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Translation and the Colonial Desire for Transparency

Abstract: Translation and the Colonial Desire for Transparency

Serk-Bae Suh
University of California, Irvine

By focusing on the translators featured in short stories written during the colonial period (1910-1945) by the Korean writer Kim Saryang (1914–1950) and the Japanese writers Nakajima Atsushi (1909–1942) and Nakanishi Inosuke (1887–1958), the talk discusses the ways in which those literary texts reveal the colonizer’s unease over translation as the necessary but imperfect mediation that frustrates transparent communication with the colonized. I argue that the colonizer’s anxiety over translation, as manifested in the literary texts, is related to the desire to reconfirm his or her authorial and authoritarian voice. By examining the preface the Japanese poet Kitahara Hakushū (1885–1942) wrote for the 1929 Japanese translation of Korean folk songs published by Kim Soun (1908–1981), I further argue that once theorized as an ethical act of encountering the other in language, translation can open up the possibility of a critical reflection on the idea of the unified national subjectivity on which colonial discourse pivots.