How Are You?
It is at the moment winter here in Korea and I am waiting for spring. Paris is too far away and I recall my round trip flight being quite arduous. No matter how long, it felt like I was still flying somewhere over Mongolia or else somewhere in the northern hemisphere. I remember time passing in a very strange manner on my flight to and from Paris. Piercing through the night, flying in the direction of where the sun was rising, until finally, when I had arrived at my destination, I couldn’t help thinking how beautiful it seemed as I looked through the tiny window of the plane. It even dawned on me that perhaps I had flown all that way just to see this kind of beauty.
But then, I wondered how the honorific language I write in Korean was being translated into English. Is it indeed possible to convey the particular tone in English or French? I give enormous consideration to the nuance of a word or a sentence when I am writing, and I am curious as to how it gets translated. Is it possible to capture nuance in translation? Since I participated in the workshop at the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO) that was organized by LTI Korea, I often find myself wondering about this although I am not sure if such a reflection is necessarily beneficial to a novelist. Still, certain experiences keep coming back to me and make me think about them as I wait for spring in Korea. For example, there was a moment when I reflected on how the word, “geomda” (to be black) would be construed in a different culture. It is because of moments like this that I have become more thoughtful about the words and the language I have been using. I believe this tentativeness contributes greatly to the way I write. All in all, the Atelier was a valuable experience.
The reason I chose the short story, “Yang-ui Mirae,” for the group translation project was that I was curious as to how the students of Korean Studies at INALCO would translate the title. Just like in Korea, there were a variety of interpretations in defining “yang.” It turned out that there were no two translations of the title that were the same. That is how I remember it, although my memory could be inaccurate. I collected the printouts of the translations but I was unable to bring them home with me. In the course of rounding off my stay at INALCO and moving to another lodging, my bag was stolen. My eyeglasses, laptop, and the manuscript I was working on as well as the printouts of the translations were in the bag. All at once, I realized that I had lost the students’ translations, which they must have worked on with great care, and all the memos I took during the three workshops. It was a great loss for me. Meanwhile, I let my imagination soar: a man could be reading at home the copies of the translations he found in my stolen bag with the zipper and yellow ribbon while resting his legs on a windowsill, overlooking some narrow alley. He would see the nine names of the writers and nine titles on the first page. He would read them one by one, thinking perhaps one version reads better than the previous one and another is a little more tedious than the one before. When would it dawn on him that the stories were all translations of the same work? Could my imagination be real? I, who am illiterate when it comes to French, viewed the sentences that the students translated like pictures and supposed that they would all be different. There was only a single text but each one of the translators infused their own expressivity that reflects the way in which they have lived their lives. So back to my question: At what point would that guy notice that the stories were being repeated? Because I know nothing about translating, it is possible for me to harbor such a simple and amusing fantasy.
by Hwang Jung-eun