A very interesting article over at the Korea Herald in the course of which Kim Seong-kon says:
“Themes that concentrate on Korean nationalism and the Korean War can no longer attract international audience,” Kim said. “The days of Marxism and nationalism are over. But a lot of Korean authors still remain in such ideological writing. I’d like to see them moving on.”
Which is a true thing to say, but probably not a very safe one. I’ll be interested to see what the response of nationalists will be to a claim like this.
But it is beyond argument that the Korean nationalist, Korean War and pundan munhak works have a limited readership when translated into English. And it is also true that Korean authors have been fairly relentless miners of this turf. And this has had a deadening effect on the English side of the translation barrier, to be sure.
At the same time it is also true that one of the charms, and differences, of Korean literature is that is has been, for over a century, relentlessly national in nature. I would hope that some, perhaps most of that nature, would be retained at the same time that Korea authors are also writing international literature.
In any case, this all being said in the context of The Seoul International Forum for Literature, which brings together Korean and International writers, so it is clear that Kim has a dog in the hunt when he claims:
“What the global audience is interested in can be quite different (from what Korean authors think),” Kim told The Korea Herald. “I think that is one of the reasons why most of Korean novels don’t do very well overseas after being translated. So it is important for our writers to have an opportunity to interact with foreign writers and learn what’s going on outside Korea.”
Still, it is interesting to hear an important Korean figure put it quite as bluntly as this. While I agree with the general point, I certainly hope it is not taken too far. It is difficult to forget that when Seoul decided it was time to modernize architecture, it did so to the tremendous disadvantage, nearly extinction even, of the hanok.
So while Kim’s point is true in terms of international success, I’m not sure it means that domestic production should be bent towards that international success. There is plenty of room for a rooted Korean literature, and even a marketing-weasel such as myself see uses (psychological/social and in terms of marketing) for an authentic Korean literature to continue to flourish.
On a semi-related note, I’ve seen three of the draft articles for this conference, and they are very good indeed! The conference is open to the public. Anyone interested in a meetup? It runs from May 23-27 at Kyobo Convention Hall in Seoul and is open to all.
Also, Kim relates two very funny myths in the article, which is worth checking out for the mythology alone.
A hat tip to SooHye Jang for pointing this article out to me.