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Double-translation [the act of translating not from an original but from another translation of an original] resists ordinary penetration through appropriation, homogenization, or heterogenization of the “language-culture” (Henri Meschonnic) and taps the possibility for language to bring novelty. The double-translation of the so-called Enlightenment period in Korea, as well as the literary works born from double-translation, make possible the overthrow of such dichotomies as transplantation versus creation and ruler versus ruled. At the same time, through the clashes, bendings, and adjustments induced by this process of double-translation, it led to such things as the transformation of literary genres and the design of the modern Korean language. Ultimately, all the questions surrounding the issue of double-translation force us to acknowledge that Korea’s modern knowledge – up till now – has been rooted in colonial subordination, since it all came through double-translation (from the colonizing Japanese). If the result of the simple and mechanical transplantation through double-translation is nothing other than Korea’s modern knowledge, this leads us to say that, because of this, Korean modern literature and language are subordinated to the Japanese translation/assimilation of (Western) modernity. The recognition of double-translation, whether that double-translation process was conscious or not, presents itself as a sensitive issue, for the discussion has always been about being for or against double-translation.
If double-translation is indeed an act of translation, it activates reiteration of the practices of reading-writing, which is also re-reading-re-writing, within the interdetermination of Meschonnic’s “language-culture” through diverse means such as hybridity, realignment, overlapping, invention, and creation. In the process, a step was being made, for instance, towards an identification of spoken and written language. Double-translation has acted as “mutable mobile” (Michael Cronin), repeatedly adding and withdrawing writings and cultural elements.
Therefore, the question of modernity (literary and scientific) in Korea is the question of double-translation. Breaking away from the context of the primary production of knowledge (from within the West) and its later reception (via Japan) amounts to a language practice that invents its own identity’s historicity within (as well as through) alterity. All the diverse categories of “re-writing” can only assume a language practice linked either to separation or crossing. The “re-” of “re-writing” doesn’t just mean mere repetition, but implies an interpretation both subjective and secondary, which tells that the practice of re-writing is a product of re-reading, that is, a criticism of the original (because it could do nothing but disclose the possibility of criticism). There lies the value of all the double-translations attempted by Ch’oe Namson. Through double-translation, he originated the syntactical structure of modern Korean language, fixed punctuation, and designed a new vocabulary.
Today, the prospects of double-translation are different because the historical situation is different. Double-translation is no more at the source of a complex, but it is instead recognized as the “mark of the translator’s efforts” (Kim Hyun). The fact that translation studies stress the need to consult previous translations in order to enhance one’s own translation tells us that double-translation is no longer a taboo or a mis-translation.