Scott Swaner - Assistant Professor of Korean Literature, Washington University
In this essay Professor Swaner concentrates on South Korea’s most significant 1980’s laborer and activist turned poet - Pak Nohae (1957- ). Moving from an analysis of the 1980s (Korea’s “Decade of Poetry”) as the context for the emergence of the young “worker’s poet (nodong siin),” He examines Pak’s straightforward, architectonically simple, and even naïve poetic style in order to evaluate its significance and trace its connections with the early stages of late capitalism in Korea. The intellectual questions raised revolve around the debates between Modernism and Realism and the efficacy of art. Pak’s socio-artistic role and work are represented in terms of a reverse reading of Walter Benjamin’s work of art essay. In this reading Swaner asks: What if we were to read the essay not it terms of the object and its diminishing “aura,” its increasingly alienated condition in the modern age, but instead turned our focus to “the work of art in the age of its technological re-producer,” or better still, “the artist in the age of his technological reproducibility”? This reversal creates a space where we can explore what happens to “art” and “artist” when the artist’s life rhythms, emotions, and desires are almost totally determined by the demands of a rapidly advancing late-industrial society.