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In Session: Looking for an Elusive Motherland: Diasporic Koreans in Soviet Union and Japan
4: Russian Hong Kiltong: Koryŏ Saram Literature from Cho Myŏng-hŭi to Aleksandr
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
University of Oregon, United States
The question of what defines Korean literature has become more significant than ever in this day and age, when diaspora has become a mode of existence for countless Koreans since its beginnings in the mid-nineteenth century. Since then and throughout the twentieth century, the migration of Koreans from the peninsula to China, Japan, Russia, the Americas, and elsewhere has been fatefully and inextricably linked to the turbulent changes in modern Korean history as their ancestral land transformed from a feudal monarchy to a colony to (divided) nation-state(s). I explore the question of Korean literature in relation to the literature created by the oldest Korean diaspora group, the Koreans of the former Soviet Union and, now, the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), or the literature of the “Koryŏ saram.” I focus on two writers representing opposite ends of a genealogy – the father of Soviet Korean literature, Cho Myŏng-hŭi, and the contemporary writer Aleksandr Kan. Notwithstanding a migration history marked by violent dislocations and ruptures, as well as difference in language (Cho wrote in Korean; Kan writes in Russian), what emerges is a certain tradition of Koryŏ saram literature wherein a central question is that of the meaning (and perhaps even the very existence) of literature for the diasporic individual and community. Another is the question of identity, connected to the notion of homeland, poised between the diasporic and the national. Examining this literature thus sheds light on the creation of literature in relation to identity, migration, and nationalism.