• Comfort Women
  • Stories Making History

Problems in Reconstructing and Editing the Interviews

The raw stories of the survivors passed through the hands of researchers and found new life as written accounts of history. However, the interviews were not directly transcribed into written text. Intervention from a researcher was inevitable as the interviews may have included political inclinations depending on the transcriber, purpose, perspective, and reconstruction methods. Thus, the reconstruction process included input from both researcher and interviewee in a joint effort.
After reproducing first drafts of the interviewees’ experiences and memories, the interviewers then produced second drafts utilizing notes containing records of the women’s behavior, gestures, expressions, and even moments of silence to create a broader picture. The third and final drafts were produced in consideration of readability, and were re-edited based upon the second drafts. These three drafts were based upon the experiences and memories of people in order to reflect their individual personalities. The initial recording processes challenged the survivors’ abilities to remember past events, while the subsequent editing tackled the issue of adequately delivering the stories in a format that would interest the readers.
At the beginning of the drafting process, the research team focused on conveying the stories of the survivors in a way that did not distort their memories. Our mission was not to scrutinize the facts or the volume of information that the women were able to recall. The stories we wanted to hear from the survivors and the stories we wanted to tell the readers were not simply the memories themselves, but their structure, as well. Who the people were, the social context of the situations, and how the past events were being remembered were of greater significance. To reiterate, this compilation is not comprised of testimonies of people who witnessed certain events, but rather of reflections of experiences, of how those past experiences are being remembered decades after the fact and their impact on the survivors’ current lives. However, during the process of compiling each survivor’s story, the research team gradually came to understand just how difficult conveying the full structures to readers would be. To provide stories that readers would be able to sympathize with, the research team had to carefully consider aspects of the survivors’ stories that needed to be disregarded, such as parts that were politically sensitive or unclear due to the onset of dementia, while still maintaining the integrity of their biographies. Although this compilation is based upon the experiences and memories of the survivors, the stories were selected based upon the understanding and interests of the research team as well as the current (2003) state of society’s views of the comfort women issue.
The research team had to revise certain principles of editing in the process of completing the final draft. That is, rather than the initial editing direction in which the goal was to not compromise story structures, the new direction would reveal the editors’ points of intervention. Hence, if the interview process had given the initiative to the interviewees, the editing process would acknowledge the editors’ initiatives and search for ways to convey the editors’ points of intervention.
The points of intervention are primarily conveyed in the titles and subtitles. The titles and subtitles are in unstructured formats that provide readers with anchors throughout each survivor’s story. Although these sections are direct quotes from the survivors in most cases, they were not intentionally contextualized by the interviewees themselves. They are essentially guides created by the editors purely in consideration of the readers.
A point of contention was whether to include the interviewers’ questions in the final draft. While the interview situations were subjectively chosen by members within the research team, intentionally deleting the questions brought on arguments that the interviewees seemed to be resolving about the stories on their own and thus possibly distorting the context of the stories. In addition, creating a flow in the stories was quite difficult without the questions from the interviewers. Nevertheless, the interviewers’ questions were intentionally removed in the editing process in order to portray the purest possible representation of the survivors’ own experiences. Of course, the interviewers asked many questions throughout the interviews to trigger the memories of the survivors, and they actively reconstructed the responses and situations within written transcripts and multiple edits to deliver faithful versions of the stories to the readers. However, much consideration was given to just who the subjects were and how their experiences were conveyed. Although the interviewers led the editing, the women interviewed would always have to be the subject of the experiences and reproductions. Had the questions been included in the final edited text, the voices of the interviewers and survivors would have been mixed, ultimately resulting in a diluted message. In other words, the questions were intentionally deleted in order to better serve the principal voice of the experiences.
In place of the interviewers’ questions, supplementary explanations were used in order to provide readers with a sense of depth to the stories. Sections that require context are explained in footnotes, and definitions for words in dialects and for jargon are included within the body of the text so that readers may easily process the stories without difficulty.
Intervention points are expressed in place of questions through single quotation marks. This format was borrowed from Korean Women Forced into Sexual Slavery: Rewriting History through Memories, Volume 4. (2000 Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery, Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. Pulbit Publishing House, 2001). In volume 4, single quotation marks were used to represent direct speech from the interviewees. We tried to accommodate the concerns from volume 4 and used quotation marks in a broader sense. We used quotation marks to represent the fragmentations in the narrative and underlying intersubjectivity of the interview situations. We wanted to convey editor intervention in places through the use of quotation marks rather than let the story flow to the readers from the interviewees themselves. The readers should be able to sense when the survivors experienced difficulty in expressing their stories and where they were proactively narrating depending upon the length of each quotation. Thus, the quotation marks were elements that revealed editor intervention as well as fragmentation in narrative.
However, the use of quotation marks was not limited to narrative situations. In Korean society, euphemisms are often used to represent unfamiliarity when expressing women’s experiences. That is, expressions that are traditionally used by men are familiar for men’s experiences and unfamiliar for women’s experiences. Language is derived from recognition. Therefore, not having the proper expressions means that the events and experiences were not properly recognized. For example, most of the comfort women use the words “it” or “received” to express the terrible experience of a gang rape. And thus, we naturally used such words in society as the norm. The comfort women were prevented from recognizing gang rape as what it was and could not use that expression to describe their experiences. As people are still accustomed to using the expression “deprived of purity,” the word “raped” would bring about considerable shock. Thus, the women feel a sense of unfamiliarity when their experiences are expressed in words, because they have been marginalized in their abilities to express themselves, despite the fact that current experiences are not any different from the experiences of the women of earlier generations within a patriarchal social structure. Therefore, quotation marks are used throughout this book to represent unfamiliarity in the survivors’ experiences, the intersubjectivity of the interview situations, and fragmentation in narrative. We believe that this unfamiliarity will eventually disappear as the experiences of the survivors continue to be discussed in the future.
The final point of intervention appears in the epilogues. The research team decided to include epilogues to show the harmony between the relationships of the interviewers and interviewees as well as the interview situations. The epilogues convey the personal relationships between the survivors and the interviewers, context for the interviews, and aspects of the story that were not included or thoroughly explained in the main body for personal circumstances or political reasons. In addition, the experiences of the interviewers from the interviewing and editing processes are also featured in the epilogues. Of course, certain personal stories that the survivors wished not to reveal in the book were kept secret. Despite agreeing in the initial stages of the interview, some women opposed the idea of publicizing certain aspects of their lives toward the end of the interviews. The research team also decided to include a section of “fruitless outcomes” as we believed that the processes and context for refusing interviews or publication were equally important aspects of the comfort women’s testimonies. The section on “fruitless outcomes” should provide readers with some sense of the difficult process of speaking about and listening to the comfort women’s experiences.
Of course, even the epilogues were surrounded by disputes in the editing process. In particular, there was difficulty in determining what term to use to refer to the comfort women. Each team member had his or her own reason for wanting to refer to the survivors by their given names, the affectionate word halmoni (literally, “grandmother”), or simple pronouns. Generally, a comfort woman is referred to as a halmoni. The word halmoni conveys a sense of familiarity that has the advantage of alleviating some of the weight associated with the term Japanese military's comfort women. However, the team members who opposed the idea argued that the word halmoni has connotations of powerlessness and asexuality in Korean society that would serve as a detriment to the significance of their stories. The word halmoni would be a mistake that would be counterproductive to the research team’s efforts in portraying the survivors as independent women rather than as a single group of nameless comfort women and ultimately be a detriment to the significance of their stories. Therefore, the survivors should be referred to by their given names rather than a generic term in order to move away from the collective stereotyping that surrounds the issue of comfort women. Nevertheless, other members of the team contended that the word halmoni was used to refer to the women during interviews, and thus the epilogues should remain faithful to the personal relationships between the interviewers and the survivors. Moreover, using only the third-person pronouns “she” and “her” would create a sense of distance among the survivors, the interviewers, and the readers. Still, it was argued that the use of the word halmoni was not a simple acceptance of the stereotype in Korean society. The contention was that the word halmoni would convey the interaction between the survivors and the interviewers and that the interviews were not merely distant observations. The research team decided to open the issue to the readers themselves rather than close the argument in any one direction.

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