창작과 비평

[Editorial] Where Our Collective Raised Voices Reach


The Quarterly Changbi 174, Winter 2016



The monthly 304 Reading Event, which commemorates the 304 victims of the Sewol Ferry Disaster in 2014 and demands a thorough investigation into the truth of the disaster, has been going on for more than two years. The event has been held in various locations, including Gwanghwamun Square in downtown Seoul, with different contents and participants. Yet its last segment has never changed. In it, both reader and audience read aloud the same passage in unison under the guidance of the moderator. In this short passage, which begins “Today is April 16” and ends with “We will not end this until it ends,” there is the message demanding a thorough investigation into this disaster, as well as the phrase: “We command this in all our names.” Whenever I have arrived at this sentence, over the past two years, I am overwhelmed with indescribable emotions, and can never finish reciting it.

While we have been enduring this time of tragic loss and grave demanding, we now face another event in which we have to “command this in all our names,” yet again, the so-called “the Park Geun-hye and Choi Sun-sil Gate,” an unprecedented incident of the abuse of power and of corruption by the president and her cronies. And, in the middle of majestic waves of candlelight overflowing the streets, we have finally realized the reasons why the current administration could have systematically quashed the investigation into the NIS-initiated election fraud and the people’s demand for the investigation into the truth of the Sewol Ferry Disaster, as well as unilaterally carrying out the state-created history textbook project, the closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, and the deployment of THAAD. It was not because the voice of the people shouting their needs was too meager—but because the vessel for receiving of their demands was empty. There is no doubt that the Saenuri Party and the conservative media aided and abetted this tyranny by a group of presidential cronies, until the people’s last threshold for tolerance finally collapsed. But where were the opposition parties who should have delivered the Korean people’s protestations? What were they doing?

As the rock-bottom approval rating of 4-5% for the president shows, and as millions of candles in the nation’s many squares are raised in one common gesture every weekend, President Park has already been impeached in Korean people’s mind. It is now only a matter of the political and legal procedures. To bring these procedures to a rational and systematic conclusion is the urgent task entrusted to our politicians. Unfortunately, their recent actions have been extremely disappointing. Predictably, the Blue House and the ruling party are arguing for a division of power between the prime minister and president, the former in charge of domestic affairs, the latter of international affairs. But this is an absurd position, originating from their wish to hold onto power by whatever means possible. In the current international environment, which has become extremely volatile after Donald Trump’s presidential election victory in the United States, how could we depend on our impeached president to manage international relations? Besides, if this proposal was carried out, the powerful intelligence and audit institutions, which do not belong to the cabinet, such as the National Intelligence Agency and Board of Audit and Inspection, would remain under presidential control. Equally unsatisfactory are the Democratic Party’s political maneuverings, which appear to simply piggyback on this golden opportunity, created by the people, while checking which way the wind blows and hiding behind the slogan: “the president should retreat to the second line.” Although they are hiding behind the reasons of repercussions from a political headwind, a leadership vacuum, and political chaos, these excuses do not hold up in the current situation, in which protesters have been waging most orderly and persistent demonstrations. It appears that the most confused actor in the current situation is not the Korean people, but the main opposition party, which is busy doing political calculations under the assumption that a change of administration is a foregone conclusion.

The Korean people have already given the order to politicians to solve the problem following constitutional procedures, including the administration of an early presidential election, and to launch a government that honors the people’s will. A constitutional amendment, for which some groups argue now, should come after the election, as we do not have the kind of social consensus about such an amendment that existed in 1987. Our discussion of the constitutional amendment should not focus on the matter of the power structure, for example, whether we should introduce two four-year term presidential terms, a parliamentary system, or a compromise. Instead, we should actively discuss how to create a blueprint for more fundamental change in order to more closely approach the ideal of people’s self-rule. A constitutional amendment is merely a tool, rather than a goal. Even if we achieve the change in administration, there is no guarantee that it would be carried out smoothly. The conservative and reactionary forces that aided and abetted the corruption will not simply disappear. As long as the division system exists, their attempt to roll back our democratic system of governance would persist. After all, they still own and control many of the social and political resources!

This is why various voices, arising from all sectors of our society, urge a fundamental change going beyond a simple change of power and a constitutional amendment. The waves of the gender-awareness movement that began to spread rapidly after the misogynistic murder at Gangnam Station are now evolving into a much bigger movement, beyond one for the protection of the weak, the abolition of gender discrimination, and gender equality. The online “#sexual violence within workplace” movement is one example. This protest movement by those suffering under the prevalent social hierarchy is as significant as the candles raised in protest of the current government. Any movement to roll back this trend is reactionary.

Amidst this combination of turmoil and encouraging change, we are extremely disturbed by the recent actions in which some writers—those who should be fighting against all kinds of oppression in our society—were accused of sexual violence and abusing their hierarchical power. As many people argue, and we agree, a few leading writers, readers, and organizations cannot eradicate this problem only through new measures or improving institutions. For now, we must urgently contribute to the change in awareness and practices that has already begun and think deeply about the direction in which we want to evolve together. The first step is careful listening. A press conference on November 11, 2016, by the group Delinquency, an association of graduates from the department of creative writing at Goyang Art High School, offered a precious opportunity for the literary world and writers in particular to re-examine their place in society. The Korean literary world should respond sincerely to the declaration made by this young and brave group: “We will prove ourselves as literature and witnesses.”

Even though we have felt it necessary to fill the editorial space in the current issue with commentary on the corruption scandal by the present administration and sexual violence within the literary world, rather than with our renewed resolve on our 50th anniversary, we are not discouraged. We experience great hope in the enormous and persistent waves of protest candles in the streets and squares, and from the voices of women who have demonstrated in dignified solidarity, overcoming trauma and overturning hierarchy. In the end, all fundamental change rises from the bottom. What’s more, too-hasty optimism and irresponsible pessimism are both impotent, because they are both imprisoned in the consciousness that sees reality only from the top down.

In this sense, the surprising result of the recent U.S. presidential election, to which the word “panic” is even being widely circulated, offers a lesson for us. Why did Hillary Clinton, a former Secretary of State and U.S. Senator, who dominated the opinion polls throughout the long campaign, lose to Donald Trump, whose qualifications were constantly in question? Certainly, we could explain it by claiming that undercurrents of misogyny and racism rose to the surface. Yet we believe that these explanations are somewhat off the mark. To speak more accurately, the result of this recent election is Hillary Clinton’s defeat rather than Donald Trump’s victory. We believe that the decisive cause was Clinton failure to represent the voices at the bottom, voices of people who have suffered from social inequality and injustice in the current U.S. political system. In this sense, an overly confident Hillary Clinton ended up representing a corrupt establishment. We expect difficult times under the Trump Administration; but how much are the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton free from responsibility for creating this chaotic situation? The South Korean presidential candidates currently preparing for the post-Park Geun-hye period would do well to remember this. There is no such thing as a foregone conclusion and a secured future. What we do every moment decides the path and the outcome of our future.

The current issue, featuring "Literary Forms to Explore the Reality", looks into the creative works of poets and novelists, who confront the weight of stark reality and struggle for a better future. Every form of literature, forged from the literary adventure to explore what could be more 'real', helps us, by its diversity and depth, get over the ingrained pessimism of our literary world.

Song Jong-won submits his analysis of the recent poems of Hwang In-chan and Kim Jung-hwan, to discuss the characteristics of the poetic reality the two poets have constructed, respectively. Despite the enormous poetic potentialities teeming with dissociating senses, Hwang's poems are estimated to fall short of the efforts unifying the heterogeneous elements in our life. In contrast, Kim Jung-hwan succeeds in his attempts to encounter and encompass the historical prospect, by the expansion of time-space horizons in his poems. Jung Ju-a examines the literary world of two novelists in the young generation--Kim Um-ji and Choi Eun-young--, and minutely observes how they explore the reality, and what kind(s) of literary forms are invented in the process; while the former inquires into "the stories of human-animal", the latter underscores the communal values. It is noteworthy that the two novelists, in spite of their seeming differences, share, in some key points, "the form of totality" of their own.

Yoo Hui-sok interprets the recent short stories by Kim Soom and Lee In-hui as the literary mourning for the 1987 System. He traces in the stories by Kim Soom the attempts to restore the tragedies of our times, and then he analyzes Lee In-hui's stories, including "Kang I-san, The Poet" with great deliberation. Covering the novels by Han Kang and Kwon Yeo-sun in his critical essay, Choi Won-sik classifies The Vegetarian as the instinctive resistance to 'the petit bourgeois', and The Human Acts as an achievement of 'non-totality' constructed upon the anonymity of minorities, while the recent short stories by Kwon Yeo-sun, also highly acclaimed by critics, are described as the apocalyptic landscape subsumed irrevocably into the capitalist mode of life.

In Literary Criticism, we happily introduce the essay by Deborah Smith, the British translator whose award-winning translation of The Vegetarian is well known, both domestically and abroad. This distinctive essay delivers the authentic experience of intimate conversation with the text during the process of translation and makes the readers feel what this novel is really about. Also, a special attention will be paid to the article by Lim Kyu-chan, investigating the significance of the life-long literary works of the late Lee Ho-chul. In every corner of the page, one can witness the example of well-balanced critical evaluation, and, at the same time, a beautiful tribute to a novelist who dedicated his entire life to writing.

The corner of creation is more fruitful than ever. In the Special Selection of New Poems, 25 promising poets joined for the last finale. Every piece of poetry, by its distinct individuality, heralds a brilliant future for our poetry. Hwang Jung-eun and Park Min-kyu, whose concerns are always headed for the heart of our reality, furnished the last finale of our feature on novellas, and in addition to that, to our great joy, Keum Hee and Lee Jang-wook contributed the new short stories, respectively.

In Literary Focus, Kim So-yeon and Baik Ji Yeon, along with Jang Ea-ji, the poet, lead a profound discussion on the noteworthy collections of poetry (Huh Soo-kyung, Park Ki-young, Ahn Mi-rin) and short stories (Eun Hee-kyung, Jung Ea-hyun, Baik Soo-rin) published for the last season. We extend our special gratitude to Baik Ji Yeon and Kim So-yeon, who have led this corner with such effort for a year.

Kang Young-sook, who recently published The Grey Literature, is the heroine in the corner of the Focus on Authors. Her literary world, well-versed in metaphor and allegory, as well as deeply rooted in the truth of reality, is discussed and clarified by Park In-sung, the literary critic.

In the current issue, "Chaebol" (Conglomerates in Korean) is adopted as the last agenda of Dialogue, which features "The Inside of 'The Conservative Forces' in Korea". The panel of experts, including Song Won Keun, Shin Hak-rim, Lee Won-jae, and Lee Il-young, discuss, in the political configuration of Korea, why and how the Chaebol-centered economic structure has been inclined to conservative views. Particularly, as Chaebol themselves are directly involved in the current incident of the power abuse and corruption by the president and her cronies, the panel tries to examine the present condition of Chaebol and its operating mechanism, and furthermore, explore an alternative system for the future.

Two noticeable articles are printed in the current issue. In his persuasive argument, Lee Seung-hwan claims that such policies as "Pivot to Asia" of the US, and "The Great War for Reunification" of North Korea, and more recently, the deployment of THAAD in South Korea are far more increasing the risk of military crisis on the Korean Peninsula. So the only remaining solution, he argues, lies in returning to the table for a peace agreement, which is hopelessly broken now. Sven Lütticken tries, in his "The Art of Theft", a historical account of the inter-relationship between 'copyrights' and works of art, which, we expect, will provide a valid reference regarding the recent discussion of plagiarism in our literary world. On the Scene, Lee Hyang-kue's essay on the life of North Korean refugees, the last entry of the project of "Diagnosing Korean Society From the Viewpoint of Minorities", will continue to reverberate long after the project ends. Quah Syren, in his "Singapore Caught In East Asia", underscores this city-state's role as the link, which cannot be dropped out in the politics of East Asia, where China Rising has led this island city-state into the crisis of "cultural identity".

Essays include a reportage on the 2016 earthquake Kim Gom-chi, the novelist, himself experienced in his hometown, Busan, and Ariel Dorfman's inspirational essay commemorating the 400th Anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes. 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 Jin Tae-won and Jeon Chi-hyung have put into the corner, throughout the year, not to speak of all the other reviewers. The 31st MANHAE Literary Award went to Lee In-hui's Look at the Ruins, honoring his literary achievement which surmounts the rigidity of some working-class novels in the past. Along with that, the newly-established special prize of Manhae Literary Award was given to both Kim Hyung-soo for The Critical Biography of Sotaesan, the Founding Master of Won-Buddhism, and to the writers group commemorating The 416 Sewol Ferry Disaster for their Spring Will Come Again. And we also announce that Jang Chul-moon won the 18th PAIKSOK Literary Award for his collection of poems, The Outside of Metaphor. We would like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to all the award recipients and wish them all the best.


Kang Kyung-seok