Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

2 - Ethics of Storytelling & Writing (Hi)story

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Coolidge, Mezzanine Level

This paper explores the socio-historical significance and implications for genre behind the recent upsurge in “historical” novels by a new generation of woman writers. From modern Korean literature's beginnings in the early 20th century, writing history was in effect a mandate for serious writers, and this mandate only strengthened throughout South Korea's oppressive regimes. Then during the 1990s and early 2000s, a new generation of writers explored both their own and society's newfound freedoms through an intense focus on “individuality.” Even more recently, however, one sees renewed interest in engaging with the shared memories, tragedies and trauma that the previous decade or so had repressed. Unlike in its earlier, pre-1990s incarnations though – when writers of fiction and even poetry saw truth-telling as their mission -- this new body of works focuses on indirect or inherited memories of historical events. They thus raise a critical question: why write as fiction given an abundance of “truthful” and direct evidence, such as interviews, police records, photographs, video footage, and living survivors? Who do these works speak for? If a fictional work is not about offering the “truth”, then why write something that can awaken profoundly real wounds from the historical tragedies behind the story? If conventional historical novels assumed a collective memory among its readers, how does this new iteration of the genre understand and engage shared experiences? This paper explores such questions through recent literary works by woman authors including Cho Haejin, Han Kang, and Kim Sum.

Ji-Eun Lee

Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri

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