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Korean Literature and World Literature: Problems of Colonial Modernity, Narrative, and Translation

Image Monday, January  25, 2010 at 4:30 PM
Scott Hall, Room 105, CAC

The Department of Asian Languages and Cultures is pleased to announce a talk to be given by Dr. Travis Workman, The University of California, Los Angeles.

Recent articulations of world literature have opened up the possibility of overcoming the unfortunate binaries of its earlier models: West/non-West, national/minority, and center/periphery. In this paper, I will discuss some of the theoretical, historical, and political problems that emerge in attempting to bring the study of modern Korean literature into conversation with such world literature projects. In coining the term Weltliteratur, Goethe claimed that a literature belonged to world literature the more that it expressed its national particularity. However, under conditions of Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945), Korean writers struggled with how to define the national particularity of Korean literature in relation to what was called “general culture,” without simultaneously reducing Korean literature to a minority literature of the Japanese empire. I will argue that in order to relate modern Korean literature to world literature, we should think beyond the model of world literature as a collection of national literatures and recognize a plurality of “worlds” in the works of writers such as Yi Kwang-su, Pak Yŏng-hŭi, Pak T’ae-wŏn, Yi Sang, Kim Ki-yŏng, Kang Kyŏng-ae, and Kim Sa-ryang. This requires taking into account the complexity of social relations in colonial modernity, the multiple connections that intellectuals made between narratives of universal history and fictional narrative, and, finally, the ways writers and critics dealt with issues of translating between the spatio-temporalities and languages of the metropole and the colony.

For further information, please contact Professor Young-mee Yu Cho at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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