Han Cinema releases the happy news that the movie Silenced, based on Gong Ji-young’s novel The Crucible, will be released in the US on November 4th. I’m assuming the name change is so that the movie will not be confused with Arthur Miller’s work which was previously named The Crucible? What is interesting to me, is that this book has not been translated into English. In this post I’ll look at the impact the movie has had, both overseas and at home in Korea, speculate as to why it hasn’t been translated, and suggest a radical technique, cloud-translating and e-publishing, to overcome this problem.
First, how much press has this movie received in the US?
““The Crucible” has had an extraordinary impact”
-The New York Times: READ HERE
“Unsettling, “The Crucible” Revisits School Horror”
“Nothing short of earth-shaking”
– The Economist: READ HERE
REUTERS: READ HERE
JEZEBEL: READ HERE
And of this coverage has related to the real-life social and legal effects that publication of the book and production of the movie have created in Korea. Korean Beacon notes:
Silenced has made a progressive impact by recently helping Korea’s National Assembly to pass a reformed bill on sexual crimes, reports The Korea Times. The “Dogani Law,” named after the Korean title of the film, significantly increases the prison sentence (up to life imprisonment) for offenders abusing children under 13 and the disabled.
Furthermore, the “Dogani Law” has also abolished a controversial clause, “inability to resist,” which had required victims, specifically those who are disabled, to prove that they were physically or mentally inept to resist properly when the crime was being committed—a loophole that gave sex offenders a way out.
With the government passing tighter laws, the police are also conducting an extensive re-investigation of the Inhwa case after more accounts of sexual abuse have been noted with some reporting that students without families were killed and secretly buried near the school, according to The Korea Times. Today, the Gwangju Inhwa School has officially shut down.
This is epic stuff. While the original laws were quite hideous, it is a testament to the power of literature, video, and public opinion that all these salutary changes have been made. And yet this work is untranslated. I can only speculate as to why. Two other of her works have been translated, Human Decency (which KTLIT reviewed and did not like^^) and My Sister Bongsoon. Also, another translation is on the way, of Gong’s novel after The Crucible, Our Happy Times. Even stranger, I am aware of at least one translation of The Crucible that has already been completed by an internationally famous translator.
So why no publishing?
I have two theories. First is that until recently The Crucible was not the kind of book that Koreans think ‘represents’ Korea well. Second is that the troublesome influence of literary agents may be making itself felt here.
As to the first point – the recent kerfuffle over the “Original Pizza” video has demonstrated that many Koreans are still uncomfortable with the publication of anything that even might reflect poorly on Korea. A brilliant summary of that has been provided by Stephen Epstein and Rumi Sakamoto which hints at the different ways that Koreans, English-language users, and the Japanese interpret these things. It is worth noting that today’s Donga ilbo (I am told – I can’t find it) quotes Gong as saying her work will be published in 2013, but that will be long after the publicity has died down. Now, with the success of the movie overwhelming, this barrier has been breached. And it should be – Korea has had no issue with translating pundan munhak, which often reads quite horrifically. Additionally, and it can’t be noted too much, even though The Crucible tells a horrible story, it is ultimately a story of partial redemption and social victory.
The second issue might be that of literary agents. At the LTI Korea 5th Annual Translators Conference last September, there was a spirited discussion of what role such agents play, with a strong argument being made that in terms of translation, they are a hindrance. The literary agent is no different from the NBA agent, and their agendas may be quite different than that of translating entities and even the authors themselves. While all might agree that publishing more translations is in and of itself a good thing, an agent is narrowly focused on more Philistine issues. The version of The Crucible that has already been translated, is at least partially on hold because of disagreements between translators and an agent. I’m not in a position to judge how important this disagreement is overall, but I mention it because it is there, and this is an identified (primarily by translators) problem in the translation system.
But suppose my speculations are no more than that, speculations, and even wrong. That still leaves us in an unfortunate position. The book will not be published until well past its expiration date. What can be done? I suggest using some modern techniques to get The Crucible on the shelf nearly immediately: cloud-sourcing and e-publishing.
First, cloud-sourcing the translation. I don’t mean put it out on the web for random translators to approach, but rather create a local cloud (if my network friends will allow that?) of skilled translators and editors. Get 6-10 translators working on it, by sections, with translators paired up for maximum breadth in the initial translation. At the same time, have the editors work with the translators while the work is being translated.
This last point is from experience. I work with the very talented Ed Park and our work is always the best (and quickest) when we sit in a room and work together.. Ed essentially dictates to me and I iron out small problems while I type – if there is a big issue we bat it around to make sure that we have got the cultural point across in the most accessible English possible. It’s a bit of a scrum, but it works.
Heck, if you got the folks from subject, object, verb together you’d have half of your team right there.
Then, publish the thing first as an e-book. Once the translation is done e-publishing is trivial and it gets a book like The Crucible out to the public while the public is still interested.
I think the e-book approach is something LTI Korea should consider in general. LTI has a stable of in-house translators and a group of translation students. What happens to the works these folks translate? It would be great if they could be made available to widen the field of translated Korean literature. Tie this product to some efficient use of social media (twitter, facebook, comments on Amazon, posts on the Wikipedia, and you might really get some momentum going.