Essays

Towards Rupturing the Symbolic Order
Korean Fiction After the Mid-90s Korean literature underwent significant change in the mid-1990s. With the cessation of the Cold War, which had sharply polarized the world after the Second World War, South Korean society was freed from the anxiety of being stuck in a quasi-state of war. Moreover, the South was formally released from a “state of exception,” as postulated by Giorgio Agamben, in which a state power can arbitrarily suspend the rule of law. With the transition from analog to digital, Korean society also underwent a great upheaval. In sum, post mid-1990s, Korean literature moved on from the issue...
Modern Existence and the Investigation of Sexuality
It is fair to say that in Korean literary history the 1990s was a decade that belonged to female authors. During this period, the focal point of literature moved away from an excessive political imagination. Rather than as master narratives of history or “the people,” close-range examinations of everyday life from a female perspective took center stage. Two trends define the period: examining existence in the context of a rapidly industrializing society and investigating sexuality as a way to break through the impotence brought about by rationalism. While works of fiction by Eun Heekyung, Ha Seong-nan, Pyun Hye-Young, and Yoon...
Korean Künstlerroman: Artist Novels_Overview
Editor's Note In this section, we examine the lives of Korean writers and the nature of their works by sorting them into three generations: the first wave from the 1920s to the 1960s, the second wave from the 1970s to the 1980s, and the third wave from the 1990s to the present. The Aesthetics and Modernity of Korean Künstlerroman: Artist Novels Artist novels refer to fiction in which the artist’s journey forms the main part of the narrative. They may be considered a subgenre of the Bildungsroman or “intellectual” novel in their treatment of the artist’s inner conflict and growth...
Korean Künstlerroman: Artist Novels_First Wave Authors (1920s - 1960s)
Discovering the Autonomy of Inner Consciousness A variety of depictions of artists can regularly be found in modern Korean novels whose themes and subjects show a distinct concern for aesthetic matters. This indicates a strong sense of what art and artists mean to such writers. The ways in which this sense is manifested, however, differs from generation to generation. The first generation to ride the wave of artist novels include Kim Dong-in, Hyun Jin-geon, Pak Taewon, Choi In-hun, Joo In-seok (Joo is actually a third wave author but is discussed with first wave authors here because of his association with...
Korean Künstlerroman: Artist Novels_Second Wave Authors (1970s - 1980s)
The Significance of Artistic Salvation Artist novels share characteristics with Bildungsroman or coming-of-age stories in their treatment of an artist’s growth to maturity. According to scholar Cho Nam-hyun, the artist novel refers to “any work of fiction whose main plot concerns events related to artistic acts.” Artist novels in Korean literature date back to the 1920s. Works penned by authors such as Kim Dong-in, Hyun Jin-geon, Pak Taewon, and Yi Sang depict the mental struggle of artists coping with the dark reality of colonial-era Korea. Independence and division of the country followed, with writers such as Jung Hansuk, Yi Chong-jun,...
Korean Künstlerroman: Artist Novels_Third Wave Authors (1990s - Present)
The Artist in Post-1990s Korean Literature Up to the 1990s, the artist in Korean literature is most commonly portrayed as a tortured intellectual struggling to address the problems of the time. The history of this portrayal is closely related to the development of modern Korean literature. The modern Korean writer first emerged under Japanese occupation, wherein this singularly specific set of conditions led writing to become directly associated with resistance. Writers were not just creative artists but intellectuals in the tradition of Enlightenment thinkers, concerned with the problems of Korean society under Japanese occupation as well as more philosophical matters...
The Poet Who Longs to Be a Sinner
Is this how Jean Valjean felt as he stole the bishop’s silverware? Or is this what passed through Faust’s mind as he made the pact with Mephistopheles? When my mind is familiar less with lofty words such as love or life and more with words of pain such as despair and futility, how am I to look into the fortress of the poet Kim Nam Jo who is revered as the “poet of love and life?” That fortress, where peace overflows, is filled with a sublime hymn. At its essence it is symbolized by water, fire, and flowers — a...
Graceful Hymns of Pious Love and Salvation On the Poems of Kim Nam Jo
Kim Nam Jo’s early poetry focused on honoring the invaluable nature of life. In Life (1953), her first poetry collection, Kim expressed her attachment to life by exploring various forms of human loss precipitated by war. Her affirmation of humanity, reverence for life, and the warmth of her poetry founded on spirituality have ensured her place in history as a great artist. Kim started writing poetry in her childhood, a time characterized by the absence of her mother tongue, the devastating aftermath of war, and severe deprivation. In such conditions, she reflected on the human condition, and realized a healing...
Significance of North Korean Defectors in Fiction
The Future As a Unified Country In 1960, Choi In-hun expressed his longing for a square that would serve as a truly open space for individuals and groups to communicate in The Square , the story of a character named Lee Myong-jun who gets a taste of the two regimes during the Korean War only to become a casualty of both. This square never actually materialized, but it did leave an indelible mark on Korean literature. Fifty years after The Square and 60 after the Korean War, Lee Eung Jun’s The Private Life of a Nation (2009) imagines a reunified...
Part 2. North Korean Writers in Exile PEN Center - Introduction
Introduction of North Korean Writers in Exile PEN Center The PEN Center for North Korean Writers in Exile was formed in February 2012. At the time there were already some 20,000 North Koreans living in South Korea, a number of them writers. The PEN Center started out as a dozen or so of us discussing our creative plans for the future. Our meetings mostly consisted of us discussing literary works and how to promote existing publications. Only a few of our members had actually been published in North Korea. But as word spread, the group began to attract people who...

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