Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Call the Ewhaaaaambulance...

And then, suddenly, it all fell apart.... When I returned from my lovely vacation (pictures of which are to follow) I had a phone call from the BKF telling me I needed to call him immediately. As I had sent him an IM full of fear and loathing on Friday and had no response, I already sensed something was up...

As it turns out, the suspicion I had voiced that the BKF and I were not minimally qualified to apply for the grant as solo interpreters also somehow applied to Ewha College and, with time running out towards the deadline someone at The Academy of Korean Studies informed Ewha that they were institutionally unqualified to apply for the grant.

This is the story we were told. The real story will remain as remote and hidden as the Han cultural heart, and I will never know it.

This sudden halt is not a tragedy on several levels.

• The BKF's heart was never that deeply into this and I also found the work tedious. A few translations perhaps, but three years was going to be a grind.

• Just the translation of this work has been incredibly useful for my upcoming conference paper. "Yi Saeng Peers Over the Wall" is the very first piece of Korean fiction and can thus be fairly said to be sui generis in one sense, but also archetypal in a more important way. And YSPOTW is rife with themes and plotlines of diaspora and return (heck, I might even nick that line for my conference paper) and thus will provide a lovely historical and literary background and echo for my argument.

• Similarly, having translated all the poems in YSPOTW, I know have a much better idea of what Korean poetry is about, and this will help me greatly in at least one of the pieces of literature I am reviewing for Acta Koreana.

• It was was just plain cool to do.

• Lurking out there like a vast subterranean follower of Cthulhu, there is the very Korean issue of face and obligation. The work I have done here should have certainly increased my balance on the credit side of these things. This would be an incredibly rude thing to say aloud to a Korean, but it is nonetheless true and when I tote up all the cool shit that went on around this (now) clusterfuck, that may be the most important thing that happened.

Monday, the day after this news, the book of Korean Poetry came and it was a slender enough volume that I could take it to a bar with the Master's Thesis from which it derived, and in the time it takes the Tennessee Titans to beat the living crap out of the wretched New Orleans Saints I could read and compare all the duplicate poems (73 out of 90) as well as make more notes on this review. I now have 4 pages of notes (not counting marginalia in the book) and will let it sit for a week or so. When the time to write comes, the writing should come easily (although just saying that is putting the worst kind of hex on things!).

I also finished "Three Generations" by Yom Sang-seop .

This book began just horribly, in a storm of Korean social structure and trite political posturing that would make any reader from the US grind their teeth in frustration. In fact the BKF is Anglicized enough that this happened to him. He handed me the book with the "bad news/good news" explanation, "I started this book, but by the time I got fifty pages in, I realised it was the kind of book you should read."

Nice, buddy!

But as it went the social structure became part of the novel and the trite political posturing (and otherwise somewhat cardboard characterizations at the outset) became something like two obvious black lines standing up on either end of a canvas - the framework for a clever, subtle and always changing representation of a bamboo grove. Yom's characters grew and changed throughout the book and at the end there were no easy solutions. The end was even something of a cliffhanger. I may just write a review of this thing for the hell of it, to fix its meaning in my head.

Anyway, all of this also helped to blunt whatever kind of blow the loss of the potential Ewha gig might have been. It was never in our hands, I suppose, so we never lost it.

On to the next motel!

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