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WRITERS' NOTES

[Draft I] Writer-Translators on Their Craft — Park Hyunju

  • onDecember 22, 2020
  • Vol.50 Winter 2020
  • byPark Hyunju

This section features five respected writer-translators who reminisce, reflect, and ruminate on their experiences of writing and translating. Their opinions correspond, but also refract from each other to varying degrees given their unique, personal backgrounds. The section features their abridged answers.—Ed.

 


Park Hyunju is a writer, essayist, and translator. Her published works include the novels My Daily Occult Life: Spring Summer Edition, My Daily Occult Life: Fall Winter Edition, and Searching for Honeyman; the essay collections Romance Pharmacy, and The Safe Distance Between You and I; and the translations of Raymond Chandler: Selected Works, Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, Truman Capote: Selected Works, Charles Bukowski’s novels and poetry, and the nonfiction work, Barbarian Days. She received the 2018 Yoo Yeong Translation Award for her translation of Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum. She is currently serializing a column in the Hankyoreh titled “Reading Genre Fiction with Park Hyunju.”


 

What came first for you: writing or translation?

 

If the order in which one takes up writing and translation has at all to be considered, I would say that nobody starts with translation, strictly speaking. If you narrowly define translation as converting one language into another, it is something that occurs after the act of writing, and if you define it more broadly as converting one mode of expression to a different mode of expression, then translation is an action that is inherent in the process of writing. There are many people who are born into multilingual environments, and from a young age when they start learning to write, they may write in two languages at once, but I believe this also falls under writing.

  The question of which comes first, writing or translation, is most often not a question of cognition but rather a perspective on career path. That is to say, it is a question of representation, such as if you first published your own book before translating. I recently participated in a panel discussion at the 2020 Seoul International Book Fair. And because the subject of the talk was “The Present and Future of (Korean) Mystery Novels,” I couldn’t help but make my remarks from the perspective of a writer. However, when communicating with the people in charge of programming, they usually called me “beonyeokga-nim” or “Ms./Madam Translator,” and even in the final copy of the script I received, my co-presenter was listed as “author” and I was listed as “translator.” I found this fascinating. It’s possible that I have made more of a name for myself with the public as a translator, and from that perspective the organizers might have believed it was more appropriate to call me a translator rather than an author. But I have an identity as an author who has released two novels and two essay collections. It is an identity that is not easily separated. That is to say, this question I’m answering right now gives the impression that it is possible for my translator-self and my writer-self to be separately drawn out at different points in time. But for one person, can translation and writing really exist as chronologically linear events? I don’t think so. As soon as humans picked up written language, the act of writing began, and when that written language gains another mode of expression translation naturally follows and from that point on, narrators of all languages come to handle translation and writing simultaneously.

 

When we speak of “style,” we often think of it as the representative element of a text that displays the writer’s signature personality, but in the case of translation, at times the text may inevitably have to be adjusted to fit linguistic norms and conventions in the target language. This sometimes referred to as “the betrayal of translation.” Have you ever agonized over this issue?

 

When we talk about “style,” it can, of course, be referring to the literary choices and linguistic patterns unique to a particular writer, but it is also a reflection of the culture and society in which the writer lives. A translator must not only consider this, but also has the difficult job of considering the culture and society the reader is part of as well.

  From this point, a translator must then be capable of separating out and considering all of the elements used to craft a style. Generally, when we speak of stylistics, we must take into account that there are elements of an individual’s idiosyncratic expressions, and sociolinguistic issues which reflect the structure of society at large. All of these disparate elements are joined together to create a sentence, but it means that there are many aspects which must be considered at the same time. I’m of the opinion that we must work to save any particular aspect of a text that can be thought of as a personal quirk or characteristic. There are authors who may be writing an essay, but have attempted a haiku-like writing style, or authors who try out lists of incomplete sentences. In those cases, I believe that a translator should attempt to keep these formal elements when expressed in the target language. There are also instances where an internal linguistics dictate a sociolinguistic issue, and when those occur, I consider the source text’s structure as much as possible. I also try to stick closest to the level of the source text when approaching issues with complex or expert terminology. In cases of formal discourse, I try my best to find the corresponding form for each language. When confronted with the issue of the frequency of a term, I turn to the corpus and search for a term that has a comparable frequency.

  However, there are times, when faced with changes in the historical climate or ideological issues, when changes to the text are demanded. This is mostly relating to issues of political correctness. Even if the term was considered innocuous at the time the text was written, I will discuss the term or phrase in question with the editor and make appropriate changes. If what is written, for example, misogynistic language, language that is cruel to children, disparaging terms for other societies and cultures, etc., is not strictly necessary for the establishment of a character within the context of a text, I will debate whether or not to remove it.

 

Could you, as a translator, compare the works of authors you enjoy translating and the tendencies of your own creative work?

 

As a translator, I do not have a particular author that I care for more than the others. Because a translator is also, first, a reader, I could perhaps divide the works I’ve translated by how they have been literarily esteemed, but I generally like all the books I’ve worked on and rate them highly. This is because if I feel like a work isn’t literary enough, isn’t worth introducing to the readers, or doesn’t interest me in any way, I wouldn’t be translating it in the first place. And I don’t see any point in comparing those authors’ work with my own. I have translated a wide spectrum of works, and it would be hard to place them in a single category. There are authors, like Raymond Chandler, Truman Capote, or Michael Ondaatje, to whom style is a crucial part of the work, but even they cannot be lumped together. As a translator and a reader, I like to read different types of work and I believe that even if it may not match my individual preferences, I may still enjoy it.

   Even if there are authors that I like, it is no mean feat to copy them or chase after that style. This is not simply just a matter of taste, but a matter of ability as well.

  But if we talk about my own writing, there is a consistent flow that can be said to be my authorial inclination because of the kind of stories I strive to tell. Up until now, the stories that I have written have mostly been grounded in human goodness that hides behind evil and a belief that people can change. Even so, I do not believe that my authorial-self is complete, and therefore I don’t know what I may write or what inclinations I may develop in the future. In creative work and in translation work, no one is at a standstill.

 

Do you think your creative writing impacts your translation or vice versa? If so, in what ways does one influence the other? (In terms of word choice, expressions, sentence structure, narrative structure, way of thinking, and so on.)

 

It is certain that any experiences a person has in their life will influence those other experiences. And in the case of language, each level (diction, syntax, discourse) cannot be clearly separated from the other, and language and thought are inextricably related. If I had to pick a difference between being a translator and any other job, it is that as a translator you must maintain an awareness of a multilingual consciousness. That is to say, metalinguistic sensitivity is an essential quality for a translator to have, and it is those thought processes which will be reflected in writing as well.

  I’m not sure if this is related to my experiences as a translator, but even when I’m writing novels, I have it in the back of my mind that my readers might not solely be Korean speakers. Of course, because I write in Korean, readers who can speak Korean will read them, but I write with the thought that my work may one day be translated and introduced to people belonging to another culture. Therefore, although something may be effective in one culture, I would like to avoid the possibility that it may be unsettling or wrong in another cultural context. I’m of the mindset that it is necessary to consider what you might call “global standards”—even at the risk of this term containing Eurocentric undertones.

  Even though that is may be the case, I’m not saying that we should give up on having a culturally specific perspective or structures particular to the Korean language. Although I believe that when ambiguous language or cultural metaphors are used as a basis for literary works it may be difficult for a non-Korean speaker to understand, I don’t believe that this should place any limits or restrictions on creative work. Translation can widen our literary prospects, and if some day my work may be read by a member of a different language group or culture, I hope that they too will be able to engage in new experiences.

 

Writers are translators and translators are writers. They write about the world and translate the world for readers. It takes agility to cross over many worlds; doing so likely fosters a unique identity all its own. In your opinion, are there are any differences between the “Me before writing,” the “writing Me,” the “Me before translating,” the “translating Me,” and the “Me writing and translating”?

 

To repeat what I said before, I do not believe that there are any clear distinctions within the self. I started writing from a very young age. I awoke to writing around the age of three or four, and I have, of course, very little memories from before that. After that point, I would make my own stories by copying the plots of fairy tales, and I even wrote romance stories in my diary. The only difference is that I never let a single other person read them, and never published them. Once my eyes were opened to another language, translation became one part studying, and one part linguistic life at the same time. I would write down the lyrics of pop songs that left deep impressions on me on the front pages of my math reference book and try translating them. Of course, this only means that it didn’t follow a strictly commercial definition of translation. The only “Me before writing” or “Me before translating” would be a prelinguistic “Me.” Could I possibly remember the “me” of such a young age? I must have memories from before I acquired language, but they amount to nothing more than indistinct fragments spread out against the plain of my consciousness. A human of language can carry out a multitude of functions through that language. Writing and translating may be my professions, but the work I do also includes writing criticism, non-literary texts, and public speaking. All of these professions are carried out through language. That being said I have never felt the need to divide myself into a “translating Me,” a “writing Me,” a “critiquing Me,” or a “lecturing Me.” Many people may think that writing and translating are two separate processes. And looking at it from a professional perspective that may appear to be the case. However, when looked at as linguistic actions, they cannot be so easily separated. All humans acutely sense the world from within language. The only differences are the means and methods of expressions used by each person.

 

Translated by Victoria Caudle


 

Author's Profile

Park Hyunju is a writer, essayist, and translator. Her published works include the novels My Daily Occult Life: Spring Summer Edition, My Daily Occult Life: Fall Winter Edition, and Searching for Honeyman; the essay collections Romance Pharmacy, and The Safe Distance Between You and I; and the translations of Raymond Chandler: Selected Works, Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, Truman Capote: Selected Works, Charles Bukowski’s novels and poetry, and the nonfiction work, Barbarian Days. She received the 2018 Yoo Yeong Translation Award for her translation of Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum. She is currently serializing a column in the Hankyoreh titled “Reading Genre Fiction with Park Hyunju.”