Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Jang Jung-il's "Pelican" and the current "Beef Rage"

Jang Jung-il
(aka Jang Jeong-il, Chang Chong-il, Chang Chŏng-il, etc.)
Portrait of the writer reflecting on Korea
(Image from Shinwon Agency)

My wife and I are currently translating a collection of short stories, When Adam's Eyes Opened (아담이 눈뜰 때), written by Jang Jung-il (장정일). More accurately put, Sun-Ae is translating the collection from Korean into English, and I am correcting the translation.

Yesterday, I was proofreading a story titled Pelican ("펠리컨"), which was originally published in 1988, when South Korea was only just emerging from dictatorship into democracy, and which tells of a man accused by an 'institute' of kicking a sick pelican that had flown onto his lawn. The man did, in fact, kick one pelican, but his 'crime' grows into a rumor that he has tortured and killed 120 pelicans, and the entire Korean public is outraged at his brutality to the poor creature.

Yeah, I know, a willing suspension of any well-informed reader's disbelief is difficult on this point, for if mistreatment of animals in Korea would spark public outrage, then tens of thousands of Koreans would already be marching in the streets demanding a boycott of every dog-soup restaurant in this country as protest against the dog butchers for deliberately torturing dogs to give the dog meat more 'potency'. The story "Pelican," however, is not really about animal rights but about . . . well, in part about the Korean national character, I suppose.

Anyway, given the recent "beef rage" that has gripped Korea because of a great deal of media exaggeration about the dangers of American beef, because of the role played by 'civic' groups in fomenting and directing much of this rage, and because of the volatility of the Korean public and its apparent gullibility in accepting obvious distortions, I found the following passage from "Pelican" rather interesting:
While I was being investigated by the institute, such mass media as newspaper and television reported daily on my crimes with bold headlines and loud announcements.
- Neighbors Witnessed First Attack! Citizen Report Played Crucial Role!

- Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Petitioned Institute! Sparked Investigation!

- Sadist Killed About One Hundred Twenty Pelicans, Especially the Pitiful and the Lost!

- Institutional System Urgently Needed to Protect Pelicans!
Citizens, inundated by mass media reports, grew outraged and marched daily in rallies.
- Who maltreated the pelicans?

- People who act less than pelicans are less than pelicans!

- I am also a pelican!

- Stand up, pelicans, against the darkness of this age!
I was arrested. Imprisoned behind iron bars, I glimpse birds flying beyond my cage. Public opinion boils up like lava and citizens rage like a volcano.
Given the events of the past several weeks, this description of rumor, exaggeration, and rage in the streets sounds all too familiar.

For those who -- unlike me -- can read Korean, here's the original passage:
내가 기관으로부터 조사를 받는 동안, 신문, 티비 등의 매스컴은 나의 범행을 연일 대서특필해대고 있었다.
-- 제일 처음 이웃이 목격! 시민제보가 결정적인 역할을 해!

-- 동물애호협회에서 모 기관에 진정! 사건화되는 계기마련!

-- 백이십여 마리의 불쌍하고 갈 데 없는 펠리컨만 골라 죽인 사디스트!

-- 펠리컨을 보호하기 위한 제도적 장치 절실 요망!
대량 언론 세례를 받은 시민들은 분노했고, 연일 성토대회가 열렸다.
-- 누가 펠리컨을 학대하는가?

-- 펠리컨보다 못한 인간은 펠리컨보다 못한 인간이다!

-- 펠리컨은 바로 나다!

-- 시대의 어둠을 뚫고 일어나라 펠리컨!
나는 체포되었다. 그리고 철창 속에서, 철창 밖을 나는 새 본다. 여론은 용암 같이 들끓고, 시민들은 화산 같이 분노한다.

"펠리컨", 장정일, 아담이 눈뜰 때 (김영사, 2005), 292-293.
I hope that I've transcribed all of this correctly, but I'm not especially proficient in typing languages that I don't really understand (though it has now, three hours later, been checked and corrected by my wife).

Anyway, as I told my wife yesterday, "I see that there's more to Jang Jung-il's stories than just sex and violence" -- an important point to note because Jang Jung-il is 'infamous' in Korea for his explicit treatment of these two themes.

Actually, I'd already realized that Jang Jung-il offered more than just those two disturbing themes, but I'm now proofreading translations of his works with a more trained eye.

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At 2:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm curious about your translation of the title, 아담이 눈뜰 때. Obviously you are going to have a better handle on this, since you are familiar with the collection as a whole, but my first instinct would be to translate this title as When Adam Opens His Eyes. If the original title had been 아담의 눈이 떠졌을 때, then I could see it being When Adam's Eyes Opened, but it is Adam doing the opening of his eyes, and the action is ostensibly taking place in the present. I think the first point is more important--Adam opening his eyes has much more force than Adam's eyes opening.

Just a thought.

(By the way, any news on that get together you mentioned last time?)

At 3:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think that you're probably right. My wife may first have used the title that you also suggest, but I seem to recall objecting that the main story, also of that title, presents Adam's eyes being opened by circumstances . . . though I'm now less sure of that.

At any rate, as I was looking into information on Jang Jung-il this morning for today's blog entry, I noticed that Brother Anthony translated the title as When Adam Opens His Eyes (pdf p. 79) -- precisely as you do.

I'll take this up with my wife and see what she thinks now. We're both re-reading the stories and correcting. Thanks for the assistance and suggestion.

As for the get-together, I do need to check with Sperwer.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:05 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I should have said that Youngju Ryu translates the title the same way that you do -- and I suppose that the editor, Brother Anthony concurs.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to play my part, however small.

I got your email, by the way. I'll have to check with my wife and then get back to everyone.

At 10:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Charles, you certainly spurred me to rethink the title.

Now that my wife and I have discussed again why we chose as we did, we've decided to alter the title once more, but so as to better reflect not only the tense but also some ambiguity:

When Adam's Eyes Open

This retains the present sense that you note, but also the ambiguity between active and passive that my wife finds in the Korean title. Perhaps Adam is opening his eyes, perhaps they are being opened by circumstances, or perhaps . . . both.

On the meeting, I've also not yet heard from Gord.

Jeffery Hodges

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