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In Session: Rethinking the Cold War amid the Global Pandemic: Literature, Film, and Media of and beyond Divided Korea
1: (Mis)Understanding the Cold War: On the Making of National Literature in Two Koreas
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Ji Young Kim
Queens College, City University of New York, United States
Since the division of the Korean Peninsula in 1945, two divergent Korean literatures came to play a part in reinforcing Cold War ideologies; A history of post-1945 Korean literature is a history of Cold War literature. This paper examines the ways in which early North and South Korean literature responded to, and negotiated with, the imposing Cold War configuration and foregrounds ambiguity and confusion in the embodiment of Cold War themes as a way to read local struggles against the new global order. Several literary works in the late 1940s and early 1950s by Korea’s canonical writers, such as Kim Tongni and Yi Kwangsu in South, and Han Sŏrya in North, convey strong state ideologies but often seem to betray their apparent messages. Yi Kwangsu’s anticommunist novel goes off on the wrong track by targeting American culture (not communist China’s), which reveals the author’s misinterpretation of anticommunism and ROK’s new relationship with the US. Kim Tongni creates a right-wing protagonist as an idealized leader of the nation, but the protagonist’s pursuit of the nation’s decolonization undermines the novel’s anticommunist theme. In Han Sŏrya’s short story, the author’s pro-Soviet messages backfire when he exaggerates a traumatized Russian soldier’s deranged acts against Koreans. By tracing the confusions and conflicts in those texts, this paper aims to demonstrate how literature worked to subvert Cold War ideas from within, and eventually how reluctance and resistance to the extreme rivalry became invisible in the two Cold War literary histories.