- Translation's Forgotten History: Russian Literature, Japanese Mediation, and the Formation of Modern Korean Literature by Heekyoung Cho
Heekyoung Cho's Translation's Forgotten History presents a study of "the role of translation in the formation of a modern literature by examining how colonial Koreans appropriated Russian literature, through the medium of Japanese relay translations, while in the process of building their own modern literature in the early twentieth century" (p. x). It also "provides a broader East Asian perspective from which to understand the formation of modern literatures" (p. xi). The author's research suggests that "Russian literature became one element in a form of anti-imperial cosmopolitanism in East Asia" during this period (p. xii). Cho thus presents the underexplored history of localization and indigenization in the formation of modern Korean literature, in which foreign literature, ideas, and images play a pivotal role.
This book is a much-needed work that fills a gap in knowledge in the study of the relationship among Russian, Japanese, and Korean modern literatures. Due to Cold War politics as well as the linguistic challenge of being familiar with all three languages, this book is the first of its kind (p. 27). Cho's book is informed by meticulous research. Its author's insights include the fact that literature is a "dynamic process of negotiating various foreign and local values" (p. 27) and that Korea's encounter with foreign texts during the formative years of its modern literature is a site where modernity, colonialism, and nationalism intersect (p. 95). Cho also effectively cites works of several Korean literary historians and theorists, connecting her own scholarship with theirs. Since Cho views literature as a process rather than a monument, it is not surprising that she critiques the pervasive amnesia about the impure origins of national literature and the negotiated and hybrid nature of national languages, as well as the erasure of translated foreign literature from mainstream national literary history. This criticism reminds the reader of several other Korean-studies monographs that focus on similar contexts to explain how postcolonial, postwar South [End Page 292] Korea's national literature is partly established through a denial and erasure of leftist and North Korean literature.1 These books also discuss ways in which translation becomes an essential element in constructing a hegemonic national literature and its history in the modern era. In her analysis, Cho borrows Naoki Sakai's concept of "the regime of translation" to explain the relationship between Japanese and Russian literatures and the formation of modern Korean literature, arguing that "national literature has inherently been comparative literature" (p. 6).
Also at stake in Cho's book is the cultural politics of a subjugated Korean culture in the colonial era. Following Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Cho claims that a "translator's 'choices' and ensuing 'differences'—and distortions—made in the translated text were ethical in a subjugated culture because indigenization itself was one way of demonstrating agency under cultural and political dominance" (p. 22). As an example, Cho notes the irony of typical "relay translations" in colonial Korea—these works are translations into Korean from Japanese, but their originals are actually Russian—and points out that this kind of translation leads to the construction of the Korean language as an "equivalent linguistic entity vis-à-vis the colonizer's language" (p. 23). Thus, colonial Korean intellectuals' process of making their own modern literature was "doubly complex" (p. 25) in a fashion typical of a colony; they took Western literature as their model but viewed Japanese literature as a kind of sieve that, ultimately, they wanted to discard. Therefore, as Cho points out, this "social context legitimizes liberal and unfaithful translation as a disruptive, if not subversive, practice, and complicates the judgment about the ethics of literal translation in colonial Korea" (p. 25). With this context in mind, she uses the term "translation" to refer to two things. First, "it denotes a broad spectrum of substantial practices and texts. It includes types...