In this third and final installment, we hear from Johannes Göransson and Katherine Hedeen, both of whom direct our attention to what we should consider when engaging with poetry in translation. Göransson details the idea of a deformation zone that disorients our conventional understanding of the relationship between the original and the translation. Calling on us to care about poetry in translation precisely because the market does not care about it, Hedeen envisions the practice of reviewing these translations as an act of subversion and as a gesture of solidarity. Be sure to check out parts I and II if you missed them. And if you’re interested in reading even more, at the end of today’s installment, Criticism Editor Ellen Jones has offered a list of other contributions to this ongoing and important conversation on what it means to review translations.
Viltstängslet har upphört
fladdermusar fittar sig
Vårt pösmunkfetto slaggar
I sin goda roa,
— Aase Berg
The wilderness fence has ceased
around the grub
Our doughnutfatso slops
in peace and quiet,
as if shockmuffled
in the plump.
— Translated by Johannes Göransson
Anybody who is willing to engage deeply with a foreign text in translation can write a review of such a work. And it’s important that you do. You don’t need specialist knowledge of the foreign culture, nor do you need to be able to read the original. All you need to do is to open yourself up to poetry—even poetry that may come out of traditions different from those you are used to. READ MORE…
In this second installment of our forum on reviewing translations, Lauren Albin and Sue Hyon Bae, two of the translators of Kim Hyesoon’s A Drink of Red Mirror, reflect on their engagements with both the poet’s work and the culture in which it was produced. They highlight the dangers of adopting the role of an interrogator and emphasize the need for good faith in any encounter with a translated work. Today we also feature a contribution from Matt Reeck, who takes the opportunity to reflect on the ways that reviews might take into account contexts of reception and underscores how the idea of world literature can restrict our ability to understand local specificity as it attempts to develop a global framework. If you missed the first installment of this forum, be sure to check it out here, and stay tuned for tomorrow’s contributions from Katherine Hedeen and Johannes Göransson.
I want to point out this sentence in Matt Reeck’s review of Kim Hyesoon’s A Drink of Red Mirror, which becomes the foregrounding reason for his question of whether Korean poetry should be made more Korean in translation: “Kim’s poems are not confessional (which might make them indicative of the writer’s life and culture), nor are they written in a style that’s reflective of a social reality.” The reviewer’s desire for the poet’s confession quickly brings to mind one of the seminal poems of Kim’s collection—“Cultural Revolution in My Dream”—where Ms. Photon, a symbol of the bright light used by an interrogator to extract confessions, uploads a confessional software to the poet’s body. What I mean to say in drawing this comparison is that, Reeck got it wrong. Kim’s poems are confessional, but perhaps, they are not the confession that the reviewer wishes to hear—a situation that recalls Ms. Photon, who keeps on interrogating the poet even after there are no real crimes left but only a continuously generated confession. Therefore, the reviewer rejects Kim’s poems and along with them he rejects Kim’s social reality and Kim’s Korea, asking for translations that are more Korean than the originals and pressing for a false confession.
Moving away from Reeck’s review, when the reviewer of translated work plays at interrogator, the perspective of the translated poet is immediately endangered. The interrogator is a figure employed by repressive regimes to reconstruct narratives, to revise the truth, to rewrite what actually happened, and to reconstruct history. Interrogators often already know what story they wish to tell and work to illuminate only that reality. An interrogator is also someone who has inherent power over another. While Ms. Photon extracts false confessions, the sun, in Kim’s “Lady Yuhwa,” “streaming like a searchlight / pursues and violates the woman” of the poem. A reviewer who steps into the role of interrogator assumes power over the poem and violates it intentionally or unintentionally by forcing it to conform to their own ideas about what it should be; silencing the poem, instead of allowing the work to speak in its own language of idea, even when that language seems to push at the boundaries of our minds. READ MORE…
Today marks the start of our forum on the question of how we should review translations. Along with a general introduction by Criticism Editor Ellen Jones, this first installment contains contributions from Bilal Hashmi and Sophie Lewis. Drawing our attention to what something as simple as a question mark might signal, Hashmi alerts us to the importance of openness when engaging with translated texts, and Lewis helps us envision what the potential participants and platforms in a healthy reviewing ecology would look like. You’ll find more reflections, recommendations, and reconsiderations here on Wednesday and Thursday.
In July of this year Asymptote published a review of Kim Hyesoon’s A Drink of Red Mirror, translated from the Korean by Jiwon Shin, Lauren Albin, and Sue Hyon Bae, with contributions from Rebecca Teague, Dakota Hale, Kevin Salter, Sierra Hamel, and Nicole Lindell (Action Books, 2019). The review, written by translator Matt Reeck, sparked some heated discussion on Twitter on account of the questions it asked about the poems’ “Koreanness” and the visibility of that “Koreanness” in translation. A conversation began about the need for more reviewers of colour, and about the usefulness of concepts like “world literature” and “national literatures” in reviews of this kind. A factual mistake was pointed out and subsequently corrected, but it remained clear that some disapproved of the review’s tone and perspective. In writing about Kim’s poetry, Reeck attempts to interrogate his own position as a US-based reader and all the assumptions he therefore brings to a work translated from Korean; nevertheless, the review was seen to perpetuate and privilege those narrow assumptions.
A couple of months down the line, we want to make sure that those who criticised Reeck’s review know that they have been heard, and that as a result of those conversations, Asymptote has a renewed commitment to considering the political and ethical implications of the articles it publishes. As part of that commitment, we want to provide a more formal space to continue discussing the important questions raised in responses to the review. We have therefore invited a series of writers to contribute to a forum on reviewing translations, including Reeck himself, two of Kim Hyesoon’s translators (Sue Hyon Bae and Lauren Albin), two editors at Action Books (Katherine Hedeen and Johannes Göransson), and others who have elsewhere written incisively on this very topic (Sophie Lewis and Bilal Hashmi). These contributions will be featured here on the blog over the coming days as part of the journal’s ongoing dedication not just to the exchange of literature through translation but also to the circulation of ideas about translation.