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  • talk by Professor Youngju Ryu, University of Michigan
  • Event Date: 2023-11-01
  • Organizers: Asian Languages and Cultures

“Abysmally ignorant” was how the United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) was described by its own men. Occupying the southern half of the Korean peninsula from 1945 to 1948 without much knowledge of the country’s language, culture, or history, USAMGIK quickly devolved into “a government of, for, and by interpreters.” This talk examines the figure of the translator/interpreter in the literature produced during the occluded years of the US occupation, both by major Korean writers and by American servicemen in Korea. Analyzed together, these works reveal the emergence of English in US-occupied Korea as the way and the power, and translation as a process of establishing a monopoly over meaning. In that sense, translation functioned less as a means of moving between two languages than as a procedure of publicly legitimating an internal authority hyper-recognizable to members of the Korean community and largely invisible to American forces. Tracing the continuity of this figure of the translator, who is at once heteronomous and introverted, the talk will address the significance of the US Occupation for the formation not only of the South Korean state but of its enduring power elite.