In Translation is a Mode = Translation is an Anti-neocolonial Mode, Don Mee Choi writes,
Since the end of the Korean War, the US and South Korea have carried out joint military exercises. The names of these joint exercises are worthy of our attention as translators: Counterblow, Strong Shield, Focus Lens, Team Spirit, RSO&I (Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration), Key Resolve, Foal Eagle. These are neocolonial joints, hybrids, spirits—these are “orderwords” to use Deleuze and Guattari’s term. I traverse such order-words and map them, and superimpose another kind of map—the map of my dislocation, including my translations of Kim Hyesoon’s poetry. For me, Benjamin’s “Translation is a mode” must be jointed with “Translation is an anti-neocolonial mode.” I must speak as a twin.
For Deleuze and Guattari “language is a map, not a tracing,” because they say, “language is not content to go from a first party to a second party, from one who has seen to one who has not, but necessarily goes from a second party to a third party, neither of whom has seen.” Translation is a map, a mode that can trigger endless crossings from one party to another, “neither of whom has seen.” So when Benjamin points out that “translation which intends to perform a transmitting function cannot transmit anything but information—hence, something inessential,” I believe, like Deleuze and Guattari, he is also pointing to the mapping aspect of language and translation, beyond the tracing. In a little translation manifesto called Deformation Zone by Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Göransson, translation is already a mode, a map, a work of art, a radical “regime” that “transforms” and “conforms.” Translation is “both a thing, a substance, a material, and a conveyance, a way that one material is converted to another form.” In the deformation zone, translation is “a wound that makes impossible connections between languages, unsettling stable ideas of language, productive ideas of literature.” I am not content to just go from Korean to English. I am not content to uphold the notion of national literature—the notion that literature outside of the Western canon is always bound to national borders.
What this implies is that the so-called national literature simply needs to cross linguistic and national borders, as if such borders are entirely ahistorical and apolitical. Whenever poet Kim Hyesoon is asked whether her poetry represents her country—a question that is rarely asked of a poet whose work is perceived to be rooted in the Western canon—she never fails to answer that her poetry comes from the Republic of Kim Hyesoon. I want to make impossible connections between the Korean and the English, for they are misaligned by neocolonial war, militarism, and neoliberal economy. The two languages have very little in common linguistically, yet they are of one tongue, almost. Because in a neocolonial zone, as Deleuze and Guattari have already noted, “there is no mother tongue, only a power takeover by a dominant language.”
Mirene Arsanios, Sawako Nakayasu, and Mónica de la Torre will join in a roundtable discussion on Choi’s essay and its relation to their own approaches to expanded translation practice and complex linguistic-cultural identity. The roundtable will be moderated by Esther Allen. Co-presented by Ugly Duckling Presse and CUNY Center for the Humanities.