First Session at LTI Korea’s 5th Annual Translator’s Conference

Next up was Kim Uchang who spoke about cultural discontinuity and its effects on translation. His paper was titled “Translation and the Epistemic Horison of Literature.” Kim began with simple examples, such as the problems something as basic as the different hair colors of different races can cause in translation, but he quickly ramped up to more conceptual problems. This analysis focused on emotive and conceptual organizations in particular literary conventions (obviously including language) and how these organizations become “habits of the heart.” Particularly, Kim built a long argument based on the affective model of Korea, based on Confucianism, and argues that this, among other things, has create an Asian episteme that goes far beyond the boundaries of literature. He points out that traditional Korean literature was often communal and performative in nature, particularly pansori and poetry, and that this was part and parcel of the larger episteme. Kim argues that this kind of communal performance was partially dedicated to the “rectification of the mores of the time.” He further argued that even representations of sexuality, had to fit within this framework, and thus they are often, in Korea, expressed in terms of hierarchy, terms which would be familiar and normative to a Confucian culture.  As modernity is introduced to Korea, this focus begins to change and the more Western idea of poetry and literature as emotional and personal begins to creep in. Kim argues that the final stages of this model feature a completely non-ethical state (both governmentally and epistemically) in which all moral judgments are superseded by economic ones and in which modernity requires one to step out of one’s locality. All of this is profoundly opposed to the ends and means of traditional Korean culture.  The upshot of all this is that Kim argues it is incorrect to judge Korean literature, particularly Korean classical literature, on the same merits as Western literature. Kim argues, sensibly I think, that if one becomes aware of these differences, one necessarily sees that Korean literature should be judged from multiple perspectives. Kim leaves the practical translation issues subsequent to this understanding unaddressed, but of course that was not the point of his presentation