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Translation involves ripping a theory from its original context and shifting it to another. In this way, translation necessarily distorts theory to a certain extent. In this article, Lee considers this distortion through the example of the reception of French contemporary philosophy in South Korea.
In an attempt to overcome the trauma of the Korean War, South Korean intellectuals turned to French thought, such as the existentialism of Sartre. However, due to their strong aversion to communism, they deliberately erased its leftist nuance by, for example, replacing “revolution” with “resistance” in their translations. This brought about a situation whereby theories of the French left were used to critique the South Korean left. A similar development transpired in the reception of postmodernism in the 1990s. In South Korea, anti-communists were the adopters of postmodern thought.
Furthermore, the fact that South Korean intellectuals used French rather than American theory to criticize leftists, has roots in Japanese colonial era education. Japanese Pan-Asianist ideals brought pain and disillusionment to the people of Asia, but they also left a legacy of anti-American sentiment.
In this way, South Korean critical theory and its history is an example of the dislocating tendencies of translation, wherein the contexts and relations of the original theory are neutralized.