the Scottish unsaid, which is already not the same as the English unsaid. Translators are not inclined to rewrite a work to such an extent that the unsaid is also translated and the result is that even very skilful translations retain a disconcerting aspect, simply because the original arose elsewhere and was written for readers inhabiting that cultural space’s inherent silences. One small example might be the phrase: “People said he was a Red,” which in the West would most often be a comment on a person’s private political options but in the South Korea of the 1940-50s it could easily be equivalent to a death sentence. Every Korean reader knows that, there would be no need to spell it out.
This part struck a huge chord for me as it is precisely these silences that I’ve been struggling with in my current translation projects. Just as a joke loses its power when it is explained, so, too, do these deliberate silences and omissions. How do you get the reader to feel the unspoken tension in the narrative if and when those same tensions and risks don’t exist on the other end?
And then! And then! There is this:
The translation theorist Susan Bassnett, who was featured in Issue Two of Asymptote, argues that “translation always takes place within a context of power”. How do you see the issue of power relations between a global language like English and a marginal one like Korean being inscribed in translation?
I think that Susan Bassnett might have better said that “publication always takes place within a context of power,” because a translation is nothing but a computer file in itself, it has to be commodified and marketed before we can make academic meatballs with it. …
He goes on to point out that Books That Get Published are not always Books That Are Well Written, which is an unfortunate fact of the industry, but he is in no way saying that translators should therefore only translate what is publishable. Earlier in the interview, he says:
But after all, anyone who does something, whether it be translating Korean literature or some other kind of work, expecting to receive thanks, is very likely to be disappointed. And I would never translate in order to become famous, nor “so that someone can get the Nobel Prize.”
Of course, he also makes the point that “less is more” when it comes to this line of work, and that the solution is not necessarily for everyone to become literary translators who will translate massive amounts of literature and push, push, push for it all to be published so we can find out later what works. Overall, I think he strikes a very pragmatic and yet still artistically inspired balance between the idea of translating what is beautiful vs. not expecting too much to come of it.
Really, there were so many points in his interview that I appreciated, including the way he took the interviewer to task for trying to make assumptions about his ethnic/national identity and his role as a translator. It’s an unfortunate fact that Koreans (and I’m sure this happens in other parts of the world, too), assume that the more “Korean” you are, the more “accurate” your translation is. I was once asked in an interview, “Since you’re of Korean descent, that must mean you’re naturally better at translating Korean than foreigners, right?” I was quick to respond that the ability to translate is about how well you write and not who you are, but I doubt I was quick enough. I’m pretty sure that message fell on deaf ears.
Likewise, Brother Anthony’s point that “the literary translator has to spend time reading a lot of modern English-language literature in order to produce powerful translations that come alive in English” is another one that tends to get lost in the shuffle, assuming it ever gets voiced in the first place. I’ve made this same point to people, including students, but it tends to be received with doubt. Particularly for those of us who are English-dominant, there is a tendency to think that if we just keep studying more Korean and more hanja and more more more, then we will naturally become better translators. Now, I’m no great role model (yet), but I do pride myself on the fact that when I started translating literature, one of the first things I did was to stop making endless Korean flashcards and to start reading as many English short stories as I could get my grubby little hands on. I realized back then that as much as I enjoyed reading fiction, I didn’t really know–like, really really know–what made it “work,” in the most technical and crafty sense of the term. It’s something I am still in the process of learning as I cringe through all of my mistakes.
Anyhow, that’s as deep as I go for now. For a much more erudite (and sassy!) perspective on literary translation, go have a looksee at the full interview already.
Not a particularly exciting article, but I was amused by the turn of phrase in the headline, having had to “take a lecture” from my dad on a regular basis as a rebellious young thing. This is the first time I’ve seen any other Korean speaker/writer besides my dad use “take” with “lecture,” but the internets suggest that it could be a British usage that is used with some regularity by Korean English speakers.
Has anyone else ever had to take a lecture?