[Editorial] The Task of Embodying the Voices of the Square in an Everyday Revolution

 

The Quarterly Changbi 178, Winter 2017

 

 

One of the protest signs that stood out in Gwanghwamun Square last winter read “Park Geun-Hye Stepdown for a Society Without Animal Abuse.” This slogan was an appeal on behalf of some of those who could not come to the square with their own placards. Such slogans and signs containing varying sentiments and voices of our fellow beings reminded us that Korean citizens did not stand at the squares last year to demand only regime change. As we were reminded anew, consideration for and reflection about “the Other”-those who are easily discriminated against and excluded in our everyday lives-is one of the essences of democracy. Animals live with human beings in various ways. Although companion animals are loved and respected, there are those who are readily abused and abandoned. In our everyday actions and words animals are often freely summoned as a means of expressing criticism and hatred toward others, consumed as both food and merchandise, and conveniently killed to prevent epidemics. Indeed, the various human attitudes toward animals are so complex and at times contradictory that it can seem difficult to come up with simple explanations and solutions for them.

Hal Herzog, one of world’s leading anthrozoologist, discusses how intricately cultural differences, genetic issues, and ethical dilemmas are intermingled in the way human beings interact with animals as objects of “eating, loving, and hating.” As he also points out, it is not easy to understand and make connections with the life of another species. What matters, though, is the way this difficult and delicate relationship between humans and animals is primarily subject to an anthropocentric system of care and management. For example, the Gyeonggi-do government recently created a controversy by trying to introduce an ordinance that would require mandatory muzzling and a leash shorter than two meters for dogs weighing more than 15 kilograms. It is a telling example of the status of animals in our society-revealing how they are not treated as living beings, but rather as registered and private assets. Not only was this bureaucratic approach alarming and unreasonable, since it judged a dog’s potential for being aggressive according to its weight, but it also ignored a dog’s natural instinct to smell the world as a way of being in it. Further, the words of antagonism and hatred that can arise when events and accidents occur related to animals can make us realize how serious and complicated our social conflicts have become in this age of 10 million companion animals in Korea. These problems cannot be easily solved without serious reflection and discussion about the equal rights that all beings should enjoy in our shared lives.

Recent works of Korean literature have also paid attention to and reflected on the ethical questions related to our love of and care for the Other. Kim Ae-ran’s short story “No Chan-Seong and Evan (2016),” for example, weaves a tale of love and guilt for an animal with that of alienation and deprivation in a family narrative. A ten-year-old boy, Chan-seong, who lives with his grandmother after losing his parents, brings home an abandoned dog, names it Evan, and pours all his love into it. After finding out that the dog has cancer, Chan-seong decides to have it euthanized, on the advice of a veterinarian, since he cannot afford the medical cost of treating it. After working hard to earn money to pay for the cost of putting the dog down, however, Chan-seong ends up using the money to buy a cell phone and a game card. The story presents a tragic situation, in which a child who is himself underprivileged and suffering from insufficient care, seeks love from and takes responsibility for an abandoned animal, but then finds it almost impossible to do so. This story raises multiple serious issues, including children without proper care, poverty and work, irresponsible veterinary practices and euthanasia for animals, and the ethics of life itself. The dog’s death is not simply a matter of a child’s guilty feelings and individual responsibility. The depiction of an abandoned and marginalized animal reminds us of the ethical responsibility we have as members of a shared world. The pain and fear that the boy feels in his life, like treading on thin ice, becomes an open question that we are led to share with him.

Looking back at the past year, we can recognize clearly that the candlelight square was a space in which citizens demonstrated their political will and their power for effecting change and for restructuring their everyday lives. The first Candlelight Anniversary Human Rights Rally, held on October 28, summarized people’s aspirations for living life like human beings without discrimination and hatred, as stated in their declaration: “We are sexual minorities, the disabled, youths, the homeless, women, and all those who are put off until later. We tell those who say that the regime changed and the society has changed: ‘If our lives are the same, the society is the same. Democracy cannot go together with hatred. Also, abolition of poverty and violence has not been promised yet.'” This declaration, made in the name of “All participants in the first Candlelight Anniversary Human Rights Rally,” emphasizes the fact that life after the candlelight revolution requires substantial transformation and fundamental change in our everyday lives. One of the remarks made that day by a youth representative about how they had effected the impeachment together but were then excluded from the election has stayed with me. After saying she wanted “to be respected, live like a human being, and be treated like a citizen,” she went on to appeal: “We would like to be respected and happy here and now, rather than enjoying human rights only after the age of 20.” Her remarks suggest how seriously our society needs to change “after the candlelight.”

The candlelight rallies that began on October 29, 2016 and continued with 23 rallies through April 29, 2017, were a victory for democracy achieved by common citizens. In the square, where a total of 17 million participants held peaceful rallies until the very last one, numerous issues were raised and discussed. Now it is the shared responsibility of our government and its citizens to materialize these issues by transforming our everyday lives in practical and substantial ways. The government should not forget that its citizens’ demands were not simply for regime change. It should establish a long-term vision for the transformation of our society. The candle-lights that flared so enthusiastically in the square awakened, above all, transformational attempts to destroy customary thought and prejudice. Our love and responsibility for our neighbors and the Other can be expanded not by projecting our self-pity onto them, but by sharing our love with all society and co-existing with others. The work of embodying the voices of the square in an everyday revolution can advance step by step, through passionate reflection and efforts to solve these crucial problems we encounter in our everyday lives.

 

The current issue features “Korean Literature in the light of the Candlelight Revolution”. This project is intended to reflect on practical possibilities to build a new world, by looking into the transformative moments and potentialities which have been given to Korean Literature through the Candlelight Revolution. We recommend readers to pay special attention to the feature articles, which try to clarify the points where each author struggles to grasp the gap between the new world and the old one in his/her writing.

Han Ki-wook illuminates the present state of Korean literature with new insights made possible by the Candlelight Revolution, and reflects on significant ways how literature participates in the Revolution. He emphasizes it is no other than the literary practice that forms the integral part in building a new world, because, only through that practice, we could discern and vitalize the differences between the old and the new world, as well as those between life alive and life as good as dead. Focused on not only the transformative aspiration and perspectives derived from the Candlelight Revolution, but also explosive voices claiming for gender equality, he examines the prominent tendencies of feminist fiction in these days. He notes, among others, Han Kang’s novel and Kim Ryeo-ryeong’s short stories as literary achievements in line with the Candlelight Revolution. Shim Jin-kyung examines new impacts recent Hashtag activism and feminist debates have made on literary imagination in South Korea. By comparing Kim Hyung-kyung’s novel with Kang Hwa-gil’s, she addresses critically from diverse angles the questions at issue and their limitations in regard to the sexual politics of feminist literature. It is notable that she critically examines the tendency for social movements and literary conventional representations associated with them to be subject to victim-centered approaches and reduction to “feminist identity check-up”. Hwang Kyoo-kwan finds out, right from the process of the Candlelight Democracy, the double spiral structure of aspiration to sustain the past age and to get out of its oppressive elements at the same time. In this article, the poems by Lee Dong-woo, Kim Sun-hyang, and Kwon Sun-hee are acclaimed for their endeavor to conceive poetic germination with new body, by extricating themselves from more conventional tendencies of political poetry, abstruse poetry and lyric poetry in the past.

In Literary Criticism, with the phases of the 2010s’ poetic creation in his mind, Lee Sung-hyuk submits the critical examination of aesthetic ethics of poetry in general. Based on the assumption that those strategies aiming for “solidarity with others” should not be narrowed down to mere advocacy for a particular generation or so-called ethical responsibility, he approves the accomplishment of the poems by Im Sol-a, Shin Chul-kyu, Ahn Tae-hoon and Lee Sul-ya, manifesting the reinvention of their own existence while revealing personal crises of life as well. Nam Sang-wook traces the development of Japanese literary discourses after the Second World War as a remarkable case the post-Candlelight Korean literature can refer to. The significance of this article lies in the way it traces from the present point of view how the crisis of the Constitutional order was associated with that of literature during “Anpo” Struggle (the 1960 protests against the renewal of the US-Japan Security Agreement).

The corner of Creation is more fruitful than ever. In the corner of poems, we delightedly present 12 poets’ distinct voices, from Kim Myung-ki to Huh Eun-shil. The final installment of Kyung-ae’s Mind, a novel of Kim Keum-hee greatly supported and praised by the readers, is also covered in this issue. We appreciate both the author for her effort all the year round and our readers for their continued attention to the novel. On top of that, we feel happy and proud to introduce short stories by Kim Bong-gon, Kim Se-hee, Sohn Won-pyung and Pyun Hye-young.

In Literary Focus, Park So-ran and Han Young-in, along with Kim Sung-joong, the novelist, lead a lively discussion on the noteworthy collections of poetry (Kim Kyung-hoo, Kwon Sun-hee and Jang Su-jin) and short stories (Park Sa-rang, Im Hyun and Kim Hye-jin) published for the last season. We extend our special gratitude to Park So-ran and Han Young-in, who have led this corner with such effort for two seasons. In the Focus on Authors, Lee Si-young, who recently published his collection of poetry, Hadong, is invited to this corner and has a sensitive and sympathetic interview with Park Jun, another poet. The interactive dialogue between the two poets with significant questions and answers weaving each individual story into the dramatic history of the age also comments on the aesthetic immediacy of his short narrative poems.

In Dialogue, Paik Young-Gyung, standing member at the editorial committee, has a thought-provoking conversation with Rebecca Solnit, a feminist activist and author, whose book, The Mother of All Questions, has been translated in Korean of late. Their talk contains diverse and intriguing topics, ranging from the feminist reboot phenomenon erupted in the process of the Candlelight Revolution to anti-nuclear/environmental campaigns, and from reflections on American history and tradition to current political situations in the US and South Korea. In the interview, a special emphasis is put on writing as a way to explore potentials for solidarity, arising even from the scenes of suffering and disaster.

Lee Il-young, in his article, examines the feature of the last issue, “The Commons and Publicness”, and asks whether the discussion of commons can make us imagine the operating principles of a new system to overcome both marketism (free market fundamentalism) and statism. He argues ‘Peace Commons’ are particularly required, in that they aim for at once the peaceful system in East Asia and the Korean peninsula and the development of new localization, and we expect more discussions regarding commons to be continued with this as a momentum.

On the Scene, we run articles on the institutional experiment of deliberative democracy and the present condition of local literature. Ha Seung-soo, reviewing the results of the public debate commission on Shin Kori 5 and 6, examines the merits and demerits of this case which has firstly applied the way of deliberative democracy to a national agenda. In the article by Lee Sun-wook, we find an authentic witness of what literature really can do in our local community, particularly after the Candlelight Revolution.

In the corner of Essay, we publish a prize acceptance speech by Han Kang, who won 2017 Malaparte Prize, Italy’s most prestigious literary award, for her novel on Gwangju Uprising, Human Acts. Han neatly unpacks the social and political catalysts behind the scene of the history, asking one of the most important questions of our times: the dignity of humanity which can be found in the field of massacre. The Book Reviews section, always trying to reach the expectations of our readers, presents the critical issues to discuss in each review of the noteworthy books published for this season. In particular, we at the editorial board appreciate the effort Yang Hyo-sil and Ha Dae-cheong have put into the corner, throughout the year, not to speak of all the other reviewers.

The 32st MANHAE Literary Award went to Kim Jung-hwan, the poet. And the special prize of Manhae Literary Award was given to Hwang Seok-young, Lee Jae-eui, and Jeon Yong-ho. Shin Yong-mok was chosen as the winner of the 19th PAIKSOK Literary Award. We would like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to all the award recipients and wish them all the best.

We also happily announce that new members, Lee Tae-ho, civil rights activist, Lee Jung-sook, researcher of Modern Korean literature, and Jung Ju-a, literary critic, have joined the editorial board.

 

Baik Ji-yeon