Creation and Recreation: Modern Korean Fiction and Its Translation

This post is a short review of papers and commentaries presented during the 6th Hahn Moo-sook Colloquium in Korean Studies at George Washington University in 1999 (At the end of this post you can find the authors and their topics). These papers include some by very heavy hitters indeed, including the recently deceased author Pak Wan-so and very much alive translators Yu Young-nan and Bruce Fulton. This PDF is available here, and if that link ever dies, just contact me privately as I have a copy of the PDF I don’t want to post publicly for copyright reasons.

In the first article Ch’oe In-ho “explores the theme of encounter and discovery in literature”. He compares literature to a voyage in search of new continents by analyzing Hahn Moo-sook’s Encounters. Encounters, Hahn’s last novel, is an unabashedly Christian one in which she writes of the discovery of great sould and the sacredness of God. This article is the one least tightly focused on issues of translation, but it is interesting in the quick strokes it uses to compare discovering literature with discovering others, and maybe even “the other.”

Pak Wan-so, on the other hand, talks about the “unleashing of imagination” in the context of her own attempt to write a biography of of artist Pak Su-geon. Pak argues that writing such a biography is in fact a work of translation, which requires the dissolution of the distance between her own life and that of the subjects. Pak argues that this writing is creative and can even disregard or distort facts and that liberation from the idea of ‘pure’ or ‘authentic’ reality is when the creation of the real begins. The article is also interesting, because as in most of Pak’s work, it has strong autobiographical elements, and extremely strong personal writing. In fact, this essay is so interesting I may soon come back to it for a closer inspection.

Bruce Fulton, signally, talks about the importance of the choice of which works to translate (based on the notion of “cultural receptiveness”) and notes that this choice may be as difficult as the act of translation. This is a good article to read keeping in mind some of the questionable (to me) choices that have been made in translation from Korean to English, including a preponderance of choices of depressing and/or un-genred (that is, hard to place in English) literature. Fulton also describes four different ways to describe translation, as a; process of retelling, recreation, re-enactment, and joint enterprise (apparently Fulton could not find a synonym for this beginning with the letter “R” ^^). Finally, Fulton discusses the issue of linguistic and cultural gap between source and target languages and how to transmit culture-specific information, particularly from Korean literature, in which the culture is deeply embedded and quite different from that of the West. Fulton chooses some particularly appropriate examples from his own translation of O Cheong-hui’s The Bronze Mirror as examples.

Yu Young-nan discusses difficulties specific to the translator who is non-native in their target language. She also discusses some strategies to address these difficulties, most of which can be summarized as maintaining as much transparency as possible during the translation process. In effect, by using multiple readers and multiple points, Yu argues that she achieves the effect of a translation duo, and in fact gets better effects because the readers come at the text from different viewpoints, ages, sexes, etc. She also notes that voracious reading in the target language is a good general strategy, and that sometimes it is the deliberate ambiguities in the original text that are most difficult to translate. She also begins with a nice discussion of whether texts should be translated to contain all the original content, language, and grammar, or to flow for the reader. Not surprisingly, she comes down in a middle position, somewhat on the side of the reader, partially based on her own experience reading translated Russian Lit. Finally, Yu has a brilliant section on the cultural differences in writing styles and it is a section that I plan to excerpt and use when teaching my (Western) Academic Writing classes.

Peter Caws grapples with the question of what constitutes a successful translation by looking at his own experience in reading Gabriel Marquz Garcia’s Cien anos de soledad, which he read in both the original Spanish and then in English. His take is most interesting when it discusses how the issues of translation apply to philosophy, his own field of interest.

The next three articles discuss how to create a successful translation, and the three authors have different approaches. These articles should be read together, as they give a good overview of the approaches that translators can take.

Alf Hiltebeitel is driven by his passion for original text and not a direct concern for his reader (this is an oversimplification, of course, as he also notes that this kind of disdain of the market is a privilege and that there is a point at which the translator must take risks and interpret). Somewhat similar to Yu Young-nan, Hiltebeitel emphasizes the importance of scholarship in conveying “intrinsically ambiguous, subtle, and enigmatic,” text. Young-Key Kim-Renaud (Hahn Moo-sook’s daughter), on the other hand sees the role of the translator as to inject his or her voice into the work so that the heart of the reached can be touched. This is partly because Kim-Renaud is deeply interested in the emotion of a work and seems to believe that a merely technical translation may fail this emotion. In order to do this in a way that is consistent with the original work/author, she maintains that the translator must become the author’s alter-ego, and in that way the translator and author’s voice may converge (this idea is very close to the idea that Fulton discusses, of translation as a “joint enterprise”). Finally Peter Rollberg argues that the role of the translator is to mediate between cultures in order to give target-language readers a new aesthetic enjoyment that they would otherwise not have had access to.

Each of these approaches has very specific implications for the bigger questions of translation and it is pleasant to see that although each author has their own approach, none seems willing to discount the approaches of the others.


Literature as Encounter and Discovery 1
Ch’oe In-ho

Literature and Experience 5
Pak Wan-so

Translating Cultural Subtexts in Modern Korean Fiction 9
Bruce Fulton

Strategies of a Non-native Translator 19
Yu Young-nan

Translation and Interpretation 27
Peter Caws

Some Thoughts on Translating from Korea to India 33
Alf Hiltebeitel

Authors and Translators 39
Young-Key Kim-Reynaud

The Long Path Home: Fiction, Translation, and Anatoly Kim’s 45
Rediscovery of Korea
Peter Rollberg

One thought on “Creation and Recreation: Modern Korean Fiction and Its Translation

  1. A few thoughts:

    On the theme of translations, please note that when you list “Gabriel Marquz Garcia’s Cien anos de soledad” that means something TOTALLY different than the book “Cien años de soledad”

    The way you wrote it means “100 anuses of solitude” which has a somewhat surreal meaning, whereas the original title means “100 years of solitude”.

    You note that the latest book by Hahn Moo-sook is unabashedly Christian, which raises the interesting issue of why ROK people are so often so stridently Christian.

    Chinese Koreans and Russian and Central Asian Koreans are not so stridently Christian, yet ROK people (at least expatriates) so often are.

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