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[Editorial] Again Brightening Our Faces With Candlelight

The Quarterly Changbi 202, Winter 2023


Again Brightening Our Faces With Candlelight

We live in the time when, even before a war ends, another one, called “a textbook case of genocide,” breaks out. Many of us feel pain watching horrendous scenes of wars unfolding in front of our eyes. I believe this pain comes not only from our sympathies for the pain of those who suffer, but also from our disbelief at how ruthlessly peace and coexistence, values we have pursued for such a long time, are being destroyed. Recovering these values requires efforts to solve the situation through international relations. However, in the meantime, reports we are getting about the war only increase our despair, as well as doubts, about the possibility of solving the problem. For instance, through news that more than 10,000 civilians, including about 4,000 children, have been killed in Gaza, we realize that our international order is not working properly. Furthermore, some parties are gaining special benefits from this situation. Witnessing the Ukraine-Russia War, many countries around the world have competitively increased their military spending. The international news that the US is amassing enormous profits through massive weapons sales make us despair rather than shocking us. So when we hear the news that, at the same time, the U.S. and other G7 countries are supporting a ceasefire, it is dispiriting.

The domestic situation is as shocking, leading to an entirely new term, meaning “grotesque and outrageous.” Almost daily we see the faces of politicians who change their words as easily as shelling peas, lie shamelessly, and blame others for their own faults. We see how those who, while repeatedly arguing for the livelihoods of the public, have not legislated the Yellow Envelope Law, directly related to the basic labor rights of workers for almost ten years, yet present an out-of-the-blue proposal to incorporate Gimpo City into Seoul--a rash policy that puts even the cynical expression “a policy for the general election” in the shade. Theirs are indeed grotesque and outrageous faces. People will lie or try to pass the buck; however, if the parties doing so are public officials, it is a serious problem. Their actions are not just a matter of individual immorality, but a situation that seriously damages people’s trust in the body politic. This damaged trust leads to cynicism, causes economic loss, and becomes a stumbling block in the political process. We all remember how our trust in the public process played an important role in inducing civic agency during the social crisis caused by the pandemic. This trust in the public process may be called an intangible public vessel containing a society’s capacity for viability.

Then, what is it that destroys our trust in the public world now? Clearly, many strands of forces are contributing to this destruction. But one obvious source stands out. Renowned novelist Park Wansuh’s essay “Tofu” includes a section in which she observes and evaluates former presidents participating in the 1998 presidential inauguration ceremony. Depicting one of them, she says, “The place where self-reflection or regret is not required no matter what—wouldn’t that be the place of a mob boss rather than of a president?” (from Park Wansuh, Tofu, Changbi Publishers, 2002, p. 28) The person she had in mind should be obvious, even without naming him. We can also easily guess that the same place is not just the relic of the past, but one that still exists, even while the nature of power supporting it has shifted. The person who ascended to it lately is currently resolidifying our country’s division system by accusing the opposition of being “anti-national forces,” while projecting the image of his own group onto ghost groups, after creating them and calling them “cartels of rights and interests.”

Instead of the violence of war and “grotesque and outrageous” faces, let’s now take a look at our own faces. In the aforementioned essay, “Tofu,” the author takes the most pity on an ordinary young man. Saying that, strangely, she cannot see any signs of hope in the face of this young man, who has just been released from prison, and who is now eating tofu with his family and friends in the corner of a shabby restaurant, she states, rather coolly, that his face wears the basic expression of the time: hopelessness. However, our faces now would not be wearing the same expression.

Often our faces show bewilderment, even as they also express anger. Although this is a natural response, it is an affect that needs to change. What matters is a sense of responsibility. We need to create a place where we bear and take responsibility for what the vested-interest groups destroyed. If we avoid this burden of responsibility, anger and bewilderment are nothing but a momentary reaction. About a month ago, a civic movement was organized to confront the US Congress and urge for peace in the Middle East. The organizers of this movement, under the catchy phrase “Not in Our Name,” were Jewish. Their voices changed the structure of this all-out war, created by Israel, from that of opposition between Jews and Palestinians to that of opposition between Zionists and Palestinians, and let the world know that not all Jews are Zionists. This action embodies an attitude of taking responsibility for the atrocities of the world that oppose the causes of peace and coexistence, by revealing the truth hidden beneath the language of ruling forces. By confidently denying the use of their name for causes they don’t approve of, they took responsibility. Our common names could be a way to help us accept and bear the burden of responsibility, for carrying out common dreams, despite our pain. In that sense, we may still call one another “candlelight.” We need to reflect the dreams of the candlelight on our faces, with angry expressions. The dreams included the Yellow Envelope Law, mourning for social disasters, and hope for a safe country. And let’s remember again the list of many more hopes. The power to make the grotesque and outrageous faces disappear in front of us is surely part of it, too.

Experiencing the pandemic, we expanded our discourse about care. We can easily encounter writings discussing the concept of care. Out of these arguments, we need to pick points meaningful in transforming the current system, and reorganize them, in order to prevent the current interest in care from being just a temporary, fashionable phenomenon. This is a task even more urgently needed in a time of social crisis as grave as a pandemic. The current issue of Changbi examines practical possibilities of care through literary works offering unusual forms of imagination for care. This issue’s Feature includes three articles under the theme “Toward a Society Caring for Life.” Pointing out that the lack of care is related to a lack of democracy, Baik Ji-yeon explores possibilities of imagining citizenship in the performance of care. Baik first considers what conflicts in the process of care lead to citizenly virtues, by analyzing short stories by Kim Ae-ran and Geum Hee. Then, through the examination of a novel by Baek On-yu, she persuasively argues that the unique temporality and vulnerability experienced by the agents of care require a civic community as its solid background.

Park Soran discusses three first collections of poetry and how the three poets’ examinations of their intimate experiences and daily lives consider care. She discovers in Choi Ji-eun’s poems how emotional connections resulting from the experience of care enables a relationship to continue; examines through Jo Onyun’s poems why acts of care result in mutual care, and depicts the caring subject born in the experience of solidarity mediated by pain in Choi Jae-won’s poems. It is a profound article that also shows us how young poets have practiced new forms of imagination through confrontations with concrete experiences of pain.

Drawing from and reinterpreting Heidegger’s argument on Cura, the goddess of care in Roman mythology, Cho HyeYoung expands the context in which the concept of care matters. Paying attention to “distracted care,” a creative idea, Cho presents care as a concept that is existentially, ordinarily, and ecologically tangled. She also examines how noteworthy recent Korean movies narrativizing death and care discover a sense of not only self-survival but also self-care. Her arguments about how a new movie scene can be created through the care of the movie production environment are also engaging.

These days, when an omnidirectional sense of crisis is heightened, problems are bursting forth on the domestic front: the national economy and management, foreign relations, justice, education, and the environment. Moderated by Lee Nam Ju, three participants—Seo Bokyeung, Yang Kyung-soo, and Lee Tae-ho—engage in a conversation to analyze the causes of these crises and to discuss how efforts for a true transformation collide with the current administration’s various measures, and to explore what should be done to resolve this situation going forward. We not only look at vivid discussions within the labor movement and civic society, but also estimate the direction that our confrontation with our crises should take in concrete stories about “consensus for creation” and the “public sphere.”

In Literary Criticism, Lee Jieun reflects on how the process of reorganizing the world because of the pandemic highlighted one’s own house and family as the unit of survival and reinforced the gender-discriminatory order of the pre-pandemic world. Lee keenly analyzes how Choi Eunmi’s novel Face to Face and short story “Face to Face, Here, We” counter with a literary imagination the order structuralized under the pandemic.

In Focus on Author, poet and critic Jang I-ji interviews fellow poet Kim So Yeon, celebrating the 30th anniversary of her debut. We can approach the world of “the end,” reached by the language of a poet, who has carefully waited for something. Jang I-ji also painstakingly narrativizes the changes Kim So Yeon’s poetry has undergone in the past 30 years, and also evokes the entire history of Korean poetry in the period when Kim has been writing.

Lee Jung-Bae and Kim Jong Dae contributed to Articles. Religious philosopher Lee Jung-Bae highlights the originality and richness inherent in the gaebyeok (“great opening”) thought by comprehensively comparing and contrasting it with other religious discourses. Further, by showing how gaebyeok thought expropriates and reorganizes elements of Christianity, he asks us to reconsider the relationship between the two forms of religion. It is noteworthy the way in which Lee overcomes limitations in modernity through the depth of his resources of thought, at the same time as he points out traces and contexts of various religions within gaebyeok thought. 

Kim Jong Dae carefully discusses the practical significance of the Korea-US-Japan Security Alliance amidst the rapidly changing current international situation and explains how this alliance causes problems with Korean sovereignty and losses in our diplomacy. Based on concrete information, he argues that what we need is not the deterrence power of allied countries, but alliances based on cooperation, coexistence, and peace.

“On the Scene” presents Japanese responses to last issue’s dialogue, “The Fukushima Problem: From the Nuclear Powerplant Disaster to Contaminated Water Release.” By comparing the Fukushima problem with the Okinawan case, Sakihama Sana, a historian from Okinawa, illuminates the structure of exploitation and inequality inherent in both cases. Also, she persuasively argues how we should consider the Fukushima problem to be one of a state and large capital and to see it through the framework of denuclearization in East Asia, to be pursued through international cooperation.

In this issue, the “Where I Live” series illuminates Buan in Jeollabuk-do province. You SuJeong, who left her hometown Buan when she went to college, vividly depicts how she fell in love with Buan’s charms, which she had not realized previously, while living there during the Covid-19 pandemic. Her depiction of her pride about a “village where people know that humans are precious,” her encounters with various people there, and the way the youth group they organized led to change in Buan are lively and impressive.

Creative writings are also abundant in this issue. Twelve poets contributed new works. In this season (which is good for reading poems) we hope our readers accept them as gifts. In “Fiction,” we meet new and original short stories by Kwon Yeo-sun, Oh Seon-young, Jung Jidon, and Jung Chan. Kim Keum Hee’s A Report on the Grand Greenhouse has one more installment to go after this issue. We hope for your continuing support for this exciting novel.

 “Literary Focus,” in which we are trying a new form since last issue, offers a space where Sin Yong-Mok, Ha Hyeok-jin, and Han Young-in not only conduct a close reading of literary works but also an active evaluation. Their articles will be wonderful resources for readers curious about fierce scenes in contemporary Korean literature. We at Quarterly Changbi cherish “Book Reviews” corner as much as any other. Offering a convenient overview of valuable books that were recently published, it boasts concise interpretations of them as well.

The main prize of the 38th Manhae Prize in Literature was awarded to the novel Father’s Liberation Diary by Jeong Ji A. A special prize was awarded to Heidegger Theater by Ko Myung-Seop. The 25th Baeksok Prize for Literature went to Time to Learn Perspective, a poetry collection by Song Jin-gwon. We sincerely congratulate all three winners.

This winter’s cold already feels unusual. Due to various signs of crisis and social indices seeming to sound alarms, our psyches also seem frozen. We feel that what is most needed in times like these are truthful words and writing. Those who exchange dialogues with honest words can acquire stability and strength to plan the future. We hope that Quarterly Changbi offers you such dialogues. And that nobody will be defeated by the cold winter!

Song Jong-won