Were the world mine, Demetrius being bated,
The rest I’d give to be to you translated.
O, teach me how you look, and with what art
You sway the motion of Demetrius’ heart.
—A Midsummer Night’s Dream
I didn’t even know I had allergies until I arrived at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England (future participants: you’ve been warned). Throughout the BCLT International Literary Translation and Creative Writing Summer School, my immune system was as confused as my brain, hypersensitive to otherwise perfectly harmless allergens and translations. If, as a literary translator, you aren’t already hypersensitive to language, this course will give you language allergies—arguably in a good way.
The intensity of the workshops, conducted within the sleek, futuristic settings of the UEA Enterprise Centre, involved impassioned discussions on commas, comparative grammar, verb conjugation, authorial intent, extended metaphors, and other ultra-geeky stuff literary translators crave to discuss (but rarely get to). These discussions would carry over to the communal breakfasts, lunches, and dinners provided throughout the week, and to the late-night bull sessions where participants from different language groups would gather in the residential common rooms to compare notes, share experiences, and indulge in the international camaraderie of translators.
When a call went out from LTI Korea for applications to the BCLT Summer School, I jumped at this chance to learn from Deborah Smith, winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for her translation of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian (O, teach me how you translate, and with what art, you sway the motion of the reader’s heart!). I now lay the blame of my language allergies at her feet. Deborah would question every word we had “settled” on, reminding us that the easiest choices are often the laziest, and that good literature requires a tough, working language, not a complacent one that expects the reader to do the heavy lifting. The greatest gift I received from her and the other redoubtable translators in our group was to see the richness of potential in a single sentence, how it is possible to contemplate for hours (and hours and hours, as we did) on the myriad facets of one simple, throwaway line. It was like hwadu meditation as practiced by Seon Buddhist monks, but with gourmet dining and wine every night.
Another intriguing but often overlooked aspect of this course is mentioned in its very title: creative writing. UEA has a legendary creative writing program, with its on-campus Waterstones branch featuring an entire shelf filled top-to-bottom with publications by alumni. Note that by offering creative writing sessions within its literary translation course, BCLT is signaling its commitment to a vision of translation being a creative endeavor.
The sessions, taught by published authors, gave us practical rules-of-thumb to help us “inhabit” characters, find entry points into daunting projects, and facilitate our subconscious in providing us with new words and new possibilities. We found out what it means to combine literary translation and creativity, to “translate” (Shakespearean usage) ourselves into narrators and speakers of our target languages. The creative writing aspect of the program reminded us that literary translation, as highly technical as it can be, is in the end an art, and like all art a little bit of room must be given to the subconscious, that amalgamation of the unknown, the ineffable, and the unpredictable.
Lastly, it was wonderful to interact with translators from all over the world, to have endless literary, political, and utterly superfluous conversations with this most cosmopolitan and—it must be said—articulate group of people. It was a reminder that the world of literature in translation is very much a world, and is not a dusty library filling up with dusty books but an ongoing and global conversation, vibrant with language and love. And lots of sneezing.
by Anton Hur
Literary Translator, LTI Korea Atelier Program
Korean Literature Critic, TBS eFM’s The Bookend