[Editorial] The Standards Have Already Changed in Our Society

 

The Quarterly Changbi 179, Spring 2018

 

 

When change occurs, the nature of “the status quo” becomes clearer. To some people, our time might be difficult to understand, and, to others, appear to be a period of dislocation. Indeed, it is a time when what was natural is suddenly spotlighted and what has not even required reflection is now condemned. If the candlelight rallies last winter were a revolution, however, it is now undeniable that change is the new norm and the status quo cannot continue. Rather than worrying about what could happen if this change loses its balance, therefore, it would be more appropriate to think hard about and figure out what would be a new state of normalcy-one that is bolder and more persuasive than the previous status quo.

In fact, the “normalcy” that would correspond to the term “revolution” should have the power to change its usual meaning. D. H. Lawrence said, “The truth lives from day to day, and the marvelous Plato of yesterday is chiefly bosh today.” He is not claiming that truth is useless because it lives briefly; rather, he is implying that only truths that do not depend on “Platos” can overcome the fate of becoming “bosh.” The new normal of our changed world could only be achieved through the courage of independent exploration and thinking.

Even when we confirm the persistence of the old and worn-out, we can see clearly the changed atmosphere. The recent disclosures of sexual harassment experienced by an incumbent prosecutor made us lament the reality that led a “walking authority” to reveal her story after eight years of pain. The “Me Too” movement supporting this public revelation and condemnation continues to spread in all areas of our society, including literature, film, and drama, with unprecedented echoes and ripple effects. Above all, the usual “blaming the victim” counterattack that used to follow such condemnations is now becoming powerless. These days, people know well enough to quickly dismiss as irrelevant the arguments that victims were seductresses or vengeful or unstable.

It has become clearer that, although sexual violence is clearly a structural problem, the concrete shape of this structure is revealed when we focus on the specificity of each incident rather than generalizing and guessing. We need to remember that comments on structure, although seemingly a fundamental criticism, have, in fact, often allowed us to neglect concrete problems through indiscriminate criticisms. Another important aspect of the new standards is that we can no longer deny that a gender-focused awareness of sexual violence should comprise an essential element of a person’s character. Therefore, the new standards not only require the cleaning up of the old, accumulated evils, but also involve acquiring a deeper understanding of what it is to be human. We need to look at the matter of sexual violence in a deeper and broader perspective than before.

The result of the appeals trial of Vice-Chairman of Samsung Electronics Co. Lee Jae-yong, one of the central figures in the previous government’s wide-ranging corruption scandal, confirmed for us again that what is entrenched and worn out does not disappear easily. Many specialists have already pointed out the legal errors and contradictions in this decision for Lee’s probation. We are also left wondering if the judge who made this decision, which went against the most basic demands for justice, has any public spirit, let alone whether or not he was in a cozy relationship with Samsung. However, the trend toward privatization that has affected even the minds of public officials is and should no longer be acceptable as common sense or even a necessary evil in an otherwise democratic society. People’s anger toward this decision should not be considered a simple condemnation of an individual judge or a cynical view of the relationship between the justice system and conglomerates. It is a stern questioning of the reasons for the law, as well as a grave warning that a judiciary institution does not possess any private property rights in the application of the law.

The Candlelight Revolution not only defined the meaning of anachronism anew, but also revealed what are the props that had either openly or clandestinely supported the anachronistic practices prevalent in our society. In particular, it clearly showed that the rhetoric of national security and discourse condemning “pro-North” forces, stemming from the division system, have been mobilized to play the role of ultimate alibis for the habitual practices in our society that have ignored the commonsense of so-called enlightened governance, including legal systems. Therefore, it is natural that an anachronistic approach to inter-Korean relationships has deepened to the degree that even the possibility of war, which had been considered out of question since the Korean War, has been openly discussed. This is, indeed, the reason why the achievement of improvements and peace in inter-Korean relationships is a necessary condition for the new normal to take root in our society.

Fortunately, it appears that a minimal foothold is being laid for peace in the Korean peninsula on the occasion of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. The successful establishment of the unified Korean women’s hockey team, the visit of North Korean cheering squad, performers’ troupes, and high-level officials visiting South Korea, as well as the special emissary’s delivery of the supreme leader’s handwritten letter and invitation for a visit to the North have heightened our expectations about the reversal of the recent crisis. The situation is not quite simple, though, and there is still a long way to go, as suggested by the scene in which the South Korean president and North Korean leaders shook hands and cheered during the unified Korean athletes’ entrance, while the U.S. vice president and Japanese prime minister stayed seated and unmoved. From past experience, we know that we cannot be ecstatic, although we may be relieved by these achievements, which were barely eked out. The fairness debate regarding the formation of the unified ice hockey team (although mostly originating from a misunderstanding of the entire process) might be symptomatic of the fact that the momentary measures during the winter Olympics are far from sufficient for the peaceful resolution of the current crisis.

Despite all the difficulties, however, a radical improvement in inter-Korean relationships and the achievement of peace on the peninsula have become an imperative upon which hinge almost all things in our society, from basic survival to a stronger democracy. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, during his visit to attend the opening ceremonies of the PyeongChang Olympics, said, “I think it’s not a question of possibility. This kind of dialogue is absolutely necessary-and it’s urgent.” Therefore, despite the unpredictability of the U.S. attitude, it is important for us to continue to try finding a way to nurture a dialogue between North Korea and the United States. If we neglect inter-Korean relationships just because the possibility of a dialogue between North Korea and the United States seems distant, it means we are repeating one of the oldest, anachronistic practices in our society. It is not the United States that absolutely needs peace in the Korean peninsula. The time when a stagnant status quo can be a strategy appears over. Therefore, whatever our situation, there is no answer but going forward a step, or a stride, at a time. We believe that being optimistic that we can do it, or that it can happen, is the most-appropriate sentiment in our changed world.

The fact that standards have already changed urges us, as editors of this magazine, also to renew our spirit of exploration, and to do so every day. In this time of anticipating gender equality, democracy, and radical developments and a leap forward in an inter-Korean relationship, Quarterly Changbi intends to bring an even fiercer approach to our creative thought and practice and promises to listen even more carefully to our readers’ scoldings and encouragements. We hope that you can overcome the remaining cold weather with an anticipation of spring, which is already clearly in the air, even while severe winter cold lingers.

 

The intention of the feature of the current issue is clearly expressed in its title: “It Is the Time to Rethink the Division System”. It is designed to give insight on how the division system of the Korean peninsula has worked, which has been made more visible since the Candlelight Revolution, and to comprehend the present state of things on the peninsula. In the first article of the feature, Lee Nam Ju, defining the division system as a unique system in global politics, proposes a way to overcome the division system via the federation of the two Koreas, in comparison with a one-nation or two-nations perspective. By offering sharp criticism to the tendency of leaving inter-Korean relations as they stand on the grounds of prioritizing peace, he highlights the direction to heighten the prospects for unification between South and North Korea, just to achieve sustainable peace on the peninsula.

Kim Sung-Kyung calls our society’s deep-rooted apathy to the division system “division-schizophrenia”, that is, an unwillingness or an inability to take the other (North Korea) for one’s equal counterpart. As this article aptly demonstrates, analysis of how the mechanism of the division system operates in the private sectors as well as the dimension of politics and discourse enables us to penetrate the logic of the division system and to imagine new subjects emerging in a unified Korean society in the future. Kim Joon-hyung addresses the legitimacy of “the Korea-US Alliance”, the rigid, asymmetric, and even sacrosanct framework of the Korea-US relationship under the division system, prohibiting any other practical approaches or imagination to the relation itself. This “alliance-absolutism” repudiating any basic norms of alliances in general, has forced us to identify “Korea-US Alliance” with pacifism. Therefore, in order to construct a peace system on the peninsula, he insists, the present alliance between the two nations should be more equal, flexible, and secularized. Kim Dong-yup, under the premise that North Korean development of nuclear arms targets not any mad destruction or maleficence but their only choice for survival from security threats, submits close analysis on the past, present and future of North Korean nuclear issues, and his own step-by-step solutions for each threat. “The Korean Peninsula Destiny Community”, an idea reached by struggling for viable solutions to the North Korean nuclear crisis, conveys the essence of the division system discourse, as well as the author’s penetrating judgment as a military authority.

The key point of the Dialogue is the constitutional amendment, the demand for which was raised during the Candlelight Revolution, and yet has not gained momentum for productive discussion. The four participants, Kwon Kim Hyun-young, Paik Seung-hun, Lee In-young, and Chung Doo-un, pay attention to the people’s demand for the full realization of the principle of popular sovereignty through the reinforcement of basic rights and democratic values. At the same time, they set forth their views, ranging from the necessity and feasibility of the constitutional amendment to its detailed contents.

The Corner of Creation presents a variety of stories and poems with distinct individuality. In the Corner of Poems, 13 poets from Kim Sang-mi to Ryu Jin have contributed new poems with variety of moods and inclinations. And Kim Ryeo-ryung published the first installment of A Week, her new novel with unique subject matter and vitality. Park Min-kyu, Lee Ju-hye, Im Jae-hee and Cho Nam-joo also enriched the literary topography with their own intriguing narrative styles and diverse spectrums. Three articles in the Literary Criticism corner will provide us with the opportunity to reflect on the literature of today. Jang Eun-jung reviews the critical practices of several literary magazines that published their first issues and their perspectives on literature through the concept of “Design-Criticism”. In his account of “April 3rd Uprising Literature” on its 70th anniversary, Kim Dong-yun goes to the heart of the tragic history through the novels by Hyun Ki-young and Kim Seok-beum, and re-interprets them in the context of the Candlelight Revolution. A post-colonial interpretation of Season of Migration to the North is also presented in this corner. Analysing the sophisticated aspects of coloniality and historical dilemma expressed in this Sudanese novel by Tayeb Salih, Yoo Hui-sok tries to use them as a helpful reference point for Korean literature today.

In Focus on Authors, Hwang Jung-eun, the novelist, has a conversation with Choi Kyu-seok, about An Awl, his much-acclaimed cartoon book tracing the contour of today’s labor environment. In her penetrating and singular prose style, Hwang reveals the book’s entirely new scenes as distinguished from the hackneyed frames of conflict structures of previous generations. She highlights the detailed characterization, the significance of the touching ending, and the author’s desperate concern for today’s Korean society. In Literary Focus, Shin Sat-byul, the critic, and Choi Jung-rye, the poet, as new presiders of the corner, invite Chung Yong-joon, the novelist, and lead an intriguing discussion on six noteworthy collections of poetry and novels published for the last season. Hopefully, the dialogue on these remarkable works from diverse perspectives of critical postures will provide a useful guideline for our readers.

Two articles dealing with intriguing cases of culture studies have also been published. Lee Moon-young explores the phenomenon of “Soviet Nostalgia” that emerged in the 1990s, providing us with a precious insight into the Russia of today. Kim Young-Jin, the film critic, examines the outcomes and limitations of A Taxi Driver and 1987, the two films which have drawn much attention from critics and audiences alike, in terms of representing the modern history of Korea. He also commends the innovative attempt the documentary, The Remnants, has made to encourage participation and intervention on the part of audience, by refraining from forcibly stitching up discontinuities and splits found in the film. On the Scene, as a follow-up feature of citizen-participatory democracy, Kim Young-bae shows exemplary cases of village democracy, including the mock civil assembly and resident-participatory budget system, and reveals on how the effects of the Candlelight Revolution have expanded into the daily-life of citizens.

In the corner of Prose, we publish two mournful essays with captivating voices. Kim Shi-jong’s touching account of his tumultuous life, given in the commemorating ceremony of the 70th Anniversary of the Jeju uprising (April 3rd Protest), illuminates the realities of the tragic history. The heart-breaking story of the aged Korean-resident in Japan questioning the true nature of “reverence” will resonate strongly with our readers. Hwang Dong-yeon cherishes the memory of Arif Dirlik, recently deceased Marxist historian, and tries to recognize the significance of his extensive academic accomplishments, including his debates on post-colonialism, his acrid criticism of global capitalism and his studies on the history of the Chinese Communist Revolution.

Letters from the Readers, has been reorganized into Readers’ Voice to boost readers’ active participation in this corner. We appreciate every sincere opinion and review printed in the quarterly, as well as those posted on the website. Also, we’d like to give humble apologies to all those contributors whose reviews were not run. For Book Reviews, Kim Ki-heung (science) and Lee Jung-sook (humanities and social science) will contribute their reviews for the year. The editorial board would like to show appreciation to all the 9 reviewers for the efforts they put into this section. In addition, the 16th Daesan College Literary Award Winning Works will be announced and published in the current issue. With hearty congratulations, we feel sure that the award-winners will grow into masters that will help Korean literature flourish in the near future.

 

Hwang Jung-a