Cross-Currents e-Journal (No. 28)
Writing Revolution Across Northeast Asia
Based on the historical and cultural connections between Russia and East Asia, this article explores how the literary relations between these regions complicate current discussions about “world literature.” The case of Russia, East Asia, and their leftist literary relations refute the diffusion model of world literature and the perspective that sees literary works as embedded in the competitive relations of national literatures. Through a discussion of recent world literary theories, the author argues that we would be better served by thinking of world literature less as an entity made up of certain literary works which must, by its nature, operate by inclusion and exclusion or a single diffusion network defined by hierarchical and competitive relations than as a totality of entangled literary and cultural relations and processes through which new meanings and implications are generated. Rethinking world literature as a methodology, not merely as an object to know, also provides new perspectives that allow us to understand the world better through literatures and their connections.
Keywords: world literature, literary relations, Korean literature, East Asian literature, Russian literature, translation
During the 1920s, Soviet cultural authorities sought to develop a new, post-imperialist literature that would acknowledge a “new East” and supersede the enchanted exoticism of writers like Pierre Loti. They also sought to establish in the countries of the Far East institutional and individual cultural links that might attract leading writers there to the cause of communist internationalism. With these goals in mind, they sent to East Asia two prominent writers, first Sergei Tretiakov, who spent eighteen months in 1924 and 1925 as a professor of Russian literature at Peking University and correspondent for Pravda, and then Boris Pilniak, who traveled to China, Japan, and Mongolia in 1926 (and returned to Japan for a visit in 1932). This article discusses these writers’ visits and some of the literary works they generated in response to their encounters with East Asia in order to address the general question of whether communist internationalist culture was generated vertically (by instructions, efforts, and institutions set up by “Moscow” and the Comintern) or forged horizontally (by personal links and as a result of individual agency). As a case study in how the two writers attempted to present a more authentic account of the East, the article discusses the contrasting ways they represented the Chinese revolutionary.
Keywords: communist internationalism, Comintern, First Congress of the Toilers of the Far East, Russian literature, Sergei Tretiakov, Boris Pilniak, Russia-East Asia relations
In light of recent studies that situate the early twentieth-century Korean-Manchurian writer Kang Kyŏngae within the global formation of colonial modernity rather than the chronicles of nationalist anticolonialism, this article argues for the relevance of Kang and of the state of Manchukuo to the ongoing study of the relationship between peripheral literary forms and capitalist modernity. Because it was an economic and ideological testing ground, Manchukuo challenges the apparent characteristics of a periphery. Examining Manchukuo’s cultural and literary production thus calls for a new means of understanding peripheral literature’s capacity to reveal nuanced dimensions of the capitalist world-system. This article shows how the idea of peripheral realism, a theoretical framework proposed by Jed Esty and Colleen Lye (2012), makes it possible to constellate Kang’s novelistic form within new horizons of comparability and recovered histories of cultural production far from capitalism’s centers. Viewed through this lens, Kang’s work in turn helps to break up a falsely monolithic notion of the non-Western periphery and illustrate its variegated texture. To demonstrate this process, Kang’s 1934 novella Salt (Sogŭm) is examined through the protagonist’s incongruous yet highly reflective cognitive capacity, which operates as the very mode of registering and responding to Manchukuo’s internal contradictions. To the extent that Salt attempts to grasp the reality of a complicated capitalist imperialist society from a peripheral subject’s compromised vantage point, Kang stands as a consequential voice for coming to terms with peripheral realism and its possibilities.
Keywords: Kang Kyŏngae, Manchukuo, peripheral realism, Japanese imperialism, Manchurian literature, Korean literature, derangement
Introduced to Korea around 1900, the modern idea of the ethno-nation (minjok) developed into one of the most important intellectual and political concepts circulating in the country by the early 1920s. From the nationalists’ viewpoint, the ethno-nation, seen as an unchanging and homogenous entity, was the primary site for individuals’ belonging. The national collectivity was a prerequisite for individuals’ existence. While nationalists had been celebrating a primeval, immutable and rather ahistorical “Korean-ness” since the last precolonial decade (the 1900s), the Marxists—strongly influenced by Otto Bauer’s and Joseph Stalin’s understandings of nation as a product of capitalist modernity—started to question the nationalistic approach to Korean identity as a matter of principle by the late 1920s and early 1930s. There was no full agreement among them on how to understand the history of the Korean ethno-nation. Some of them believed that the Korean ethnic core dated back to the age of the Three Kingdoms (the first century BC to AD 668). Others put heavier emphasis on the role of proto-capitalism and markets in the modern development of national consciousness, tracing this development to the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries. This article summarizes these debates—between nationalists and Marxists, and also within the Marxist milieu—and links them to Marxist intellectual developments elsewhere. The author argues that the “proto-constructivist” approach articulated by some colonial-age Marxists was an important counterweight to the nationalist nativism of the 1920s and 1930s and, in the end, made a significant—and still largely unappreciated—contribution to the development of scholarship on Korea’s history and culture.
Keywords: ethno-nation, nationalism, communism, socialism, Comintern, Korea, Paek Nam’un, Hong Kimun
The anarchist movement in colonial Korea (1910–1945) has long been remembered either as a radical and violent chapter of national resistance or as a minor, utopian strand of the broader socialist movement. Both views have some grounding in historical reality, but they also invite neglect of the tremendous cultural influence that anarchist doctrines exerted over a rapidly modernizing colonial nation. Building on recent revisionary studies of anarchism in East Asia, this article traces the ways in which anarchist ideas—particularly Piotr Kropotkin’s theory of anarcho-communism—entered Korean culture via the transnational routes of Japan, China, and Russia and through a painstaking process of adaptation by local writers, poets, and other cultural operators. From Hŏ Munil’s utopian peasant novel, Hwang Sŏgu’s ecopoetry, and Sin Ch’aeho’s revolutionary fantasy fiction, to Yu Ch’ijin’s theory of people’s theater, anarchism had a far more profound and diverse influence on modern Korean culture than has been previously recognized. A defining process in the politics of the 1920s was the ascendance of the term minjung, referring to the ethnonational Korean people. This article identifies popular revolt, mutual aid, and ethical naturalism as the three major themes of colonial anarchism that left an enduring legacy.
Keywords: anarchism, anarcho-communism, colonial Korea, Darwinism, ecopoetry, minjung, mutual aid, naturalism, Piotr Kropotkin, proletarian literature, socialism