AAS Annual Meeting

Korea Session 62

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Session 62: Cultural Dynamics of Canonization in Colonial Korea

Organizer: Sangjin Park, Independent Scholar, South Korea

Discussant: Ayman El-Desouky, SOAS, University of London, United Kingdom

The issue of canonicity has broadly been discussed particularly since the spread of cultural influence from the European great powers to the peripheral areas. In the past, the classic canons had oppressed the diverse differences in locality, gender and generation. What matters now is to recognize the changeability, rather than the originality, of canonicity which we intend to observe in the historical and cultural processes of canonization in modern Korea. Indeed, we need to imagine how a canon exists; it premises the dichotomy of center and periphery, yet with its blurring relationship, it repeatedly negates and maintains itself so as to be highlighted through its literary value. Here, what is called the democracy of literature arises. We pay special attention to the colonial or cosmopolitan differences by focusing on the following: first, a collision of tradition and modernity in Korean literature; second, the cosmopolitan project and nationalistic promotion of it in the process of modernization of Korea; third, the canonization of a Korean premodern literary text in the modern era; fourth, the canonization of philosophical texts in the intertwined context of colonial Korea and imperial Japan. Our aim is to trace how canonicity was maintained or evolved in colonial Korea and, ultimately, how we can define canonicity as conditioned by the particular contexts of society and history to clarify its context-boundness. This work is significant for discerning the minute crack inside the configuration of canons and to scrutinize the examples of re-canonization in the peripheral literatures.

Transition and Canonization of sijo in the late Chosŏn and early Modern Korea: from Kagok'wŏlyu to Yŏkdaesijojip
Hyungdae Lee, Korea University, South Korea

This paper tries to look into the modern canonization of sijo (traditional short lyric songs), the representative form of poetry in premodern Korea, by examining its textual variations and contextual conditions. The scope of this research encompasses the anthology of sijo such as Kagok'wŏlyu (1876) and Yŏkdaesijojip (1940) published from the late Chosŏn to the early Modern period. A very diverse range of the external factors promoted the canonization of sijo in the transitional period from the late Chosŏn to the early modern era. The genre of sijo was rediscovered as 'national literature' when Korean intellectuals started to dream of a modern nation-state system under the rule of Japanese imperialism, and it started to attract the general public's attention as Korea witnessed the spread of leisure culture and the development of modern publication system. Furthermore, with the establishment of modern academic and literary circles, sijo drew new attention as an academic or aesthetic subject. The external environment that contributed to the canonization of sijo concurrently transformed textual composition and function of the anthology of sijo from a song book for professional singers in the premodern period to a basic text for educated people in the modern period. This paper illustrates how a traditional song book gets converted into a modern object for reading and acquires a value of a modern canon in colonial Korea. In all, this paper aims to investigate the process of canonization of sijo by considering the relationship between the historical and cultural circumstances in which a text was situated and the textual transformations which occurred inside the text.

Variations of Canonicity: Dante’s Comedy and Sin Chai-Ho’s Dream Sky
Sangjin Park, Independent Scholar, South Korea

The modern Korean writer Sin Chai-Ho’s Dream Sky has been recognized as an adaptation of The Comedy, which suggests that a text is not bound to any pre-fixed category. T. S. Eliot observes that Dante's language is easier to translate than Shakespeare's language; in other words, one can preserve much of the original meaning when translating Dante, which allows the reader to experience Dante's language intactly. I suggest particularly that the modern Korean reader interacted with Dante’s text in a reciprocal, horizontal and conversational manner. It is in this respect that I draw attention to Sin Chai-Ho who strove to deny the homogeneity that the whole stream of nationalisms in his time promoted. What made Dante’s literature universal was its power to endlessly alter its own language, rather than succumbing to the hegemony imposed by an imperialist language. In modern Korean literature, Dante was understood as a creative counterforce, a symbol of powerful resistance to the homogenizing influence of modernity and the nation-state. Finally, I analyze the way in which Sin Chai-Ho’s Dream Sky was constituted as a canon in his time by adapting a Western canon. Then, I locate the meaning of Dream Sky in the particular context of modern Korean literature, observing variations of canonicity at the intersection of the western universality and the Korean nationalistic reaction to it.

Canonization of Philosophical Texts in Modern Korea: Kant’s Critics of Pure Reason
Hang Kim, Yonsei University, South Korea

This paper aims to examine how some philosophical texts were canonized in modern Korea. The premise is that there is no text that became a canon on the merits of its textual value or greatness. All canons are products of social and cultural construction that are inevitably influenced by various institutions, among which the most significant educational system in universities constituted by curriculum, textbooks, and professors has especially influenced the canonization of philosophical texts. In modern Korea, philosophy education at the university level began at Kyungsung Imperial University, established by colonial rulers. Many students who formed the first generation of professional philosophers in modern Korea learned Western philosophy through contemporary Japanese philosophical scene, which was dominated by neo-Kantism, existentialism, and neo-Hegelianism. After the colonial rule, Kyungsung Imperial University became Seoul National University which was the first educational institution that taught philosophy in Korean. Since the professors and faculty of the philosophy department in this university were educated at Kyunsung Imperial University, they made a curriculum influenced by Japanese philosophical education and canonized some texts under those same influences. In this regards, canonization of philosophical texts in modern Korea was strongly related to the Japanese philosophical scene in the 1930s. To shed a light on this theme, I explore the historical process of translating Kant’s Critics of Pure Reason into Korean with a Japanese translation of the text as the reference material. Ultimately, I suggest that Korean philosophical canons have been formed through re-translation and re-interpretation of Japanese philosophical canons.

Canonization of Arirang and Tradition in Colonial Korea
Yun-hee Kim, Independent Scholar, South Korea

Arirang>, which regained popularity when it was rearranged as an official song for the Fifa WorldCup in 2002, is Korea's most well-known folk song succeeded via word-of-mouth. Its lyrics are from the song featured in <Arirang>, a film directed by Na Woon Gyu during the Japanese colonization of Korea. As the film was quite successful <Arirang> was canonized into ‘the national song.’ Because of this context, most preceded studies argue that <Arirang> is a modernized, nationalized, and popularized song during the Japanese colonization of Korea and ‘not a traditional folk song.’ Some studies even state that <Arirang> absorbed modern perspectives to update its lyrics in the canonization process. When I examined the song from the film <Arirang>, which is often known as ‘Bonjo Arirang,’ however, the lyrics are mostly from older folk songs. In particular, the phrase 'Passing the Arirang Hill' which is discussed as a variation with modern perspectives, is directly from Gangwon-do's <Jeongseon Arirang>. <Jeongseon Arirang> is a folk song with a rich tradition and accumulated resources. It is a clear fact that <Arirang> has been succeeded for a long time as oral literature specific to each region, including Jeongseon, Milryang of Gyeongsang-do, Jinju of Jeollado, Seoul, and Gyeonggi-do. Those with postnationalist perspectives neglect this traditional value of folk songs and argue to <Arirang> has been spread from one region to another as a national song during the Japanese colonization of Korea. Although it is clear that the historical background of Japanese colonization had a certain influence on the spread of <Arirang>, it must be considered that <Arirang> inherits the historical value of folk songs as basic culture. <Arirang> is a national folk song that has been succeeded for a long time and has been able to spread more explosively through variation of media and culture during the Japanese colonization of Korea. Therefore, this study concludes that traditional elements should be considered as much as its modernization factors in <Arirang>'s canonization.