[Delve: Answers to Readers’ Queries]
Copyright ⓒ BY.NONAME DELVE to examine in detail In this section, members of our editorial board answer questions about Korean literature culled from an open survey from our readers. Touching upon recent trends, historical antecedents, and literary devices, we hope you enjoy examining some deeper aspects of thoughts readers have had about Korean literature.—Ed. [Delve] How do Korean authors come up with character names? https://kln.or.kr/strings/qnaView.do?bbsIdx=719 [Delve] Why does Korean lit have a serious and heavy image? https://kln.or.kr/strings/qnaView.do?bbsIdx=723 [Delve] How do you interpret the growing demand for genre literature? https://kln.or.kr/strings/qnaView.do?bbsIdx=724 [Delve] Is the “villain” of classical literature really evil? https://kln.or.kr/strings/qnaView.do?bbsIdx=725
by Kang Young-sook et al.
[Delve] Is the “villain” of classical literature really evil?
In this section, members of our editorial board answer questions about Korean literature culled from an open survey from our readers. Touching upon recent trends, historical antecedents, and literary devices, we hope you enjoy examining some deeper aspects of thoughts readers have had about Korean literature.—Ed. Is the “villain” of classical literature really evil? The plots of the classic novels follow a narrative scheme very similar to that of fairy tales, where scholar Vladimir Propp showed the existence of a common structure to all the cultures of the world. According to this structure there is a “sender” and a “recipient,” a “subject” and an “object,” a “helper” and an “enemy.” This also applies to political and religious ideologies: in Christianity the sender is God and the recipient is humankind. The subject is Jesus Christ and the object is Heaven. The helper is the Church and the enemy is the devil. In Marxism, the sender is History, the receiver is humankind. The subject is the working class, the object is a classless society. The helper is the working class itself; the enemy is the bourgeoisie. A “bad character” (real or imaginary), therefore, is necessary (despite the true nature of the character himself) in order to have a complete plot. In this way, we could say that, in the Tale of Chunhyang (õðúÅîî), the sender is the King, the receiver is Korean society. The subject is Chunhyang, the object is the fulfillment of her love and a free marriage. The helper is Mongryong (Ù”×£) and the enemy is the evil Governor Byeon Hakto (Ü¦ùÊ‘³). Whether Byeon Hakto (if he really existed) was actually evil or not does not matter. The evil character is necessary in order to better bring out the virtues of the protagonist. To give a sensational example, in some versions of the novel Hong Gildong-jeon (ûóÑÎ‘Ûîî), where the protagonist even challenges the very state (and therefore the King), the quoted King (i.e., Hong Gildong’s opponent) is Sejong (á¦ðó), even if history evaluates Sejong to be an excellent king. Maurizio Riotto Philologist, KLN Editorial Board Member
by Maurizio Riotto
[Delve] How to interpret the growing demand for genre literature?
In this section, members of our editorial board answer questions about Korean literature culled from an open survey from our readers. Touching upon recent trends, historical antecedents, and literary devices, we hope you enjoy examining some deeper aspects of thoughts readers have had about Korean literature.—Ed. How do you interpret the recent trend where demand for genre literature such as mystery, thrillers, fantasy, SF, and so forth, has been growing significantly? Has the character of the readership changed from the generation before? Has their palette of interests changed? There is certainly growing interest in so-called “genre literature” like mystery, thrillers, and fantasy, and is especially noticeable in SF. This “genre reboot,” if you will, of SF is different because while interest is expanding in writers who employ SF and fantasy-based imagination in their writing, such as Kim Junghyuk, Yun I-hyeong, Gu Byeong-mo, and Chung Serang, it is also shifting to SF-exclusive writers like Kim Choyeop and Kim Bo-young. In light of this phenomenon, one could speak of innovation taking shape in the field of Korean literature, where the hierarchy between “literary fiction” and “genre literature” has been so rigid. But to take this trend of SF becoming more popular as an unprecedented emergence is a groundless claim coming from the prejudice that SF has held little to no territory before. “Genre literature” steadily expanded both its creative and commercial territory throughout the ’90s when cyberspace became popularized and creative licenses became democratized. Instead of saying that “genre literature” had no territory, it would be more accurate to analyze that the boundaries between literary territories used to be much more defined, and more importantly, that there was an intentional critical indifference toward ¡°genre literature¡± for a long time. Interest in genre literature is not new, nor is it uncommon to find imaginative elements of SF in Korean literature. The notion that genre literature is foreign comes from the distorted bias that literature needs only one definition, a way of being that is exclusive and singular. Literature has evolved to democratize reading and writing. It has adapted its ways of manifestation to changes of the time. As it moved on from the era of poetry to the era of novel, literature has clearly made itself more democratic, divorcing itself from elitism. We have yet to see what kind of literature will emerge post-novel, as it answers to further literary democratization. The rising popularity of genre literature is often discussed along with writers who represent the genre, but the debuts of hot writers cannot be the only explanation for the phenomenon. Rather, changes in literary trends reflect fundamental changes in the interest of readers. Surveying the history of literature reveals that there has been a shift from author-focused literature to reader-focused literature. The reader, formerly overlooked, emerges in a privileged position. To narrow the focus even more, since the reboot of feminism and the renewed literary interest in gender issues, the female reader springs to the foreground ever more clearly. This too would be better understood as a more specified outfitting of the already existing readership, rather than an emergence of a completely new one. In this context, popularity for SF as well as popularity for fantasy and thrillers that rippled from it, begs not the question of “Why SF, fantasy, and thrillers,” but the question of “Why SF, fantasy, and thrillers here and now.” This is the only way we can draw accurate connection between the growing demand for SF, the kind of storytelling that predicts and anticipates the future, and the urgency for imaginative narratives that go beyond classist, sexist, racist discrimination and hatred that pervade the here and now. Korean literature now, through genre literatures cross-stitched with concern for feminist issues, suggests new ways of interpreting reality and dreams of possible changes in the present. Translated by Dasom Yang So Young-hyun Literary Critic, KLN Editorial Board Member
by So Young-Hyun
[Delve] Why does Korean lit have a serious and heavy image?
In this section, members of our editorial board answer questions about Korean literature culled from an open survey from our readers. Touching upon recent trends, historical antecedents, and literary devices, we hope you enjoy examining some deeper aspects of thoughts readers have had about Korean literature.—Ed. The Korean literature I have come in contact with shows a wide thematic spectrum, but I am curious why it has such a serious and heavy image? Saito Mariko, the Japanese translator of the bestselling Korean novel Kim Ji-young, Born 1982, said that Korean literature once had the image of a “politically correct literature.” Korean literature’s “serious” and “heavy” image is probably related to this “politically correct” image. Obviously, literature is always closely related to the culture and history of its region and linguistic sphere and thus, Korean literature’s image is also inextricably linked to the history and culture of Korea. Any discussion of modern Korea up to the 1980s would be unthinkable without mention of its colonial history, the Korean War, or the fight for democracy. And throughout the course of these histories, Korean literature played a key role in guiding Korean society and its people. Even during times of great suppression of the media and freedom of speech, literature did its best to speak about society through various artistic devices. Of course, the Korean literature of today is incomparably more diverse in its themes and subject matter; it fuses different genres, attempts new experiments, and abounds in an imagination that stretches far beyond reality. But the image and role that has come to be expected of Korean literature cannot be wiped away so easily. Indeed, even now, Korean literature is especially insightful and detailed in its commentary on structural irrationalities and absurdities. The translated works of Korean literature that have found success beyond Korea’s borders also appear to belong to this tradition. On the other hand, the modern people of today are always connected to one another through “new media,” able to engage in light and fast communication. However, overwhelmed by the speed of daily life, people are increasingly fatigued and often do not have the time to reflect. Perhaps what we need then in this modern age is the time to think about serious and heavy things. In this world, we are swept along by a whirlwind of speed and superficiality. But there are still many problems in this world that require us to stop and think seriously. In this way, being serious and heavy might actually be an important virtue in this day and age. Translated by Sean Lin Halbert Kim Mi-jung Literary Critic, KLN Editorial Board Member
by Kim Mi-jung
[Delve] How do Korean authors come up with character names?
n this section, members of our editorial board answer questions about Korean literature culled from an open survey from our readers. Touching upon recent trends, historical antecedents, and literary devices, we hope you enjoy examining some deeper aspects of thoughts readers have had about Korean literature.—Ed. How do Korean authors come up with character names? Do they consider the meaning when naming the characters? Naming is a very significant factor in character creation. It is the most direct way to provide concreteness and vitality to a character. But creating character names is always a contemplative and hesitant process. In a story, the name of a character is never objective. No matter how common the name may be, there’s always a meaning behind it. And once it’s decided, the name becomes inseparable from the character and works subconsciously in the reader’s mind. Moreover, the name of a character can serve as a significant factor that reflects the time period of that particular work. For instance, in Kim Yujung’s “Wanderer” (“Sangol nageune”) from the 1930s, the female protagonist is referred to as nageune, “the wanderer.” This wanderer shows up at a village one day, and not much is told about the character. But unlike the common modern-day usage, nageune in this short story refers to a woman. In themid-1990s, the pronouns “geu” (he) and “geunyeo” (she) were frequently used in place of character names. The first person pronoun “uri” (we or us) was often used as well. As Korea became a highly industrialized society, the character names in works of fiction became more and more anonymous until only the last names—Kim, Lee, Park—were used. Recently, regular Korean names such as Park Jungchul, Kim Minji, and Lee Bokyung are being used as character names. The expansion of democracy and the development of civil society are reflected in character naming, providing greater significance to each individual, each character. One crucial thing to consider when naming a character is the rhythm. That lingering feeling after the name is called out—this must be taken into consideration. And more than anything else, the author must like it. It must sound friendly, too, and since it plays the role of notifying the reader that something important has happened, it must sound trustworthy. But oftentimes, in recent works, names are replaced by initials and written merely as P or A. The purpose of this is to eliminate any meaning or prejudice the name might hold. Similarly, there has been a tendency to not clarify where the story is taking place, deliberately avoiding any country or place names. In such cases, there must be an internal inevitability as to establishing the characters as “one-letter beings,” and the author must consider if such an attempt works well with the overall meaning of the story and effectively brings aesthetic changes. In the process of building a linguistic structure called fiction, naming a character is therefore a challenging but important task. Translated by Susan K Kang Young-sook Writer, KLN Editorial Board Member
by Kang Young-sook