An Unavoidable Desire: Wanting to Go Insane, Yet Unable by Yi In-seong

  • onNovember 9, 2014
  • Vol.9 Autumn 2010
  • byWanting to Go Insane
Interdit de Folie (Wanting to Go Insane, Yet Unable)
Tr. Choe Ae-Young

Yi In-seong’s full-length novel has been published by Imago in France, with the French title set as Interdit de Folie. The novel introduces a central character who has lost both his youth and love during the 1980s at the height of the student-led democracy movement against the military regime in Korea. The novel follows the character’s attempts to figure a way out by writing.

It is quite interesting to examine what kind of route it takes for works of Korean literature to be translated into French and reach bookstores in France. It is especially the case with Yi In-seong’s full-length novel, Interdit de Folie (Wanting to Go Insane, Yet Unable). This novel came to our attention through Jean-Noël Juttet with whom we are well acquainted. Juttet knew very well that Imago Publishing was interested in publishing high-quality works of literature; he thought we were the ideal publishing company to introduce this difficult work through our Korean series. The two translators, Choe Ae-young and Jean Bellemin-Noël had trouble finding a major publisher, so we decided to take a look at the manuscript. In effect, this book had two issues we had to deal with: first, it was a novel; second, the style of writing was very modern.

Imago had already published through its Korean Literature series called “Scènes Coréennes,” modern Korean plays by Cha Bum-suk, Yi Kun-sam, Heo Kyu, Choe In-hun, Roh Kyeong-shik, Lee Hyeon-hwa, and Lee Kang-baek. However, we were well aware that as a company publishing primarily plays, we ran a risk of alienating ourselves from bookstores and the publishing world at large. The reason why Jean-Noël Juttet did not initially contact us was that he firmly believed that our company published only plays. Therefore, in order to overcome the possibility of being isolated, Imago went ahead and also published different works of prose, namely an anthology by Seoun Hwi, a full-length novel by Nam Sang-sun, a book of proverbs by Lee Hyeon-joo, and the work of an anthropologist, Alexandre Guillemoz’s masterpiece, The Fan, the Shaman.

We found Yi In-seong’s book fascinating, and it was translated exceptionally well. But we encountered a second problem. The fact that the style of writing was overly modern ran counter to the classical style that the editorial staff at Imago preferred. Moreover, what is evident in Yi In-seong’s writing is the influence of the nouveau roman writers, such as Claude Simon; we thought this could hinder and bore readers who are more accustomed to a traditional narrative. That is why we spent a long time exchanging interesting ideas and opinions about the literary tradition, and in particular, the poetic language of Yi In-seong.

Finally, I was able to persuade the editorial team to make the bold decision of introducing a Korean novel with a new writing style that no other French publishing company had tried. It is undeniable that the support from the Korean Literature Translation Institute helped greatly.

After that, Jean Bellemin-Noël and I embarked on the editing process. Through e-mail correspondence, we delved into the specific problems, like the source of the poems quoted in the text, the sentence structure, and the title. The new title of the translated work is very different from the original, but in the end we decided to use it for a greater effect. Next, we had to search for a cover illustration. The “Scènes Coréennes” series apply the principle of using a contemporary Korean photograph to emphasize one aspect of the given work. I selected several photographs that showed bleak and solitary images, like the night scene of a small PC room surrounded by massive buildings, a flashy car that is an advertisement for a night club, and a picture of a stingray with a bizarre smile. The editorial staff chose a close-up color picture of frowning masks. This is how the book found itself to be in the bookstores of France. We do not expect such a book to become a bestseller, but we are infinitely proud that readers in France will have an opportunity to read this book.

Lastly, I would like to tell an exciting epilogue. The encounter between Jean Bellemin-Noël, who is not only the co-translator, but also German and a scholar of psychoanalysis, and Imago, which primarily publishes books on psychoanalysis and the theory of the imaginary, has resulted in another collaboration. That is, the translation of Gradiva by Wilhelm Jensen, the German author who is known through his research of Sigmund Freud. Meanwhile, Jean Bellemin-Noël was in charge of the “Korean Writer Special” in the prestigious French literary magazine, Europe (May, 2010 No. 973). Imago is pleased to be part of an endeavor to show that high-quality literature is free of national boundaries, and will thereby continue to promote Korean literature in France. 



Hervé Péjaudie is a playwright and editor of Imago Publishing.