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NO.370 01.22.2018

"Literature, should be enjoyed as personal pleasure"

Professor Emeritus Kevin O’Rourke of Kyung Hee School of English received the 25th Daesan Literary Award (Translation).

 

We talked with him, who has been living in Korea for over 50 years and to whom, ‘our literature’ means 'Korean Literature.' The book, which brings the Daesan Literary Award to Professor O’Rourke, is titled "the Book of Korean Poetry: Chosun Dynasty," a collection of translations of 600 poems of Yi Kyubo, Jeong Cheol, and Yoon Seon-do, others, selected and translated in the last 40 years.

 

The judging committee of the Daesan Literature Awards commented that “there are the traces of his agony and long-time efforts as a translator who has stayed in Korea and understood Korean culture, history and poem in his own way” and evaluated that “he has created an opportunity to revive and globalize Korean spirit and literary value.”

 

The Daesan Literary Awards is the largest comprehensive literary prize in Korea that selects and prizes outstanding works among those published in book form for the past one year. There are four categories of the prize: poetry, novels, plays, and translations (criticism). The prize amounts to 50 million KRW per full prize. This year, two professors from Kyung Hee University won the Daesan Literary Awards in two categories: Professor Emeritus Kevin O’Rourke in translation and Professor Bomi Son of Humanitas College in novel.

 

 

‘Fun’ is the motivating force of his rich translation such as Hangga, Koryo-gayo, Sijo and Chinese poetry
Professor O’Rourke translated many Korean short stories, including ‘Our Twisted Hero’ by Yi Munyol and others, starting from Choi In-hoon's ‘The Square’ 40 years ago. In addition, he has also translated Hangga, Koryo-gayo, Sijo, Gasa, Akjang, and Chinese poetry during Chosun Dynasty, and translated about 2,000 of modern works. Even considering the long period of 40 years, the driving force to translate such a huge amount of work is simple. Professor O’Rourke said, "Translation is something I do for fun."


Of the various works of Korean literature, what attracts Professor O’Rourke most are the works of the Zen poems. Professor said, "the atmosphere of Zen poems is nice." And as Hye-Sim stated, ‘you just have to see without saying." "There are so many different worlds in front of you. We do not need a lot of words. We just have to see them. ""Since the Chosun Dynasty, the words became longer and larger.  Good poetry comes out when imagination comes first, "he said.

 

"Not to be obsessed with the Nobel Prize, but to lift off Confucian burdens"
We asked Professor O’Rourke who was his most attached writer. He chose "Yi Kyubo" as the best writer and said, "I think the poems of Yi Kyubo and Hye-Sim are the best and absolutely world-class works.” The story written by Professor O’Rourke "Singing Like a Cricket, Hooting Like an Owl: Selected Poems of Yi Kyubo" tells about his evaluation of Yi Kyubo and his belief about translation. Yi Kyubo is amazingly excellent in his view of life beyond imagination and greed. He is a poet who surpasses Tu Fu or Su Dong Po of China.” He then added, “Twenty years have passed since I started translating, but I still feel insufficient. The amount of abandoned papers containing translation of poems would be enormous. I read aloud the poem I translated to check whether the rhyme was well translated, otherwise it would be abandoned.”

 

Professor O’Rourke does not hesitate to criticize the current state of Korean literature scene by saying that "Korean society and literary circles are not interested in literature, but only interested in winning the Nobel Prize." The Professor also argues that it must escape the "Confucian burdens" that are rampant in the overall Korean literature. "The idea of Koreans is still very much Confucian. I do not believe Koreans can create genuine meaning of Korean literature until they transcend it. I can see that young writers are doing new literature, and it is important to have a satirical perspective on society.”

 

Professor O’Rourke insists that literature should not be too much oriented on mass consumption and people should take an attitude of enjoying literature. He said "let's not think of literature as a business. Let us enjoy literature as a personal pleasure

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