SOAS University of London

Centre of Korean Studies

This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land: Negotiating between Physical Geography and Political State in Yi Sang's "Miscellaneous Writings by Autumn Lamplight"

John Frankl (Associate Professor of Korean and Comparative Literature, Yonsei University)

Date: 20 May 2013Time: 5:15 PM

Finishes: 20 May 2013Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 4421

Type of Event: Seminar


The enigmatic Yi Sang (1910-1937), despite his brief life and career, is widely regarded as both tortured genius and Korea's premier modernist. Though best known for his experimental poetry and fiction, Yi was a complete artist who also produced award-winning paintings and rendered sketches to accompany his own literary works and the works of his most renowned peers. He was also an architect whose designs were acclaimed by his Korean peers and the Japanese colonial government alike. Finally, later in his career, Yi turned to the essay as a vehicle for expressing his musings on various aspects of 1930s Korea and Japan in a manner much more explicit and clear than in his other works.

This talk will focus on Yi's multiple identities as government architect and idiosyncratic artist, colonial subaltern and loyal subject. Although many critics, most often trying to confine Yi within a postcolonial nationalist paradigm, find these identities mutually contradictory, Yi himself appears to have moved rather seamlessly among them. Examining certain of his representative essays reveals a sort of situational identity based upon and changing according to geographical and emotional locations as well as real and imagined interlocutors. In particular, his essay "Miscellaneous Writings by Autumn Lamplight," written in October 1936, the same month he would venture for the first time to Tokyo, where he would meet his untimely end only a few months later, Yi surefootedly negotiates a rugged terrain of competing identities as a modernist writer, an ethnic Korean, and a subject of Imperial Japan. Interrogating his various stances provides small but important glimpses into modernism's movement from Europe to Asia, its adoption and modification in Japan and Korea, as well as how it informed the sensibilities of colonized artists who worked under the disquieting condition of artistic freedom coupled with political repression.

Speaker Bio

John M. Frankl is a Harvard-Yenching Visiting Scholar and Visiting Associate Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University. His permanent appointment is at Yonsei University's Underwood International College where he serves as Associate Professor of Korean and Comparative Literature. Professor Frankl completed a B.A. at the University of California, Berkeley in East Asian Languages, after which he earned an M.A. at Yonsei University in the Department of Korean Language and Literature. Following Yonsei, he attended Harvard University, earning an A.M. in Regional Studies: East Asia and a Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Civilizations in 2003. He then returned to U.C. Berkeley to spend the following year as a postdoctoral fellow, after which he returned to Korea and Yonsei.

He is the author of the book, Han'guk munhak e nat'anan oeguk ŭi ŭimi (Images of "The Foreign" in Korean Literature and Culture) published in Seoul by Somyŏng in 2008, as well as several articles on Yi Sang, the most recent- "Distance as Anti-Nostalgia: Distorted Memories of Rural Korea in Yi Sang's 'Ennui'"-appearing in The Journal of Korean Studies, Spring 2012. During his year at Harvard, he is completing a manuscript on Yi Sang, with particular focus on his essays.

Organiser: Centres & Programmes Office, SOAS University of London

Contact email:

Contact Tel: 020 7898 4892/3