Jerome Rothenberg invented ethnopoetics, both word and concept, and his wonderful anthology Technicians of the Sacred has been a backbone of my collection for many years. He has a blog, Poems and Poetics, which I don’t check as often as I should, and it was thanks to wood s lot (as so often) that I discovered his posts Brother Anthony of Taizé (An Sonjae): The Perfect Translation, Impossible Dream (Part One) and (Part Two). Brother Anthony is an interesting guy:
Born in Truro (Cornwall, U. K.) in 1942, he studied Medieval and Modern Languages at The Queen’s College, in the University of Oxford, from 1960 until 1969. In 1969 he joined the monastic Community of Taizé (France), to which he made a Life Commitment at Easter 1974. He came to Korea in May 1980, and since then he has continued to live in Seoul with other Brothers from Taizé. Over that time he has both taught medieval and renaissance English literature and culture at Sogang University and become one of our principal translators of modern Korean literature into English, most notably through his well known translations of the poems and fiction of Ko Un. Naturalized as a Korean citizen in 1994 with the Korean name An Sonjae, he is now emeritus professor at Sogang University, chair-professor at Dankook University, and President of the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch.
He writes about “the nature of the foreignness of Korean literature, and the resulting test for the translator,” and has a lot to say; I’ll excerpt one paragraph from the second part:
For the translator of Korean literature into English, obliged to move between two languages and cultures that are extremely foreign to one another, the implications are daunting. Already we face a great challenge in what seems to be an increasing opposition among Korean readers (evaluators) of our translations to what they see as excessive domestication. The substitution of American (or British) oaths and idioms in dialogue is only the tip of the iceberg. Where Koreans address one another using many relationship markers, 형, 언니, 엄마, 선생님 . . . we in English do not, so we tend simply to omit them as we translate. Should we? In the interests of readability we have little choice but to simplify or assign to glossaries much of the vocabulary of food, traditional culture, clothing. The day may come when a Korean Nabokov or Brodsky, the enemies of excessively British translations of Russian classics, will arise to demand a return to pure, honest Konglish in translation. This is said at a lower stylistic level than the high philosophy of Ricoeur, yet it is the same question. Who, in the end, is authorized to judge whether a translator has achieved an ‘acceptable equivalence’ for the Korean original? The reader who says ‘this is so enjoyable’? Or the reader who says ‘this is so [un]like the original.’? They will always both be correct.