The Treason of Interpreters!

"I feels bad.... And I'm lookin for a ...."

Just a super post from K. M. Lawson over at “Frog in a Well,” which starts with something I had never thought of, but is of course obvious on inspection: “In the history of collaboration, interpreters often figure prominently.

Only three sentences in and I’m hooked. It immediately made me think of a passage in Kim Yong-Ik’s last, unfinished, work in which an out-and-out collaborator eats at the house of his “patriot” old friend, now an interpreter for the UN forces:

“Eating greedily he looked curiously at my concise English-Korean dictionary on the shelf. ‘The language of an occupying army is a meal ticket, you know.’ He smiled faintly” (Kim, Home Again (1945) 27).

In the context of “Home Again” this has several meanings, but one of which is clearly, it sometimes depends upon whose shoe the foot is on.

Lawson goes on:

They speak for the occupier, they ask questions for him, they feed him the information he needs to establish and maintain power. They usually come to their position by virtue of their language abilities, but very often such abilities are the product of a long and deep intimacy with the culture and people of the occupier, either through prolonged residence or study in the occupier’s country, personal relationships, or a hybrid identity.

Of course the occupier, in this model, can hold other hegemonies than a merely military one (though it is always a good start).

Lawson goes on to delicately disentangle the “classical” view of the “treasonous interpreter” from various possible realities and then goes explores one particular case, that of Korean Kim Yong Hyun. Hyun began as an interpreter for a US infantry division and was then captured by the Chinese. What follows next is NOT tragic, and for reasons one might well expect, but I will not detail, so you’d better head right over to Frog in a Well to read the rest of it.

Not only is the post interesting (it also has bibliographic info on Hyun’s memoir), but it has one of the most amusing/apt pictures of a Korean-museum-diorama (no Korean museum is complete without one) I have ever seen.

3 thoughts on “The Treason of Interpreters!

  1. Thanks for the kind words. This is also the first time I came across the Ktlit site. I will have to add it to our blogroll on Frog in a Well – Korea.

    I’ll have to take a closer look at Kim Yong-Ik’s last work and I’ll update the posting at Frog to include that great quote you mention.

  2. Pingback: An Interpreter’s Tale – Frog in a Well Korea

  3. Konrad…

    Happy to link you.. I have your site on my personal blogroll, but your posting is soooooo infrequent! Most of Kim Yong-ik’s work is about Korea and some of it is juvenile fiction… “They Won’t Crack it Open” and the unfinished “Home Again” are the primary examples of Kim dealing with adult & international themes…. there is also “The Sheep, Jimmy, and I” which is not nearly as good a story.

Leave a Reply