Novel Serialization; The Web; Korean Democratization

In Part One of this series(?) I talked a little bit about the historical fact that Korean authors have often published their works serially, in newspapers and magazines. As I’ve thought about this a bit more, and done some reading, I’ve tentatively concluded:

This was a conscious social effort at modernization with a strong latter emphasis on democratization

I ended my last post by noting that the newspapers, at least, seem to be serializing less (BTW – this is why I need a nice Korean partner here – I have this sense, but not enough Korean or cultural skill to turn up actual numbers) .

Now, authors have moved on to the next best thing – the Internet. The Translator sums it up, “Big time authors are making moves on going back to serialization, not on newspapers, but on the internet” and the evidence is obvious:

  • Park Bum-shin has published his novel “Cholatse” on Naver
  • Hwang Suk-young has serialized `Gaebapbaragibyeol” on Naver.
  • Jung I-hyun, has posted her new novel,“You Don’t Know” on the Kyobo Website
  • Novelist Gong Ji-young recently serialized her novel “The Crucible” on Daum,.

The Translator, being a bomb-thrower at heart, argues that this trend is merely the literary elite finally catching the tail of the internet beast and trying to ride it for advantage. He argues that this kind of self-publication has been occurring since the 1990s but that the literati ignored it because the subject matter tended to be “sci-fi fantasy, martial arts, sex and violence and more lowbrow stuff.”

It is certainly true that there seems to have been a 20-year lag between the opening of the internet and the appearance of Korean authors on it. And if Korean writers were solely interested in democratization (or any other political goal), you might have expected someone to begin serialization prior to now.

It is also true that no such lag existed between the publishing of newspapers and the printing of novel serializations: They began simultaneously. It is also clear that this alliance was expressly built to promulgate an educational goal:

The change from traditional to modern literature during the Enlightenment period was largely due to the effects of the New Education and the Korean Language and Literature movement. After the Kabo Reforms of 1894, a new brand of education was enforced, new Western-style schools were established, and new textbooks for teaching Western knowledge were published. The literature of the Enlightenment Period secured its social base through newly emerged media like newspapers. Most newspapers, including the Tongnip Shinmun (The Independent), Hwangsong Shinmun (The Imperial City Newspaper), Taehan maeil Shinbo (Korean Daily News), Cheguk Shinmun (Imperial Newspaper), Mansebo (The Forever Report), Taehan minbo (The Korean People’s Report) all published serial novels, as well as shijo, and kasa.

That this goal was an essentially nationalistic one is also self-evident. Yu Beongcheon notes that Yi Kwang-su’s alliance with the Tonga Ilbo was always perceived from Yu’s side as a way to promulgate novels that were a “cover for nationalism,” (Yu 156”) the hazards of Japanese censorship notwithstanding.

It isn’t unfair to conclude, then, that the first serializations were in fact conscious manifestations of the political will of publishers and the government, who backed that will up with their publication dollars. And some of these dollars, of course, went to the writers.

From an author’s perspective, however, the web lacks a direct link to profit, and thus it is most likely attractive from a purely political point of view, not from an economic one. It is worth noting that the elite, just as we average Joe’s and Hyeok’s, need to eat. And pay for big cars and houses. 😉

So the Translator’s stance that this recent move to the web may be explained away as Philistinism in nature, is at least partly defensible.

Still, I am not completely willing to toss the literary elite out on their ears for the lag in online publishing, rather I see what has happened as a belated understanding that with traditional publication opportunities drying up writers are in some ways continuing with their writerly and pedagogic goals in ways that they know might not directly pay them off.

In a way you could call that noble, even if it has been partly forced upon them.

Consequently, the new trend towards web-serialization seems to be a laudatory continuation of the noble (admittedly self-serving, but nonetheless noble) Korean tendency to use literature as a living, breathing, political tool.

Which loops back to the question of the novels mentioned previously. Not all of them are available in English, but here is what a Google search reveals about their political content:

Park Bum-shin’s “Cholatse” is aimed at youths who ignore important goals and dreams in favor of rank materialism. The novel features, that most Korean of modern novelistic tricks, two brothers who must fight and then reunite for success. Essentially, in content and metaphor, it is an intensely political novel and fits nicely into the nation-building narrative I have attempted to establish above.

While I could not find an English review, Hwang Suk-young who wrote `Gaebapbaragibyeol,” is an avowedly political writer who has said:

What is known as globalization is in fact Americanization: we need to stop following the American model and build a movement that wil close the gap between the rich and the poor and give more purchasing power to the developing world.

Jung I-hyun’s `”You Don’t Know,” does not seem to have an English
summary or review online.

Novelist Gong Ji-young’s `The Crucible” is completely in the democratizing/political line of serialized Korean literature. It takes place in Gwangju, which immediately tips a history-savvy reader that the work will deal with issues of oppression and punishment (Gwangju was the location of the famous 5.19 incident in which troops shot protestors down in the streets).

This is a small sample, of course, but what it does seem to indicate to me is that at least the general trend of the last century, that is the serialization of polemical novels that once took place in newspapers, has now transplanted to the web.

That fact can’t be anything but good for Korean literature and Korean politics.

One thought on “Novel Serialization; The Web; Korean Democratization

  1. Okay… you got me started with the phrase like "average Joes and Hyuks."

    I think the recent re-serialization on the internet by established authors is "merely the literary elite finally catching the tail of the internet beast and trying to ride it for advantage."

    Some background information to sort of justify my opinion: Korea's serialized novels on newspapers began with the idea of educating the public. Or, rather, inspire them to awaken their senses and pride of being a Korean. Such was an essential campaign that naturally leads to liberalization from the unlawful Japanese regime.

    When Korea became liberated, however, the original intention of educating the public slowly lost its purpose because the main enemy and their oppression was no more. True, the commies soon took the place, but North Koreans are, after all, our own people. The serialization started to loose its goal, and succumbed to popular novels that dealt with lowdown subjects that sold well.

    Intermittently, the serialization came back to life (hence your claim of its role in democratization is dead right) when important events took place, such as military coupe d'etat, student movements, city redevelopment plan (the Dwarf) and labor demontration, etc… With the ebb and flow of these events and the subsequent rise and deterioration of serialized novels, the serialization became bi-polar in its character: sex and violence novels printed on sports newspapers and heavy and serious works on reputable newspapers. Among those who published some important work is Park Wan Seo, who recently passed away and whose work you are reviewing.

    Still, the primary intention of how it all started (instilling national pride for liberation) became no more.

    Meanwhile, what did the established authors do? Not much. Some kept on writng books and others taught writing in Universities. Some who had been ciritical on politics and corruption got into politics themselves and turned conservative. The spirit of serialization was nothing in the newly found economic status Korea enjoyed. This was in the 1990s.

    Then, under their very noses, something strange started to happen: The Internet. Common people began using the internet to publish their own stories, however amatuerish they were. Mostly fantasy stuff (more sex and violence and less literary work), but they began taking advantage of their new medium. Slowly true democratic serialization of novels began forming. No one paid them to do it. People just began writing.

    Established writers who may have begun as critics of existing powers now occupied the power seats themselves, and they did not even turn their eyes to internet serialized novels. They considered the new genre as cheap, worthless, next to nothing doodling. No one really saw the possibilities or the democratization movement associated with it. If they saw it, they did not think it would be big one day.

    Now it's quite big. Those who sold many books before are not doing so hot. Those who entered politics became the subject of public criticism themselves.

    What do you do when you don't know what to do? Hot on the bandwagon!

    Ahhhhh~ my son is tugging at my side because he wants to be tugged in….. Gotta go, but you get most of jist…


    pardon my grammatical mistakes or holes in my reasoning…I was typing very fast.

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