“History/Culture Through Literature?” Two Good Tastes that DON’T go together..

This is NOT Literature Mixed with History or Culture

In response to my post about Korean writers being unknown (which was posted over at Nanoomi.net – which is worth checking out when it comes out from behind its firewall, ) qwer999 writes:

It’s true that Korean writers are little known in other countries, though if you want to understand Korean history through literature, read the great works by Cho Jung-rae and Park Kyung-ri. I hope that the way Korea promotes its entertainment industry overseas is replicated to promote other aspects of culture. When Korean television dramas and movies come out, their popularity overseas means that versions with English or Chinese subtitles come out. I hope books will one day get the same treatment.

My point is that it is probably too much to try to do to translate with the intent of promoting understanding of “Korean history through literature.” That is trying to force two tasks into one, and the one task isn’t even being accomplished.  Make Korean literature popular FIRST, then you can play with its contents. This is what happened with Japan, much trash went through the pipeline, but it eventually carried with it some history.

But formally, separate these two things. Most people don’t read to learn history, and trying to freight literature with that pedagogical task is suicide for the effort to popularize the literature. In a comment here, The Translator talks about the new mission for the KLTI:

I can tell you why. Minister Yu of Culture, Sports and Tourism Ministry is cutting back its funding. Minister Yu, a former TV actor, funds more of performing arts and less for other art forms, particularly literature. Translation, sadly, gets less… What does one need to do too survive this harsh time? Merge with other less popular genres, collect meager fundingand stave off hunger…until Yu gets kicked out of his office. Since his assuming the post, he has been nothing be a ball of controversy…in less than a desirable way.

Yu In-chon, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism

(That would be the same Minister who recently made the news by  suing a group of netizens who altered and posted a video of the minister being semi-snubbed by Yu-na)

And while the KLTI has little choice but to react this way if the funding has been altered in the way The Translator suggest, it strikes me that this move has the same flaws as explicitly trying to teach history or culture through literature, that is, it splits the effort and thus makes it less likely that critical mass will be reached in any of the involved arenas.

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