Recent(-ish) Meetings and Events

October and November were busy for me — November insanely so — and I neglected to post about the few meetings I had, and events I participated in, at least since meeting Charles for beers in Kangnam. In order, and I think this is all of them, and, significantly, they’re both with bloggers in Korea:

MEMESAK Conference, 2007

One Dr. Hodges, perhaps better known online as The Gypsy Scholar, long ago posted about the MEMESAK — the Medieval and Early Modern English Studies Association of Korea — conference last year, and I expressed my regret for not having known about it. So he invited me along this year, and I managed to set aside enough time when not editing to attend one day of the conference. I even made enough time to go for an after-conference drink, after some hesitation — I decided to let the editing wait one more day, as a break would be good for me, and I wanted to get to know Hodges a little better.

Though probably most of my friends would think me crazy for saying so, the conference was fun. I got to hear excerpts of an outstanding English translation of Beowulf by Dr. Sung Il Lee. Lee has some fascinating ideas about translation and I’m going to save them for another post, I think. But I will note that, as Hodges posted in his account of the conference, Lee’s energetic and deeply epic translation far outshines Heaney’s pat, modern one. It’s heartbreaking for me to criticize Heaney’s Beowulf thus, since his own poetry is so very much better, and something I respect and care for deeply, but… yes, a Korean lit prof did a better job on Beowulf than Seamus Heaney, in my opinion. Heaney’s is better than Gaiman’s, but… well, anyway.

Other interesting conference proceedings that stood out in my memory? For one, Dr. Rand Johnson’s rather freewheeling look at Latin retranslations of the Latin Bibles in the Renaissance was fascinating: contrasting the different attitudes and work of different Renaissance humanists and the texts that they put forth made for a fascinating hour-long discussion.

I also got a kick out of Hodges’ discussion of intralingual translation — the translation of texts within a language. He talked about the etymology of words in use in his own native Arkansas Ozarks and their resonances with older meanings and uses of words in English, and the relation of this to reading early modern English texts like, for example, Milton. (And the relative benefits of an awareness of dialects with persisting use of older forms of words for someone texts written in archaic forms of the same language.) I can assure him that the laughter he heard was not at him, but with him.

I also found Yoshiko Kobayashi’s paper about “The Enchanted Cloak of Briseida” interesting, mostly because of the issues of gender-politics that ensue when a female character in one man’s narrative is “translated” by a male writer into another language. One of the interesting things was that this reminded me much more of “fanfic” and “adaptation” than of what we now consider “translation.” That brings to mind questions not just of textual “mouvance” but also narrative “mouvance.” While those troubadours who cared about textual integrity (not all did!) discovered means that could mitigate against textual mouvance — at least, when the person relaying the text was making an effort to be faithful to the original — it seems much more difficult to guard against narrative mouvance. This is something we’re all familiar with now, in the form of Hollywood adaptations of Philip K. Dick books and stories into films, many of which are nothing at all like the original.

Also, though I’m not sure what I made of his paper itself, John Lance Griffith certainly got me interested in learning more about Alfred the Great. As a historical figure I’d heard very little about, he seems to have a special and interesting place in British history.

Afterward, much fun with beer and great food was had, and fascinating discussion. But, you know, you had to be there. Hopefully I’ll cross paths with Hodges before too long. I certainly don’t want to wait till next year’s conference!

Coffee with James Turnbull

I met James one evening in late November. He was visiting Seoul and was kind enough to come out to Bucheon to meet me. We ended up having some Japanese food for dinner and then settling into a corner of the Starbucks beside Bucheon station for a good long talk.

I was surprised by James’ age — he always struck me as someone who’d be a little older  — but the same intelligence and sense of humor was there as I have seen on his fascinating blog The Grand Narrative. We talked about some of the Korea-related issues he posts about there, as well as other general stuff, and just got to know one another a little better. It was an evening very well spent, and I look forward to the next time he’s around, or, indeed, the next time I’m near Busan.

My Students’ Poetry Reading

The students in my English Culture Through Poetry and Song class put on a poetry reading at the English cafe on campus the other night. We had chapbooks printed up for the occasion, and students gave them to their friends (as well as keeping a copy for themselves).

Of course, despite my strong requests to do otherwise, the people running the cafe closed up shop for an hour before the reading “to prepare” and thus kicked out anyone who might have stayed there and enjoyed the reading. They also turned off the heat, which made two hours of sitting and listening to students talking and reading their work even more challenging to the audience. But we had a few people turn up anyway. Not many — it reminded me of the audiences live music performances used to garner in Jeonju. A few people who’d come in to study packed up their textbooks and fled.

It’s hard not to think angrily, “How lame.” After all, I’d asked all professors in two departments — mine, and English Literature — to announce the reading, and if they indeed did so, only a few people showed up. Okay, a week before final exams is a bit of a hectic time, but you’d imagine more than three — no, four, it was four — people would turn up to listen. (And one of those at least was a girlfriend of a reader.) Worse, most of the people who did turn up only came until their friend read, and then, not even waiting for the break between groups of readers, stood up and left.

Don’t get me wrong: my students themselves did a great job reading; many of them extemporaneously discussed their poems, and read well. But nobody cared. Nobody showed up to have a chance to be impressed. This is one of those things that makes me nod my head and say, “Ah, yeah. I see why nobody else bothers to try put on these kinds of events.” If it’s not funded by massive companies, full of flashing lights and sexy dancing, promoted on TV and with full-color posters, then it doesn’t seem to interest people under 30. At times like that, I long to be somewhere where audiences for something new, different, or unusual — even just as mildly unusual as a poetry reading — are even possible.

    But, sigh, this was a poetry reading in English. I’m sure a poetry reading in French or German or Japanese would have gotten almost nobody in the audience if there’d been one at my hometown college.  So I can’t be too hard on them.

    But I am curious whether there’s an active poetical community in Seoul. I know the poetry reading I went to in Jeonju was one of the most unusual things I’d seen in the city. It was very planned, very produced, got funding from the local government, and it was filmed. The audience was told where and how to sit — which annoyed the hell out of me, since poetry readings are all about getting comfortable and listening in your own way. I would never understand poetry in Korean, I know, but I’m curious what kind of atmosphere would prevail at a reading. I seriously doubt it’d recall the beer-in-one-hand, laid-back experience we used to have at readings in Montreal. Or even the odd, basement-audience, poet-beside-the-upright-piano mood of The Yellow Door, near McGill campus.

    Besides a meeting with my friend Kimberley, one evening in October I think it was, that, in a nutshell, is my social life during October/November/December 2007! Little wonder I’ve been so stressed, with only one proper outing a month!

    (Though, to be fair, Lime and I did go and have Indian food one afternoon, in Seoul.  That’s all the time we could afford, as she’s been busy working lately. But I’ve discovered there’s a place in Bucheon with Indian food, too, so that long trek may be unnecessary in future! Wouldn’t that be lovely? Then even on busy days we could meet up and eat that good stuff, perhaps.)

    7 thoughts on “Recent(-ish) Meetings and Events

    1. Thanks, Gord. I was hoping to read your impressions of the MEMESAK conference. Looks like we both agree on Dr. Sung Il Lee’s Beowulf translation — the most exciting thing at the conference.

      Other than meeting you, of course. We’ll have to have another beer sometime…

      Jeffery Hodges

      * * *

    2. Jeffrey,

      Yeah, the Beowulf blew me away. I was a bit cynical at first and a few minutes later he got me.

      We must have another beer sometime.


      I haven’t read them yet. Still trying to get myself to read my Mandelbaum translation of Ovid, which I figure should precede it, in that knowing the original a little helps. What do you think of them?

      The difference being that Norton doesn’t treat Hughes’ translations as authoritative, but does treat Heaney’s as if it is.

    3. The Hughes translation probably isn’t authoritative, but I did like it quite a bit. When you read it, you wonder why more poets, contemporary ones anyway, don’t try their hand at that sort of thing. I suppose the highest compliment I can pay Hughes is the following: I read more of his translations the Iron Giant after reading his take on Ovid. I read some selections from the Loeb translation, and I’ve also read the Penguin translation (most recent edition, who ever did it) and while I enjoyed those translations, Hughes really made the sale on Ovid for me, and would probably whet your appetite for a more “serious” translation.

    4. Mark,

      Sounds interesting. But I usually go the other way round: check out the “legit” translations first, then the freer adaptations. Still, I’ll give it some time someday.

    5. About good places to eat in Bucheon, there is (maybe was) a nice Thai restaurant in Hyundai dept. store. Not too pricey, about 6 or 7 thousand won. The little extra cost was worth it, made for a nice alternative to Korean food. One thing I’ve noticed about stores in Korea is how quickly they can change. One of my favorite kimbap restaurants in Gwangju changed over a weekend into a ‘vintage’ (aka, reject thrift store clothes from the USA) clothing store.

    6. Trevor,

      Yeah, that place is okay, though given the trek, as long as one is up for braving the subway, it’s almost just as easy to go to the place in Hong Ik, which is better for most of the dishes I like. I find for variety I’m usually cooking at home, but I’m not good at making Indian food… so this is nice.

      And yeah, places change with astonishing speed around here. It’s a little dizzying, really. And quite disappointing when you find you’re one of the few who likes a particular place. It’s always the little good place that shuts down because the cheaper crappy one across the street wins more of the customers somehow.

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