Essays

Issues and Trends in Korean Eco-Literature
K orean Eco-criticism took off with the publication of “Toward a Literary Ecology,” an article by Kim Seong-Kon in the winter issue of Foreign Literature in 1990. Subsequently, the discussion about eco-literature in Korea branched into Green Literature, Life Literature, and Environmental Literature. Academics have written several in-depth papers on eco-literature and have compiled the results of their research as books, notable among which are Lee Nam-ho’s Green Literature (Minumsa, 1998), Kim Wook Dong’s Toward a Literary Ecology: Green Theory and Literature (Minumsa, 1998), Kim Yong-min’s Ecological Literature: Toward an Alternative Society (Book World, 2003), Kim U-chang’s A Heartfelt Study...
The Dawn of Ecological Consciousness in Korean Literature
Korea’s industrialization kicked off in the early 1960s, pursuing the accumulation of capital based on a government-led monopolistic system that resulted in the magnification of harmful factors. In particular, the policy of setting up industrial complexes and concentrating industries regionally without any consideration for primary industries like agriculture, forestry, and fishing gave rise to serious environmental problems. In response, Korean writers began reflecting on the Park Chung-hee administration’s dehumanizing and destructive development-first economic policy through their novels that dealt with environmental issues. Hong Sung-won’s novella Despot (1969) explores our awareness about the natural ecosystem through the symbol of a tiger,...
Exploring the Depths of Eco-Lit: Choi Sung Kak, Kim Jongseong, and Yi Si-baek
Eco-literature, or “eco-lit,” refers to literature that is critical of the latent dangers threatening the existence of humanity or of civilizations that harm the environment. It gained prominence in Korea in the nineties, succeeding the participatory literature wave of the eighties that included division literature and labor literature. Despite the appearance of several novels dealing with the environment, Korean eco-lit has proven unable to get involved in real-life issues. While the so-called Deep Ecology movement was absorbed in criticizing rationalism and anthropocentricism, differences of race, gender, and class were muffled by normative voices. Eco-lit allows us to listen to these...
Restoring Eastern Thought: The Eco-Poetry of Kim Ji-ha and Choi Seung-Ho
T raditionally, no dichotomy existed between humans and nature in East Asia. Even in literature from the Sinosphere, humans were understood to be part of nature within the general order and harmony of the cosmos. Naturally, this literary sensiblity considered society’s manmade regulations and the resultant desires as impure and sought to distance itself from them. This literary background and tradition led to the establishment of the unique custom popularly known as ganghogado in Korea. Korean literature has a long history of interest in ecology and nature. This attitude is retained in modern literature as well, especially in poetry, with...
Songs of Coexistence and the Future of Life
The escalation, not only in Korea but globally, of capitalism-backed development and the pursuit of materialism has exacerbated environmental pollution and the degradation of the ecosystem, thereby posing a serious threat to life and humanity. “Life” is something that directly concerns all life forms on our planet. Realizing the threat to life engendered by the ecological crisis and taking steps to check it are the sine qua non for preserving the sanctity of all life on Earth. Since the nineties, Korean poets have started paying attention to the dehumanizing effects of consumer capitalism and the ecological crisis triggered by development...
Kim Kwang-Kyu: A Poet Who Gives Meaning and Value to the Everyday
Poet Kim Kwang-Kyu, born in Seoul in 1941, debuted at the age of thirty-four in the journal Literature and Intelligence . In light of the conventions of the time, his literary debut happened at a rather late age. However, Kim proved everyone’s fears groundless through his prodigious poetic output. Kim has published ten books to date, starting in 1979 with his first collection, The Last Dream to Drench Us , which shows just how faithful he has been in carrying out his duties as a poet. He has been diligently transforming everyday language into poetry, in other words giving meaning...
Quotidian Life in Plain Truth
Kim Kwang-Kyu’s poems are easy to read. His poems depict everyday stories through simple language. However, simplicity of language does not imply that Kim’s poems contain a common message. Behind Kim’s unpretentious wording lies a twist of plot; within everyday language hides an allusive motif hinting at a higher meaning. Kim’s poems help us grasp aspects of life that we might have never considered or perceived before. Kim takes note of the different facets of our everyday lives. He does not believe that life’s truth lies in some mysterious place detached from our ordinary lives. He seeks truth in the...
70 Years of Independence and Division: The Flow of Korean Literature Through the Eras
Division, Industrialization, and Democratization In modern Korean history, 1945 marks liberation from Japanese occupation and division of the country into North and South, thus beginning the “era of division” which casts a shadow over the lives of Koreans to this day. In other words, liberation and division came at the same time, and both were carried out by outside forces. The tragic circumstances of the latter are still ongoing and thus there is no refuting the fact that all Korean literature from 1945 onwards can be called “division era literature.” Of course, such circumstances, while external to literature, have a...
From the Maelstrom of the Korean War
“Postwar literature” is both a concept and a category used in literary histories of modern Korean literature. Following the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the term became prominent and now is commonly used to refer to literature written in the period between the armistice of July 27th, 1953 and the 4.19 Revolution of 1960. However, the concept of postwar literature occupies a very unclear position in contemporary Korean discourse. Many writers, including Son Chang-sop, Chang Yong-hak, and Pak Kyongni, are labeled as postwar writers, but in fact when works by such writers are mentioned, those written up to...
Literature Takes Up the Fight for Freedom and Equality
The 1960s: Aftermath of a Revolution Denied Korean literature of the 1960s can be summed up in the themes of “aftermath of the 4.19 Revolution” and “introspective fighting back.” The popular revolution that came to a head on April 19th, 1960 was the result of a stirring from a society that was trapped in a victim mentality following the postwar years of the 1950s. People were awakening to freedom and democracy, criticizing the excessive powers of those in control, and seeking historical recognition of the development of the nation. However, the aspirations of the 4.19 Revolution were trashed by a...

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