By Bruce Fulton
“translating Korean literature involves translating not just a literary text -its words and their meaning -but in addition a culture, a society, a land, a nation, a history.”
En 2002, Bruce Fulton inaugurait la chaire Young Bin Min de « littérature coréenne et de traduction littéraire » au Département des études asiatiques de la « University of British Columbia » (Canada). Nous publions ici son allocution intitulée « Traduire la Corée », un document qui complétera le numéro deux de tan’gun qui abordait les problèmes liés à la traduction. On retrouvera dans ce texte de nombreux éléments que nous avions soulevés, enrichis d’exemples et commentaires pertinents. Après avoir expliqué l’expression « traduire la Corée », Bruce Fulton fait le point sur les différents rôles du traducteur. « Traduire la Corée » est une « combinaison d’art, de technique et de science. Un art car au même titre que l’œuvre originale, la traduction est un travail d’ordre littéraire. » Une technique qui résulte d’un long apprentissage et qui a fait ses preuves par le passé, une science qui consiste à analyser un texte et le contexte dont il est le produit.
Fulton énumère ensuite les difficultés auxquelles doit faire face le traducteur. La première surgit avant même le début du travail, dans le choix du texte à traduire. Deux critères doivent guider ce choix : le potentiel de réception du public (receptiveness) et celui de traduction (translatability).
Passé le cap linguistique, les obstacles sont essentiellement d’ordre culturel. Fulton s’attarde surtout sur la façon de traduire les aspects non-dits du texte original. Implicites pour le lecteur coréen, ils restent inconnus pour le lecteur occidental lambda (lorsque l’on s’assoit, on s’assoit par terre, on ne se sert pas à boire, on vous sert…)
Enfin, à la question « La traduction doit-elle être enseignée à l’Université ? », Bruce Fulton répond d’un « emphatic yes », que nous accompagnons d’un « chaleureux oui ».
Inaugural Lecture of the Young-Bin Min Chair in Korean Literature and Literary Translation
Department of Asian Studies
University of British Columbia
By Bruce FULTON
The subject of my remarks is “translating Korea.” Why “translating Korea” instead of “translating Korean literature”? The answer is that translating Korean literature involves translating not just a literary text–its words and their meaning–but in addition a culture, a society, a land, a nation, a history. This may come as no surprise to those who are familiar with both Eastern and Western cultures. In the case of Korea, literary translation involves a distinct set of challenges. For Korea is a place that is not completely unknown to the rest of the world, and yet is not well known; rather it occupies a problematic position somewhere in between. Perhaps the best representation of that position is the Demilitarized Zone, the approximately three-mile-wide swath of land that trends across the Korean peninsula near the 38th parallel: a space devoid of humans but a space, upon closer examination, that has been recaptured by a rich diversity of plant and animal life. Likewise, the Korea that occupies a space in the imagination of the world beyond the Korean peninsula is a place populated to a large extent by stereotypes–the Hermit Kingdom, the Cold War, “M*A*S*H”, KAL flight 007, the “economic miracle on the Han River,” the IMF bailout, and most recently in the case of North Korea, the “axis of evil.” (Every culture is stereotyped in the larger world, one might argue. True enough, but stereotypes of Korea, we might also argue, are not as sophisticated as the stereotypes of other, more familiar cultures.) Upon closer examination, though, one finds that Korea has its own thriving cultural life–its own language; its own script, the admirably precise script known as hangûl, which dates from the mid-1400s; a distinct cuisine; a world-view colored since pre-modern times by great-power rivalries; and today a sovereign presence in the East Asian sphere and indeed the world at large. Illuminating this Korean subtext and incorporating it within the larger text of global history and civilization is crucial to what I mean by “translating Korea.”
All of us who have encountered different languages and cultures have engaged in the act of translation, broadly speaking. For in the course of learning and using those languages and experiencing those cultures, we have translated them into concepts that will somehow fit into the framework of knowledge and life experience that we have built up over the years. That is to say, we have somehow rendered those languages and cultures accessible to ourselves. In the same way, literary translation involves rendering a literary work in one language accessible in a different language.
Literary translation, though, means different things to different cultures, for the very reason that the notion of accessibility may differ from one culture to another. I am told, for example, that in Japan it is desirable that a text translated into Japanese retain a “foreign accent.” Whereas in other cultures, including those in the English-speaking world, it is generally agreed that a translation into English should read with native-English fluency and succeed as a work of literature in English. Literary translation may also mean different things to the same culture, depending on the degree of familiarity or foreignness of the language of the source text and the culture in which it is embedded. The translation of French literature into English, for instance, is an operation different from the translation of Korean literature into English.
The process of translating Korea—that is, the process of illuminating Korean subtext while translating a Korean literary work–can be understood in various ways. In the first place we can think of it as retelling, in that we take a Korean story and tell it in English. In retelling the story we make it public. This means we have an audience, which may consist of readers of our translation or listeners of a public reading of that translation. Public readings, by the way, are an important way of disseminating a translation. And in the case of Korea, readings have a special relevance. Because in Korea there is a long tradition of public performance of literature. Indeed, the earliest extant Korean lyrics—the hyangga of Shilla and early Koryô times–were meant to be sung. As were the vernacular lyrics of Chosôn times called shijo—a performance tradition that continues today, in fact. Moreover, poems written in Chinese by Korean literati in pre-modern times—and thousands upon thousands of such poems survive today—were recited at gatherings of these individuals. Extemporaneous composition of poetry in Chinese, and its declamation, was an omnipresent recreational activity among such men, « something practiced by most members of the educated class…with about as much frequency as we talk on the telephone, »1 in the words of Kathleen McCarthy. Countless were the occasions when literati challenged one another to impromptu poetic displays and took up the brush. The point is that translation, especially of fictional works, can be understood as a kind of storytelling. This notion of translation as retelling is an especially apt approach when we translate an author such as Ch’ae Man-shik or Pak Wan-sô, whose narrators often sound as if they are speaking directly to us.
Translating Korea also involves re-creating, to the extent that we produce something that succeeds as literature in English (whatever that is–Terry Eagleton does a good job in his book Literary Theory of demonstrating just how difficult it is to answer that particular question).
In addition, translation involves reenacting, and here I draw on the Lacanian notion of retrieving or finishing a lost narrative of our life. In reenacting, the translator puts himself or herself into the story as a silent observer, a “secret sharer,” to borrow the title of Joseph Conrad’s well-known story. On a broader scale, reenactment in the case of Korea involves retrieving a narrative of the nation that has been diminished or lost among a host of stereotypes.
Translation also consists of transplanting a text in new cultural and linguistic ground. This is part of the conceptual process of making a different language and culture accessible to us, as I mentioned earlier.
We can think of translation as rewriting, in the sense of performing an operation on a preexisting text. The result, in the words of Rob Wechsler in his spirited book Performing Without a Stage: The Art of Literary Translation « is a palimpsest, two works, one on top of the other, an original and a performance, difficult to tell apart.”2 When I read these words of Wechsler’s I am reminded of the occasional bilingual native-Korean speaker attending our readings of our translations and reporting that he or she can detect the original Korean while listening to me read the translation.
Translating Korea is, moreover, a combination of art, skill, and science. It is an art in that what we create is, like the original text, a work of literature. It is a skill in that we have undergone a long apprenticeship—some, in fact, would call it a lifetime of on-the-job training—as a result of which we utilize methods that have proved their usefulness over time. And it is a science in that we are analyzing—we are subjecting to rational scrutiny–a Korean text and the environment that has produced it, in order to expand the boundaries of knowledge about that text and environment.
On the other hand, translating Korea may involve a rearguard action against various efforts, often by otherwise well-meaning editors and publishers, to “de-translate” or “un-translate” Korea. To take an example: the cover of a French translation of Yi Kyun-yông’s story “Ôduun kiôk ûi chôp’yôn” is a detail of a Chinese erotic painting. The French publisher, Actes Sud, had thought it was a Japanese painting and in any case considered it representative. That is, the publisher likely assumed that because of the geographical and cultural proximity of China, Korea, and Japan, representations of those three cultures could be treated as if they were interchangeable.
Finally, translating Korea is a joint enterprise between translator and author—even if the author is deceased. As such, it is desirable that author and translator be well matched. Such a match often manifests itself as a similarity of aesthetic outlook and a shared commitment to the author’s works. In this joint enterprise the translator is a kind of medium. JaHyun Kim Haboush reports, for example, that during the years in which she was translating Lady Hong’s memoirs, Hanjungnok, the memoirs of a princess of later Chosôn times, she sometimes imagined hearing that princess’s voice ring inside her head. Other translators have described this phenomenon as a merging of themselves with the persona of their author. The late Marshall R. Pihl reported having such an experience while translating stories by O Yông-su; I myself have had a similar experience in translating stories by Hwang Sun-wôn. Over a period of years and in the course of many translations of the same author, translators become the voice of that author in their own language. Perhaps, therefore, it is not so far-fetched for French scholar-translator Patrick Maurus to say, in reference to a prominent Korean novelist, “I am Yi Mun-yôl in French.”
Each of these ways of understanding translation involves a crossing from one literature and culture to another. The crossing from Korean to a Western language such as English, however, is much more distant than the crossing from one Western language to another Western language. To illustrate, let’s compare an excerpt from a Korean story with the same passage in French translation and finally the same passage in English translation. Here is the beginning of Ch’oe Yun’s “Hoesaek nunsaram” in the original Korean:
Kôûi ishim nyôn chônûi kû shigiga chomyông sogûi mudaech’ôrôm hwanhage ttôollatta. Kû shigirûl yônsanghal ttaemyôn môrisogûn ont’ong ch’ôngnoksaegûro dwidôp’in ôduun kudoga chap’inda. Kûrotchiman ôduun kudoûi han tchoge ch’ôjin ch’angmunûi chôtchokesô saeôdûrôonûn ttattût’an pich’i innûn kôtto kat’a. Kûgôsûn hollaniôtta. Kûrigo muôtpodado ap’ûmiôtta.3
Here is the same passage in the French translation by the author and her husband, Patrick Maurus, titled “Avec cette neige grise et sale”:
Ces événements vieux de vingt ans me reviennent clairement en mémoire, comme une scène dans la lueur d’un projecteur. Au moment de les évoquer, s’organise dans ma tête comme un tableau sombre, uniformément recouvert d’une teinte vert-bleu. Mais, de l’autre côté de la fenêtre placée dans un coin de ce cadre obscur,
une chaude lumière semble sur le point de naître. Une période de confusion. Et avant tout de douleur.4
And here is the passage in the English translation by Ju-Chan Fulton and myself, titled “The Gray Snowman” :
The events of that period almost twenty years ago have returned to my memory like a stage being lit. I see them first as a somber, bluish green tableau. But then, as if through a window beside the tableau, a warm light emerges. It was a period of confusion. And above all else, suffering.5
Those of you who are non-Korean speakers will probably have noticed a similarity between the French and English versions, even if you do not speak French, but you probably noticed very little similarity between the Korean version and either of the Western versions.
Translating Cultural Subtext
In some nations more than others, culture is deeply embedded in literature. Korea is a good example. Korea is a nation with a rich cultural heritage that even today continues to manifest itself strongly in Korean society. This heritage differs in several important respects from the Western cultural heritage. These cultural differences constitute much of the challenge of translating Korea, especially to those of us who translate Korean literature into a Western language such as English. Two particular difficulties are posed by the great amount of cultural information in Korean literature. The first of these difficulties is that much of the cultural information in Korean literature is implicit: it is taken for granted by Korean readers and does not have to be made explicit in the text. The reader of a translation, though, often does not have access to that cultural information, and the result is the common criticism that “something is lost in translation.”
Second, a Korean story that contains much cultural information–what we might call a “Korea-specific story”–may not be appropriate for those Western readers who are easily intimidated by story material–cultural, historical, or otherwise–that is unfamiliar to them. This means that the Western translator must exercise care in deciding which literary works to translate. Allow me to explain, starting with the first of these issues–that of cultural subtext.
The translation of Korean literature into English, like the translation of Japanese literature into English, is generally a much more difficult task than the translation of a Western literature, and especially a Romance Language literature, into English. One reason for this, of course, is that English and Korean, or English and Japanese, lack the shared word origins that connect the various languages in the Indo-European language family. A second and perhaps no less important reason is that much of Korean literature is what we might call highly culturally specific.
For example, try to imagine yourself sitting down to a meal in a traditional Korean home. You would be seated on a square cushion on a floor heated by flues radiating from a firebox in the kitchen. Of course you have taken off your shoes before entering the living quarters of the house. A low dining table is brought in from the kitchen, with several dishes already arranged on it. The rice is then served, one bowl per person, and the soup–also one bowl per person–is placed to the right of it. You may be offered an alcoholic beverage in a small glass or porcelain cup. You insist in vain that the beverage be offered first to the elders. Your hostess will then apologize for the « poor fare » she has prepared for you; in fact she and the other womenfolk in the host’s extended family may have spent the better part of the day preparing this feast for you, the honored guest.
Now most of this cultural information will be understood and taken for granted by the Korean reader of any story in which a meal is prepared for a guest. But if we are to accept as one of the ideal goals of literary translation that the cultural information held by the reader of the original text should be available as well to the reader of the translation, then what is the translator to do if none of this information is explicit in the Korean text (and most likely it is not)?
Let us consider two other examples. Among Koreans there is a long-established drinking etiquette. For instance, one rarely pours one’s own glass but instead offers the empty vessel to another person and fills it; the favor is eventually returned. Second, shamanism figures in several Korean stories. Shamanism is a rich tradition that has long been a powerful force in Korean folk culture, but it is little known among Western readers outside of a small group of scholars. Many other examples of cultural information in Korean literature could be cited. Because drinking, shamanism, and other cultural subjects frequently appear in Korean literature, and because the references to these subjects are sometimes quite subtle, the translator must be sensitive to how all of this cultural information is to be handled.
So, how is the uninitiated reader of Korean literature in translation to have access to any of this information–what we might call the cultural subtext of the original work?
Because Korean culture, at least at this point in world history, has decidedly fewer points of reference in American culture than European cultures do, a slavish translation of a Korean story into English–that is, a translation that makes no attempt to account for cultural subtext—risks failure more than a slavish translation of a European story into English. For one thing, the reader of the translation of the Korean story, lacking the cultural background enjoyed by the reader of the Korean text, may have difficulty re-creating the cultural setting of the story or may simply be puzzled by certain aspects of Korean culture that appear in it. More important for the translator who wishes to make a living from his or her work, publishers will recognize the constraints that too little, or too much, cultural information may exert on the marketability of a translation.
What the person who wishes to translate Korea must therefore do is walk an aesthetic tightrope between unswerving loyalty to the Korean text and egregious embroidering. Experience suggests that it will never be possible to re-create in a translation all the cultural information enjoyed by the Korean reader. Yet it seems justifiable, as long as the integrity of the target language is observed, to make explicit in the translation–but as unobtrusively as possible–at least some of what is implicit in the original.
Consider, for example, a sentence from O Chông-hûi’s story “Tonggyông,” translated as « The Bronze Mirror » by myself and Ju-Chan Fulton:
One spring day Yôngno had flown out of the house like a nighthawk, his crewcut not quite grown out and sticking up indignantly in all directions
An American friend who read this initial, literal translation of the corresponding Korean sentence asked why Yôngno’s hair was sticking out. Only then did we realize that our literal translation was depriving potential readers of meaningful cultural information. We therefore emended the sentence as follows:
One spring day Yôngno, fresh out of high school, had flown out of the house like a nighthawk, his schoolboy crewcut not quite grown out and sticking up indignantly in all directions.6
The emphasized words, though implicit in the original text, do not appear there; they are part of the cultural subtext. And the reason these words are crucial to our appreciation of this story is that they suggest to us that the cause of Yôngno’s death was the April 19, 1960, Student Revolution that forced strongman Yi Sûng-man (or Synghman Rhee) to step down, an uprising in which several students perished.
Such interpolation, if used judiciously and subtly, is one approach to the problem of translating cultural subtext. Here are a few other examples of its application:
One terribly cold day, I had stoked the firebox….
One terribly cold day, I had stoked the firebox that heated the floors of our living quarters…7
…if a girl touched her forehead with an ornamental silver knife, then looked into a round mirror on a moonless night, the face of her future husband would surely appear.
…if a girl touched her forehead with one of the ornamental silver knives that women used to carry to protect their virtue, then looked into a round mirror on a moonless night, the face of her future husband would surely appear.8
Elsewhere I have seen the Korean word for such a knife, ûnjangdo, translated simply as « chastity knife, » but an understanding of this expression would require too much guesswork by the reader. Here are a few more examples:
« Won’t you be my first customer of the day?”
« Won’t you be my first customer of the day–for good luck? »9
I realized then that Mother was singing the song from the chinogwi ritual that she used to perform.
I realized then that Mother was singing the song from the chinogwi ritual–the ceremony for the restless dead–which she used to perform.10
It was then that they heard Kang’s clanging shears.
It was then that they had heard the clanging shears heralding the approach of a junk dealer.11
Interpolation is not without its pitfalls, however. Consider the following passage from a translation of Japanese author Inoue Yasushi’s story « The Counterfeiter »:
Escorted by Senzo Onoe, who was wearing the kind of farmer’s field smock that we Japanese call noragi, I was shown a place in the hamlet that might be leased–the Youth Assembly Hall.12
As Martin Holman, a specialist on the works of Inoue, has noted, the underscored words, interpolated by translator Leon Picon, give the odd impression that Inoue is addressing a non-Japanese audience.13
If such dangers can be avoided, interpolation of cultural subtext can considerably enhance the fidelity of a translation, especially in the case of a longer work. Consider Ahn Junghyo’s novel Silver Stallion. Ahn originally wrote the novel in his native Korean. But instead of translating the Korean version, he rewrote it in English. Moreover, Ahn professes to write for an American audience. The result of this approach–a translation in which the sights, smells, and sounds of the Korean countryside come to life for the reader–are apparent to anyone with a passing acquaintance with Korean literature in translation. Here is a passage from the very first page of the English version. I would bet that at least some of the emphasized words have no equivalents in the Korean version.
Old Hwang…took a bush-clover broom from the rice barn and started sweeping the courtyard. By the time he reached the stepping stones outside the gate, white streaks of smoke rose gently from the low earthen chimneys of the huts in the fields. The women inside were cooking the breakfast rice. Farmers trickled out of their homes one after another, each slinging a shovel or a long-handled hoe over his shoulder, to do some work before the first meal. This was the tranquil landscape the old man had watched from his gate at this early hour on summer days all his life.14
This attentiveness to cultural detail, if sustained over the course of a novel (as it is in the case of Silver Stallion), can do much to help re-create for the reader of the translation the aesthetic experience enjoyed by the reader of the Korean original.
In deciding whether interpolation is a viable option, translators should also consider the currency of Korean words in English. For example, kimch’i–the spicy pickled cabbage for which Korean cuisine is famous–is included in the current (third) edition of Webster’s unabridged dictionary (where it is spelled without an apostrophe)–one indication that it may no longer need clarification by the translator. Likewise, the Korean alcoholic beverages makkôlli and soju may eventually be well enough known to American readers that they, like sake, will need no explanation. In other words, translators, while being sensitive to the need to reproduce cultural information, should be careful not to produce a translation that will soon be dated.
There are, of course, alternatives to incorporating cultural subtext directly in the text of a translation. If the translation is published in a book (rather than a journal or newspaper), a note on culture may be added in an introduction or appendix. Footnotes serve a similar purpose, but may intimidate the general, nonacademic reader; a glossary might be preferable. Again, what we are dealing with here is part of the process of translating not just Korean literature but Korea itself.
Cultural Factors to Consider in Selecting Works for Translation
Thus far I have spoken of the process of translating Korea mainly in terms of the source language and culture—that is, the language and culture of Korea. Translating Korea, though, just as importantly involves consideration of the target language and culture. That is to say, even before translators address the challenge of the cultural information they may encounter in a Korean work, they must first try to decide which works will have the best chance of succeeding in translation. Two of the most important cultural factors that enter into this decision are cultural receptiveness and translatability. Cultural receptiveness involves the readiness of the target audience to appreciate a translated work. In the case of English translations of modern Korean fiction, those that have been somewhat successful in North America–that is, those that have been received by North American readers with relative ease and interest–are usually translations of stories that have some connection with the the U.S and/or Canada. For example, Ahn Junghyo’s novels White Badge and Silver Stallion concern historical events that are somewhat familiar to a North American audience. White Badge is set partly during the Vietnam War. That war created deep divisions in American society, one of the results of which was the migration of some Americans to Canada on grounds of conscience. It also inspired a succession of fine American novels about the war. White Badge, though it concerns Koreans rather than Americans in the Vietnam War, therefore has a subject that is intensely familiar to many North American readers. Silver Stallion, for its part, describes the catastrophic effects of the sudden appearance of United Nations soldiers in a small Korean village early in the Korean War. The rape of a Korean woman by two such soldiers almost destroys the centuries-old social fabric of the village. Americans, of course, made up the great majority of UN troops in the Korean War, and by reading Silver Stallion Americans were able to learn more about the effects of the presence of their countrymen on Korean soil.
Another example of a modern Korean fictional work that has gained modest visibility in translation in North America is Kim Chi-wôn’s story “Ôttôn shijak,” translated by Ju-Chan Fulton and myself as “A Certain Beginning.”15 The story is set in the New York City metropolitan area and concerns a marriage of convenience between a Korean student and an older Korean divorcee. The contract marriage theme is familiar to North Americans, and this particular translation, after its first appearance in book form, was anthologized several times and even adapted for a radio performance. Reports from university instructors of Korean literature in translation tend to confirm the popularity among students of Korean stories that have a North American connection, whether in terms of geographical setting, as in “A Certain Beginning,” or in terms of the effects of a Western presence on Korean soil, as in the kijich’on stories—those stories that take place in or near the area around the American military bases in Korea.
And now to the issue of translatability. Translatability involves such elements as the style and mood of a literary work. Some Korean authors are stylistically easier than others to translate into English. Hwang Sun-wôn is an excellent example. Hwang, whom I consider to be Korea’s most accomplished short story writer, writes in a compact style with few wasted words, and his command of Korean is excellent. His fictional style is sometimes compared with that of Hemingway. Not surprisingly, his stories are well represented in English translation, and Hwang enjoys relatively high visibility among readers of Korean literature in English translation. On the other hand, there are Korean authors who are verbose, tendentious, and repetitive. Although these qualities are considered acceptable by many Korean readers, they pose difficulties for both the prospective translator and many English-language readers.
As for mood, it is important to realize that much of modern Korean fiction concerns the tumultuous modern history of the country–colonization by the Japanese from 1910 to 1945, the Soviet and American military presence following World War II, the establishment of separate governments in northern and southern Korea, the Korean War and the subsequent enforced separation of millions of family members, a succession of autocratic governments, and the social ills produced by rapid industrialization beginning in the 1960s. While literature dealing with these historical events is considered very relevant to the Korean literature establishment in Korea, it is often very serious in tone, even gloomy, such that North American readers of translations of such works often find them depressing. (Ironically, this tendency among many Korean writers to produce works considered gloomy has in at least one instance tended to thwart our attempts in Korea itself to translate Korea: when presented with a selection of stories for possible publication in the Korean Air in-flight magazine, Morning Calm, officials at Korean Air responded by asking, “Can’t you find any stories with happy endings?”) The point is that Korean works of literature will likely have a greater appeal to a North American audience if their gravity is leavened with a bit of humor, irony, or satire. Such works, though, are often considered inconsequential by the Korean literary world. In any event, what we should learn from this is that literary works that are successful in Korean are not necessarily successful in English translation.
The Translator as Scholar
We should now address one final question. The International Communication Foundation, in its wisdom and to my profound gratitude, has endowed a chair here in Asian Studies at UBC in Korean literature and literary translation. To thus title this position is to believe that literary translation is an important and necessary part of academia. I would then like to close this lecture by considering the following question: is it important and necessary to be translating Korea at the university, in addition to the various other sites—embassies, restaurants, music halls, art galleries, movie houses, language schools–at which translating Korea may take place? As you may have guessed by now, I would respond with an emphatic yes.
Rainer Schulte, a faculty member at the University of Texas at Dallas, a translator from German, and co-editor of the journal Translation Review, has over the years written insightful columns on the role of literary translation in academia. I would like to quote at some length from his most recent editorial on the subject:
The invisibility of the translator continues to be a subject of great concern to all translators, whether independent or academic. The latter are still fighting to have their work as practicing translators or as scholars of translation theory recognized as a viable contribution to the field of literature and letters. Many assistant and associate professors are denied promotions because translation activities don’t fall into the realm of respectable scholarly work.
Yet, the meticulous research that a translator has to undertake in order to do justice to the intricate complexity of literary texts by far transcends the scholarly intensity that scholars and critics display in their interpretations of works of literature…. Many… critical approaches do not comment on particularly inaccessible moments in a text,…creat[ing] the impression that the reader will have no difficulties in understanding…the text under consideration. I have come to realize that the critic or scholar probably had not taken the time to enter into the deeper layers of meaning of a poetic or fictional work to clarify them for the reader.
A translator cannot engage in such a luxury. Every word has to be seen under the umbrella of its etymological origin and its philological development…. The philological aspects include probing into the linguistic, cultural, historical, and aesthetic environments of words and how these words have been shaped within the context of a text. That in itself demands the highest level of academic scholarship and should therefore be recognized as such….
It is clear that in the future many academicians in …humanities programs will have to be educated to understand that the methodologies derived from the art and craft of translation will revitalize the reading and interpretation of literary texts…. The translator’s contribution would be not only the transplantation of works from foreign languages into English but also the meaningful translation of the interpretive insights into an accessible critical language.16
A well-known Latin American author once instructed his translator as follows: “Don’t translate what I said; translate what I meant to say.” What we are talking about here is clarification: the author was advising his translator on how to most clearly express his, the author’s, intent. I began this lecture by outlining various ways in which we can understand the process of translating Korea. To the various dimensions I discussed earlier—retelling, re-creating, reenacting, transplanting, rewriting—we can now add one more, clarifying, and that was one of the main thrusts, as well, of the editorial from which I just quoted. What Rainer Schulte was arguing is that the methodology of literary translation has the potential to distill the increasingly turgid waters of contemporary scholarly writing in the humanities into a tonic that will refresh those who thirst for clarity and refinement in an age of rapidly increasing and ever more complex contact among vastly different languages and cultures. In the case of Korea, we have a nation, a people, a history, a culture that has much to offer the rest of the world. To make the most of what Korea has to offer we must translate Korea in such a way that we clarify Korea, that we distill Korea from the mixture of stereotypes that tend to cloud it, at least in the popular imagination. It stands to reason that this process of clarification will take place in the form of teaching and learning within the university.
Benjamin, Walter. “The Task of the Translator,” in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1968.
Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983.
Fulton, Bruce. « Hanguk munhak ûi yôngyôk kwa kû chônmang » (The Prospects for Korean Literature in English Translation), pp. 502-6 in Hanguk hyôndae munhak 50 nyôn (Fifty Years of Contemporary Korean Literature), ed. Yu Min-yông et al. Seoul: Minûm sa, 1995. (in Korean)
« Kijich’on Fiction, » pp. 198-213 in Nationalism and the Construction of Korean Identity, ed. Hyung Il Pai and Timothy R. Tangherlini. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 1998.
« Translating Cultural Subtext in Modern Korean Fiction, » pp. 129-35 in Translation East and West: A Cross-Cultural Approach, ed. Cornelia N. Moore and Lucy Lower. Honolulu: College of Languages, Linguistics and Literature, University of Hawaii, 1992.
“Translators’ Choice: Why We Translate Hwang Sunwôn and O Chônghûi,” in Language, Culture and Translation: Issues in the Translation of Modern Korean Literature, ed. James Huntley Grayson and Agnita Tennant. Sheffield, England: School of East Asian Studies, University of Sheffield, 1999.
Haboush, JaHyun Kim, The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyông: The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
Schulte, Rainer. “A Blueprint for Translation Studies,” Translation Review, nos. 51-52 (1996): 1-4.
“The Göttingen Approach to Translation Studies,” Translation Review, no. 53 (1997): 1-4.
“Editorial: The Translator as Scholar,” Translation Review, no 64 (2002): 1-2.
- Kathleen McCarthy, “Kisaeng and Poetry in the Koryô Period”, Korean Culture, Summer 1994, p. 9.
- Robert Wechsler, Performing Without a Stage: The Art of Literary Translation ,(North Haven, Conn.: Catbird Press, 2002), p. 8.
- Ch’oe Yun, “Hoesaek nunsaram”, in Chôgi sori ôpshi han chôm kkonnip i chigo (Seoul: Munhak kwa chisông sa, 1992), p. 33.
- Ch’oe Yun, Avec cette neige grise et sale, trans. Patrick Maurus (Paris: Actes Sud/Editions UNESCO, 1995), p. 11.
- Ch’oe Yun, “The Gray Snowman”, trans. Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton, Manoa 8, no. 2 (1996): 78.
- O Chông-hûi, « The Bronze Mirror« , trans. Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton, in Land of Exile: Contemporary Korean Fiction, ed. and trans. Marshall R. Pihl and Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1993), p. 261.
- Kim Tong-ni, « A Descendant of the Hwarang« , in A Ready-Made Life: Early Masters of Modern Korean Fiction, trans. Kim Chong-un and Bruce Fulton (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1998), pp. 112-13.
- O Chông-hûi, « Words of Farewell« , in Words of Farewell: Stories by Korean Women Writers, trans. Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton (Seattle: Seal Press, 1989), p. 254.
- O Yông-su, « Migratory Birds », in The Good People, trans. Marshall R. Pihl (Hong Kong: Heinemann, 1985), p. 94.
- O Chông-hûi, « A Portrait of Magnolias« , trans. Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton, The World & I, October 1990, p. 446.
- Hwang Sôg-yông, « A Dream of Good Fortune« , trans. Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton, in Land of Exile, pp. 118-19.
- Yasushi Inoue, « The Counterfeiter« , in The Counterfeiter and Other Stories, trans. Leon Picon (Tokyo: Tuttle, 1965), p. 35. I am indebted to Martin Holman for confirming my hunch that the translator had interpolated the underscored words.
- The need for subtlety in the use of interpolation is suggested by the following tongue-in-cheek example, created by Martin Holman from the first paragraph of Yun Heung-gil’s « The House of Twilight »:
The moment we were about to cross the road, which we Koreans call kil, I let go of the girl’s hand, known to Koreans as son, when I heard the blaring of what you Americans call a horn, but which is commonly referred to in Korea as a kyôngjôk. An ox cart, which is not the Korean word for it, loaded with sheaves of rice–called pyô if unhulled, as it is in this case; ssal if hulled but uncooked; and pap if it is hot and ready to eat–that was lumbering noisily along the road, again kil in Korean, barely had time to pull over to the side before a convoy of army trucks, or lorries if you are in England, came speeding down the road, which is still kil in our Korean language, with their headlights, known to us Koreans as ssangbul, glaring yellow. A flock of baby chicks–which speak the same language as American chicks, I suppose, but in Korea we call them pyôngari–had been following the ox cart pecking at the grains–narak in Korean (see ssal and pap above)–that fell on the kil (I’m sorry, I mean road, but by now you know enough Korean to realize that anyway), but they scattered. The trucks, which the Japanese call toraku, carried a battalion that had finished fighting the communist partisans–which we call kongbi, but which Jesse Helms refers to as « pinkos »–in Naejang Mountain, known to us Koreans as Naejang-san, but I suppose we could call it Mount Naejang if we were speaking English–which we no longer seem to be doing in this story.
For Holman’s translation of this paragraph, see Yun Heung-gil, The House of Twilight, ed. Holman (London: Readers International, 1989), p. 205. For the original text, see Yun Heung-gil, Hwanghon ûi chip (Seoul: Munhak kwa chisông sa, 1976), p. 7.
- Ahn Junghyo, Silver Stallion (New York: Soho Press, 1990), p. 3.
- Translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton in Words of Farewell, pp. 149-65.
- Rainer Schulte, “Editorial: The Translator as Scholar,” Translation Review, no. 64 (2002): 1.