Bruce Fulton - Associate Professor of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia
Confinement is arguably the central motif of modern Korean fiction. Since the early twentieth century Korean writers and their writing have existed largely within the confines of a culture, a politics, and a history that have hindered the development of creative prose writing. Inheriting the neo-Confucian scholar-bureaucrat’s predilection for exemplifying righteousness and instructing its people, modern Korean writers have in general been reluctant to stray from a socially engaged approach to literature. Rather they have been subjected to the expectations of an overwhelmingly male and conservative mundan (literary establishment) that the serious writer display a “historical consciousness,” that is to say a sensitivity to the realities that have informed the history of modern Korea. In short, modern Korean fiction writers are expected to be relevant. The result is a body of fiction that is evaluated primarily in terms of its ability to grapple with such weighty issues as the legacy of Japanese colonization, the territorial division of the Korean peninsula, the conflict between Eastern and Western tradition, and the loss of cultural anchors such as the ancestral home and the extended family. The characters populating this body of fiction likewise tend to be confined by class and gender, by obligation to family, classmate, and colleague, by ideology, and by economic necessity. It remains to be seen whether such recent developments as the breakthrough by women fiction writers, the appearance of gay fiction, the increasing international popularity of Korean online gaming and Korean popular culture, and the flourishing of Korean film can invigorate Korean fiction in the new millennium.
Recommended Readings for the lecture: