In a couple of weeks my first semester at Ewha Womans University will be ending. In a way it feels kind of frivolous to be studying a second MA, but with the amount I am learning and the daily struggle it has been, I definitely feel like I made the right decision. My Korean reading and writing ability is improving, obviously I am way behind my Korean peers, but you know, they all had a 20-year head start so I’m not going to get upset about that!
This semester I have taken three classes. In ‘Modern Literary Criticism’ we read through a bunch of literary theory and philosophy, interestingly all by French men. Lucky for me all of the key texts had been translated into English so I was able to grapple with the difficult translated sentences on a similar footing to everyone else. One thing that I did find was that the English and Korean versions of many of the translations were very different in tone and style and sometimes in meaning. But honestly for that kind of work one sentence can be understood in different ways, and so a translation can try to keep that ambiguity, if that is possible, or run with one of the meanings…I suppose the Korean tended to be more explanatory.
The second class was ‘Modern Korean Poetry’ and this semester the course was focused on theories of rhythm. As someone becoming bilingual bit by bit who has translated poetry, but also being a foreigner in a big city and slightly out of tune even with my homeland now, it has been so interesting to think about rhythm. The rhythms of different people, different dialects and languages, different styles of speech, different cities and cultures . . . the way that rhythm stems from the innermost beats and repetitions. I now have the task of directing the big wide-angle concept of rhythm that my teacher has developed in me back to looking at Korean poetry and a (no doubt slightly odd) term paper has to become the end product of this.
The third and final class was Korean Siga which I guess can be called ‘lyrical poetry’ but really refers to the kind of verse which makes up much of pre-modern Korean literature. As part of my course I have to take two classes in the pre-modern literature section and I thought I should ‘get them over and done with as quickly as possible’, but in fact it has been a really interesting class. The topic this term was the period of transition from ‘middle-ages’ to ‘modernity’, a long period to study, yes, but also a whole world of possibilities. This class is the smallest of the three and as there are less students studying pre-modern literature they tend to be very good at looking out for each other, which thankfully has included looking out for me! I’ve been looking at Lee Jong-ung’s Seosarok, a kind of official report on this journey to England in 1902 for the coronation of King Edward, and the version which he wrote in verse based on the less official aspects of Seosarok which is entitled Syeoyugyeonmunrok. Maybe one day I can translate the hangeul translations of these works, or maybe some kind translator will translate them before I get the chance.
As well as my three classes at Ewha I have been taking the ‘Translation Atelier’ at the Literary Translation Institute of Korea (LTI). With just six classes per term the Atelier meets less frequently than the ‘Special’ course, but because there are only four students every other class we each get to have our work critiqued for an hour by our teacher and fellow students. I’ve been presenting excerpts of translation from a short story called ‘Spring Nirvana’ by Jon Kyongnin which is included in The Goat Herding Woman. The comments and advice I’ve received in the class have been absolutely invaluable, and the recurring themes are helping me to identify my sloppy habits and weed them out.
All things considered it’s no wonder the last three months have flown past in a flash. It’s been tough but I’m growing to love my school and my teachers and I’m actually really looking forward to the next three semesters and what lies ahead – almost as much as I’m looking forward to the summer holidays 😉