SOAS University of London

Centre of Korean Studies

Kim Sung Ok: A Literature of and for the Self

Steve Capener (Assistant Professor, Seoul Women’s University)

Date: 14 May 2013Time: 5:15 PM

Finishes: 14 May 2013Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 4421

Type of Event: Seminar


After he took power through a military coup in 1961, Park Chung Hee set about on a project of national development that has come to be called “compressed modernization.” The material changes and developments that this process brought about are well documented, the cultural changes less so. In tandem with his economic policies, Park effected a cultural reshaping of Korean society that I am calling the “remaking of the modern Korean.” In effect, Park attempted to remold the emotional and psychological content of the Korean psyche in what amounted to a re-conservatization and re-Confucianization of Korean society based on a combination of Japanese fascist ideology that reified notions of Korean ethnic purity and collectivism, and an ethnic nationalism that demanded immersion of the self into the (imagined) ethno-body.

This project was, overall, extremely successful. However, there was a literary response to it in the form of Kim Sung Ok’s privileging of the self over the collectivity as a common theme in many of his short stories written throughout the decade of the 1960s. Kim’s characters reject the notions of sacrifice for the nation and participation in the rapidly turning machine that was industrializing, modernizing Korean society of the 1960s. This paper investigates Kim’s literary response to Park’s attempts to re-engineer Korean society and reverse some of the cosmopolitan advances ironically achieved under colonial rule in the 1930s.    

Speaker Biography

Steven D. Capener completed an M.A. and a Ph.D at Seoul National University in sport philosophy and a Ph.D. in modern Korean literature at Yonsei University. He is currently an assistant professor at Seoul Women's University in the Department of English Language & Literature teaching literary translation and comparative literature. His research interests include the influence of foreign literatures on the formation of early modern Korean literature and the literary response to Park Chung Hee's authoritarian re-making of the Korean in the 1960s. Recent publications include "The Korean Adam: Yi Hyoseok and Walt Whitman," in The Quarterly Walt Whitman Review.

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