Essays

Homo Europaeus: Does European Culture Exist? by Julia Kristeva
Homo Europaeus: Does European Culture Exist? 1 Is Europe dead? On the contrary: Without Europe chaos would reign. Why? Which identity? European culture never ceases to unveil a paradox: there exists an identity, mine, ours, but it is infinitely constructible and de-constructible. To the question “Who am I?” the best European response is obviously not certitude but a love of the question mark. After having succumbed to identity-focused dogmas, to the point of criminality, a European “we” is now emerging. Though Europe resorted to barbaric behavior—something to remember and examine incessantly—the fact that it has analyzed this behavior better than...
Dokkaebi: The Goblins of Korean Myth
This column introduces our readers to Korean fables, myths, and oral literature. It explores the origins of folktales that have been passed down through generations and continue to affect our lives to this day. A dokkaebi needs a human bride to end his immortal life, an amnesic grim reaper is forced by bizarre circumstances to become his housemate, and a girl “destined to die” claims to be the dokkaebi ’s bride. This is the plotline of the hit television fantasy romance Guardian: The Lonely and Great God , based on the folklore of the dokkaebi , Korea’s version of the...
Education, the Stairway of the Profane
With the notoriously ruthless South Korean education system under increasing scrutiny, contemporary writers are examining how this backbone of social mobility is faltering amidst intense competition and capitalist conformity. Told through the anxious eyes of parents, teachers, and the students themselves, these stories illuminate the complicated path that young Koreans must traverse on the journey to adulthood. In Gong Ji-Young’s “History of Insanity,” the author describes in lurid detail what Korean schools were like in her day. The novel features a main character innocent of what her experiences of that time would mean to her. As an elementary school student,...
Blooming Like a Pheasant’s Eye Flower
In a recent interview with Maeil Business News Korea , the poet Shin Dalja said, “Whenever I see a pheasant’s eye flower, it reminds me of my life — unattractive and small. But people take notice of it because it blooms, surrounded by ice, earlier than any other flower in the spring. That’s all that it’s known for. Musing on its tenacity, I just can’t think other way: I myself am an unattractive and small pheasant’s eye. . .” As a matter of fact, the pheasant’s eye flower is neither showy nor glamorous. And it may indeed be unattractive in...
Korean Conceptions of The Future
In this section, we look at the different ways Korean writers have been imagining the future of humanity. 1. We will forever remember March 2016’s “Battle of the Century” between Google’s AlphaGo and grandmaster Lee Sedol as they fought it out for supremacy over the game of Go. It was a competition between human and machine, but at the same time also a foretelling of our future. As the competition began, most people believed in the superiority of the human intellect, or at least wanted to believe in it. But once met with a sobering defeat of 4:1, we were...
What Do We Do Now?: Literary Translation in a Post-Trump World by Susan Harris
Wednesday, November 9, was the third and final day of the translation workshop I was running at the Singapore Writers Festival. It was also election day in the US: Singapore is thirteen hours ahead of New York, so the polls were beginning to close as we started that morning. When the early returns leaned heavily toward Donald Trump I was only somewhat alarmed; but as the day continued, my leisurely peeks at the New York Times on my phone turned frantic. Finally I commandeered the classroom computer. I saw the word STUNNING. The students — Chinese, Indonesian, and Malay, the...
About the Writer: Lee Ho-Cheol
Editor’s Note Lee Ho-cheol, one of Korea’s most renowned writers, passed away at the age of eighty-five on September 18, 2016. Experiencing historical upheavals, division, war, displacement, and the birth pangs of democracy in South Korea, Lee spent a lifetime studying the issues of war and division. To commemorate Lee’s journey to overcome division and achieve the unification of the Korean peninsula, the Featured Writer section includes an interview conducted in 2013, as well as write-ups from both Korean and foreign critics about his works. Born on March 15, 1932 in Wonsan, South Hamgyeong Province, now part of North Korea,...
The Long Journey of a Writer Who Crossed the Borderline by Kang Jin Ho
Dearest Seonsaengnim , the news of your passing came so unexpectedly. It seems like only yesterday when you would greet us with your warm welcoming smile — how could you have parted from us so soon? Was it because you missed your hometown so much that you left your body behind and departed with just your soul? You were to us the icon of division and division literature. After leaving your home and family in the North and setting off southwards, as a witness who has endured all the wounds and ordeals brought by division, your path in life followed...
Lee Ho-cheol and a Divided Nation by Alexander Y. Livergant
Lee Ho-cheol is one of the authors who helps readers, non-Koreans in particular, understand what is currently taking place in the two Koreas, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea where he lived until he passed away. Facts are said to be “an obstinate thing,” and the sad facts of the split of the Korean people that has lasted more than half a century may be best explained by those who know, not by hearsay, what has been happening in the country since the end of the Second World War and the liberation of Korea from...
Apocalyptic Literature and the Imagination of Disaster by Yoo Sungho
While apocalyptic literature has inspired the imaginations of writers since antiquity, there has perhaps never been a time more urgent than now to examine humanity’s ethical and moral response when faced with disaster. Korean writers too are exploring the prospect of hope and resistance when the world seems to be falling apart. In recent years as natural and social disasters have become more frequent and more severe, people are increasingly faced with moments where they must deal with and overcome catastrophe. The word “disaster” usually refers to unfortunate accidents or tragic incidents caused by the forces of nature. Here we...

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