Succeeding the Success – Some Points from the Translator (I of III)

I’ve been meaning to write something like this for a while. It’s about 8 years overdue.
Some ideas presented below are echoes of Mr. Montgomery’s ideas. No wonder we collaborate in many projects, including this blog.

Without further ado, Let us begin.

Why it is that Korean literature translation is unheard of outside Korea? It is because the translated products  often end up in libraries around the world and collect dust on the shelves.

The problem

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different result.” Whoever said that first must have

"Around and round we go"

foreseen what struggle Korean literature in translation has gone through in marketing itself. Every year, KLTI and Daesan select and award aspirant translators. Every year, some good “Korean Classics” are translated into many different languages. Every year, the translated works fail to find the target readers. Years have gone by, yet Korean literature has not reached anywhere near a bestseller list.  We can probably pin-point the areas (there are so many, particularly marketing!) on which Korean literature translation business needs to make effort. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have been worked on already. Nothing, however, will change and make a maximum impact if those implementing the change don’t step out of the box and stop the insanity.

Are Koreans to be blamed for this process of repeating the same process and expecting a different result? The answers are ‘no’ and ‘yes.’ I reversed the order of the phrase on purpose because I strongly believe they are not to be blamed for it. although now it is time to change.

40 Years Ago: Shacks?

An anecdote on why I say ‘no,’  when I ask if Koreans are foolish for repeating processes. The other day, my family went to see  Cirque du Soleil (A modern acrobatic show). During the intermission, we went outside the tent and played. My son enjoyed the time outside immensely because the magnitude, intricacy and artistry of the show was, in fact, too scary for a 2 ½ year old boy. So, he played around, running everywhere between people. Just before the second half of the show began, we realized that he needed to have his diaper changed. We promptly got in the line for a bathroom designated for family and the handicapped. Although lines for other gentleman/lady bathrooms were long, people did not line up or took advantage of the family/handicapped bathrooms. My wife (Korean) quietly made an appreciative comment about the other fans, and I (Korean-American) agreed that this would be highly unlikely if it were in Korea.

Some might ask, “When will Koreans learn to be as courteous and orderly as the citizens of an advanced country?” But this question would be based on uninformed assumptions (NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: It would also be slightly outdated – having lived in Korea for two years, I have noticed that it is relatively courteous and orderly, and becoming more so every day).

Efficiency is an everyday mantra in Korea. Things need to be done quickly and most efficiently. White collar workers often remain at work way past their quitting time to get more work done. If not, they are often penalized for leaving work on time. Buses and subway trains need to run on time despite the chronic traffic problems. Get more manpower to complete jobs that seem impossible. Create miracles of the Han River around the world. Korea was able to secure its foothold in the world by finding a way to get things done. Create results. Right?

Returning to my point, are we to blame Koreans for “poor manners” in this era of globalization if they take advantage of bathrooms which are not as frequently occupied as others when all the training and life-long education is geared to efficiency and getting your job done at all cost?

No. It is perfectly logical, because it is the approach that has worked.

By the same token, are we to blame Koreans for working like a well-oiled machine in producing translation works and

A Vicious Cycle

scattering them around the world, albeit libraries? Wait a minute….libraries are places where people go to borrow books, right? If we get books there people will come and read them! Hello, marketing 101! Result produced. Another job done. Finito. Give him more work!

Today, the answer is “yes”

Years have gone by, and the results still gather dust in libraries. Korean literature is still practically unheard of in  international markets. Koreans may not be blamed for this minimal market impact, but it is still their responsibility, for no other people will promote Korean literature for them.

What will it take to put a stop to this insanity—doing the same thing over and over and over….?


NEXT: JUST DO IT! (differently)

Ed Park

3 thoughts on “Succeeding the Success – Some Points from the Translator (I of III)

  1. Pingback: Can Korea retool its translation to bring more success?

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  3. Pingback: Seeding the Exceeding of the Preceding Success – Some Points from the Translator (III of III)

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