Sunday, April 01, 2007

Injae and Yi Pyong-ju

Sighting Two Stars in the Korean Literary Firmament
(Image from Wikipedia)

As my regular readers have long recognized, I don't know much Korean despite my long years in this country. It seems that I'm always teaching English, including during my evenings, when I teach it to my two children, which takes about two hours each weekday between 7 and 9 p.m.

Nevertheless, I am very interested about this land in which I'm living, and I try to learn a bit about it. So, I co-author articles with Kim Myongsob (Yonsei University) on Korea's place in East Asian politics, and I help my wife, Hwang Sun-Ae, translate Korean books into English.

Recently, I've had the opportunity to proofread two excellent translations of Korean literature by a couple of other individuals.

One is a translation of a book of poetry by the somewhat obscure Injae (Lee Jong-Hak), son of the far-better-known Neo-Confucian philosopher, writer, and poet Yi Saek (李穡, 1328-1396), also recognized by his pen name Mokeun. Both Injae and his father Mokeun remained loyal to the old Buddhist kingdom of Goryeo (918-1392) despite being Neo-Confucian themselves. In one of his poems, Injae speaks of his political exile to the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula, where he finds himself sitting in a Buddhist temple reflecting upon the teachings of the Buddha and of Confucius, and he concludes that there is no fundamental contradiction between the two systems of thought. In writing such words, he was implicitly expressing his loyalty to the old Goryeo dynasty at a time when the new Joseon dynasty -- strictly Confucian and oppressively anti-Buddhist -- was rising to replace it. Since the book of poetry has not yet been published, I cannot quote Injae's poem (nor will I mention the translator's name), but I was impressed by the poetry and by the man. I am told that Injae and his father, Mokeun, are cited by Koreans as models of loyalty for their faithfulness to the old dynasty despite political pressure, social exclusion, and personal danger. Both are said to have been killed by supporters of the new dynasty.

The other work of Korean literature that I've had the privilege to proofread is a short story, "The Wind and Landscape of Yenang" (예낭 풍물지), written by Yi Pyong-ju (이병주 [李炳注]), who was born on March 16, 1921 and who died in 1992 (which happens to be the year that I met my wife-to-be). The story concerns a Korean man in his thirties suffering from tuberculosis contracted while imprisoned for political reasons. The setting is Korea in the mid-sixties, a place shadowed by America's political and military presence, but I sense a European nuance from a possible literary influence of Kafka and Dostoevsky in the way that Yi Pyong-ju describes the protagonist making deals with the germs that infest his lungs, as if germs were conscious organisms and cared about coming to a mutual understanding with their host.

I had never heard of Yi Pyong-ju, though my ignorance of Korean literature should surprise no one. According to the translator (who will remain unnamed for now), the author romanized his own name as Yi Byeng-ju, which looks a bit odd for 이병주, though no more odd than the romanization Yi Pyong-ju. I'll never understand why Koreans transliterate Korean words quite the way that they do. I can never be certain from the romanization just how to pronounce a Korean word. The author 이병주 would be more closely approximated by transliterating it as "Ee Byoung Joo."

Anyway, I very much enjoyed "The Wind and Landscape of Yenang" and would like to read more by this author Yi Pyong-ju -- or Yi Byeng-ju or Ee Byoung Joo or whatever one wishes to call him -- but I don't know if anything else has been translated. I did manage to find some English titles online: Pierrot and Chrysanthemums, Alexandria the Novel, The Folding Fan, and The Chirisan Mountains. I think that these are all novels, so I've italicized them, but whether or not these English titles imply that the texts have been translated, I don't know. I'd guess not since they don't show up much online.

There's also not much on the author himself. On a website for Korean literature scholar Yimhunyoung (임헌영), we read the following, which provides a bit of information on Yi Pyong-ju but says far more about Yimhunyoung:
Representative ideological division literature prior to the eighties are Choi In-hoon's The Square, Yi Pyong-ju's The Chiri-san Mountains and Kim Won-il's The Sunset. While The Square consists of criticism of the ideological reality of North and South Korea by a sceptical liberalist, The Chiri-san Mountains is a criticism of the leftist struggle through the portrayal of an authentic person. The hero of The Square, a sceptic, could live either in the North or the South, but he deserts both to go to a neutral nation; in this case, this fictional premise is possible because that is the only place a true liberalist could choose, as possible survival signifies submission to the petrified order that is in reality too remote from the ideological world the hero is seeking. Yet it is none the less questionable if their observation leaning to one intellectual's selfish prejudice can by justified in view of the situation that most of the masses were facing in the fifties and the necessity to eliminate national absurdities as a historical phase for development. In comparison, the characters in The Chiri-san Mountains assert distinct ideological preferences. The Chiri-san Mountains can by evaluated as an outstanding attempt to determine the functional relations of national division and ideologies of our times, historic idealism and reality, and individual man and the collective masses, although there is much felt to by desired in fiction aesthetics and technicalities concerning the obvious intentional anti-Communist attitudes here and there in analyzing world history from the set viewpoint of the divided reality of the nation instead of the authentic view of that time. It still remains to be determined how much the author should imbellish the facts while basing his story on historical materials.
Korean Literature scholar Yimhunyoung -- president of the awkwardly named Institute For Research In Collaborationist Activities -- sounds uncomfortable with the anti-communist political stance of a writer whom he otherwise genuinely admires. Yimhunyoung's implicit critique reminds me of the diamat criticism characteristic of literary studies in the former Soviet Union and among vulgar Marxists in the West. I often have the impression that the more nuanced literary analysis by Western Marxists of the Frankfurt School -- such as Horkheimer, Adorno, and Benjamin -- simply passed the Korean Marxists by. Perhaps they're more influenced by the 'Marxism' of North Korea.

Be that as it may, can anyone direct me to English translations of or information about the Korean writer Yi Pyong-ju?



At 6:04 PM, Blogger Charles said...

A quick look through the materials at the KLTI show that "Pierrot and Chrysanthemums" is indeed a translation, available in a volume entitled "Anthology of Korean Literary Vol. 2".

I cannot speak to the quality of it, but the mistranslation of the title (삐에로 means, and should have been translated as, "clown") and the error in the anthology title are not promising.

Also, I have to say that "wind and landscape" is a mistranslation of 풍물. In this situation, the word probably means "scenery" or "landscape" and would be more accurately translated as such. 風 can indeed mean "wind," but translating 物 as "landscape" here is a stretch. As a whole it means "landscape"--you can't just split it up like that and make "wind" literal and separate.

But there I go again, nitpicking. Mea culpa.

At 8:10 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Charles. From having lived in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, I knew that "Pierrot" means "clown," but most speakers of English wouldn't recognize this, so you're right.

On 풍물 in 예낭 풍물지, I've just asked my wife, and she partly agrees with you, but she suggests that 풍물 means something like a report on the customs, features, and people of a place. Now, the dictionary doesn't say this, which surprised my wife, for she's quite sure that 풍물 has been used in the way that she suggested. Have you asked your wife?

I may need to suggest this to the Korean woman who translated the story, for she is a respected scholar and translator whose field is English literature. Actually, she translated the story years ago but has never tried to publish it. I'm not sure what her intentions are.

Thanks again.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: 풍물

Yes, I was aware of the traditional meaning of the term 풍물지 (no need to ask my wife about that, being a Korean lit major ;)), but I didn't mention it for two reasons: a) my comment was getting nit-picky enough as it was, and b) being unfamiliar with the work, I didn't want to go out on a limb with my criticism. I assumed, considering the high praise you had for the translation, that the woman would not have made such a drastic error in translation.

What it comes down to is the range of meaning contained in the character 風. Literally it does mean "wind," but it is often used to mean "customs" or "style" (as, for example, in the words 풍습 and 중국풍). And, like I said, even in a direct, character-for-character translation, there is no justification for translating 物 as landscape (there's actually no justification for a character-for-character translation at all, but whatever).

If 풍물지 was, in fact, used in its traditional sense, something like "People and Customs of Yenang" would be accurate (the "features" your wife mentioned is more "the features of life" than "geographical features").

I recognized the name of the translator immediately. She is indeed well known in the field. People still make mistakes, though.

Hmm... I'm just fishing through the materials at KLTI, and it appears that this story was published in a collection of stories translated by Brendan McHale in 1983. The database then lists (in the same entry) it is being co-translated by this woman and a Western translator. Confusing. It is possible that she was just following the originally published title. (I can't stand that practice, by the way... if it's wrong, fix it!)

Re: Pierrot

I didn't learn what it meant until I came to Korea. Korean borrows a number of words from French. The only other that comes to mind at the moment is 빵.

Sorry for the rambling.

At 2:52 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Charles, for the extra details.

I had avoided using the translator's name, for I'm not sure what she plans to do with this translation, but you seem to have found it on your own. I guess that it's not entirely secret, after all, but thanks for only alluding to it.

As for the title, I had also noticed the Brendan McHale version online and had assumed that my colleague's title followed that one.

I think that I will ask her about the title -- or just refer her to this discussion.

By the way, is 빵 from French or from Portuguese? I know that Korea got the word "Arbeit" from Germany.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I figured there was a reason you didn't mention her name, so I chose prudence.

You might just want to ask her about the title rather than referring her to this discussion. She wouldn't know me from a hole in the wall, of course, but still. I had in fact considered sending you a private email with my crits rather than making them publicly. I wouldn't want her to feel that I was attacking her.

As for 빵, I had always assumed (and been told) that it was from the French pain, but a quick check of an online encyclopedia traces its origins to Portuguese. Learn something new every day. Good call.

At 3:51 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think that I heard somewhere -- maybe from one of my brothers-in-law -- that 빵 comes from Portuguese. The Portuguese also introduced the hot red pepper, but not their word for it -- and, anyway, the Portuguese got the pepper from the Spice Islands ... I think.

I wish that I had a better memory.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Portuguese introduced the hot red pepper? Really? I have always heard that the Japanese had introduced the red pepper at the end of the 16th century. I'll have to check up on that, but I'm fairly sure of it. Perhaps these are different red peppers we're talking about here?

Ah, here we go, the Naver encyclopedia says that there is a story that 고추 was introduced by the Japanese during the 1592 invasion in "an attempt to poison Koreans" ( Heh.

Then it goes on to say that Japanese records claim that the red pepper was introduced to Japan by Korea at this time. It doesn't reach any conclusion, though.

The "Cultural Encyclopedia of the Korean People" (한국민족문화대백화사전, in print--yeah, I just so happen to have all 28 volumes on my shelves) says that a Japanese text records that the Portuguese introduced the red pepper to Japan in 1542. A Korean text says that the red pepper then crossed over from Japan and was known as "Japanese mustard," but Japanese records claim that the red pepper came from Korea (as the Naver encyclopedia mentioned). The article comes to the following conclusion (rough translation): "Based on these records, we can assume that the red pepper was first introduced to Japan and reached Korea via Japan, but the new species that was brought to China, the species that was introduced to Japan, and the species that was cultivated in Korea all interacted (서로 교류되어) to arrive at what we have today."

It would seem to me more likely that, since the Portuguese visited Japan first, they introduced the red pepper there and then it made its way across the water to Korea. Either way, you could say it was introduced by the Portuguese.

Wow. Another myth shattered. I am just learning so much today.

At 10:21 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The red pepper stories sound a bit complicated. The one about poisoning the Koreans is ridiculous and must surely be legendary.

I had thought that the Portuguese introduced the red pepper directly to Korea, but my evidence was purely hearsay.

At any rate, the Koreans are now successfully 'poisoning' the world with kimchee.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the encyclopedia calls the story about poisoning Koreans a "설," which could mean a theory, an opinion, a rumor, a story, etc. I can only assume that it is a legend (in fact, I used to joke that it was part of Japan's strategy for winning to war, so maybe this is all my fault). Still, you have to wonder why they bothered to include it.

As for whether the Portuguese introduced it directly or via Japan, I suppose we'll never know for sure.

At 3:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Right, why have a 'theory' (설) to explain how bad the Japanese were for introducing the pepper into Korea unless the Japanese really had introduced the pepper into Korea?

One possible answer is that the rumor is an old one dating to a time when many Koreans were suspicious of the red pepper and were resisting its use in the older 'water' kimchee. Since the pepper had come from abroad, then it must have come from the Japanese, who could only have introduced it for nefarious reasons. Thus the rumor...

Well, that's a 'just-so' story, but I can put it forward it as my own 설.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Naver encyclopedia's full "explanation" is as follows (parentheticals mine):

"As far as the history (of the red pepper) in Korea goes, there is a story (설) that Japanese troops during the Invasion of 1592 brought strong red peppers in order to poison the people of Joseon, but instead the Korean people came to enjoy the red pepper. Yet various Japanese documents record that the red pepper was introduced to Japan from Korea during the Japanese Invasion of 1592. Also, Yi Jaewi, in his Mongyu (1850s), records that it was introduced by the "northern barbarians" (most likely referring to the Manchus and/or the Manchurian Qing Dynasty of China)."

Complete lack of any mention of the Portuguese aside, what gets me about this entry is the "Yet (그러나)" at the beginning of the second sentence, as if this "story" were on equal footing with historical records. Not to mention the fact that the story is placed first. The 한국민족문화대백화사전 has no mention of the story at all, which is as it should be. And, as I mentioned above, "설" is rather vague in meaning--it isn't an outright dismissal of the veracity of the story (in other words, it is a story that has been neither proven true or false).

Now if this were Wikipedia I might understand. But if this were Wikipedia there would be a big box at the top of the article saying that the neutrality of the article was disputed, as well as one of those ubiquitous "citation needed" links right after the story. Naver is trying to pass itself off as a legitimate source here, and that peeves me.

Eh, sorry for the rant. I think I've flogged this dead horse enough. I will desist.

At 12:40 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I find that the 고추 has ever been a disputed thing.

And that's my final observation...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:54 PM, Blogger lovelyrose said...

I'm a Korean scholar of English and wondering if you don't italicize the "kimchi." Could you tell me the reason why? I really appreciate your mixed text between English and Korean. It was fun reading two letters from different cultures in the same text...

At 6:30 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Geun Young, thank you for your kind comment, and I'm glad that you enjoyed my post and the comments that it generated.

I am not really a scholar of Korea or Korean, but true scholars seem satisfied with my English skills ... though I don't know every answer.

On your query about the word "kimchi" ... good question. Italicized or not? I'm tending not to italicize because the word is almost 'naturalized' by now. Americans (and perhaps British) generally know what it is, for many have eaten it, and when a foreign word attains widespread use in English, then the word is no longer italicized.

The question is: Has "kimchi" attained such a widespread use?

I'd say ... probably. Why not check with "Charles"? He has commented on this entry. If you click on his name, you'll reach his website and find a way to contact him there. He's a translator and would be a more authoritative source than I.

Thanks again for visiting.

Jeffery Hodges

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