Fire and Resentment

Pasha Malla presents an interesting perspective on how Korean ideas about emotion relate to Han Kang’s “Human Acts”. Firstly, there’s the idea of hwabyeong (화병 or for those who are rigid traditionalists 火病). Literally fire disease or, to use the obviously contextually intended reading of 火, anger disease. The other concept discussed here, han (한 or once again 恨 if you prefer). I found it interesting that it was this character on its own that was highlighted here as the word most relevant to human acts because my instinctive response was to think of won han (원한 or 怨恨) referring to a grudge or grievance. On further thought however, 한 on its own seems the more appropriate term. Human Acts isn’t a story of those grinding the knife in memory of the wrong that has been done to them but of those bearing the shattered memories of unresolved injustice. In the chapter “the Factory Girl” for instance, the MC’s desire is to bear witness and have her friend survive. Perhaps even to regain a level of dignity as the hangeul 여공 for factory girl (女工) can also be read as dutchess (女公).

The English translation more than anything serves to highlight the nature of Han Kang’s style in the original Korea. No different fonts for the recording. Not even any speech marks. On one hand, this could be seen as a desire to have the text be a direct reporting not of the past but of the survivor’s own recounting in the present. The flashbacks then aren’t a portrayal of the past but of the survivor’s reporting of the past As Deborah Smith states “The past is not presented as past—neither antecedent to, nor separate from, the present.”. However, the use of the second person in certain passages presents a slightly different perspective: almost as if though the reader is being put into the role of experiencing the survivor’s thoughts: with all the chaos of the rapid un signposted flashbacks in the Korean version.

Hang Kang’s emphasis then then to a large extent is about the individual perspective over the objective and in a way then, it can be seen as a personal struggle not just against hegemonic oppression but one’s EXPERIENCE of it. At the same time however, there is a sense of regionalism or regional culture running as a very thin strand through the book such as when in Chapter 6, a regional dialect is used to show that the regional or cultural nature of the conflict along with the personal and political one

EA Video Interview 6: Interview with another Gwanghamun protestor

Last but not least, I talked once again to another Sin Doo Gyu who has been participating in the Gwanghamun protests even during the coronavirus. Due to the somewhat hectic nature of the protests, my interviews tended to be quite short so I wanted an opportunity to really sit down and talk to someone about their motivations for joining the protests. Once again the reason that came up was North Korea and communism. He said that he participated in the protests because he wishes for Korea “to maintain a liberal democratic system” which seemed to be a reasonably common theme amongst other protestors from before too along with fear of communism. A lot of what was said is roughly aligned with what I heard at the protests but this allowed for a longer discussion in a less chaotic environment

EA Video Interview 4: Counterprotestor to the Gwanghamun protests

(Discloser: I am not following a strict chronological order with the numbering here). Of course, given all the coverage of protests by those who would likely be considered to have quite extreme views by Korean standards, the question arises if everyone who is engaged in protests share those views and it seems that is not necessarily the case. Along with the Gwanghamun protests I brought up previously, there was also a set of counterprotests and I managed to get into contact with a student who had participated there by the name of Na Geon Woo. He said that he supports the Democratic Party but that doesn’t mean he believes everything they say is perfect. He seemed to be far more of a moderate voice and therefore shared a lot of his views on motivations of those engaged in political activity from further right or left on the political spectrum.

EA Video Interview 3: A voice from the governing party

As I’d spent all this time looking into opposing voices, I figured it was only fair to hear out the Democratic Party of Korea. The party currently in government. I had the perfect opportunity to do this through an interview with one of the secretaries to the current parliamentary head of the party, Jo Yo Han. Perhaps given his official status, he seemed somewhat reticent to answer questions fully but I had this opportunity to bounce off of him some of the things I’d been hearing in previous interviews. For example, when it came to relations with North Korea which seemed to be a major issue amongst right wing protestors he said that “I believe that the government is being patient and doing really well although more patience may be needed in the future”.

EA Video Interview 2: Discussions with a Korean socialist

My second interview with the Korean left came in the form of an interview with a member of the 사회변혁노동자당: Yi Baek Yun (just to throw that in here: romanizations of names are my own as are, once again, all translations). Roughly translated as the social change worker’s party which he described as a party that believes that believes that “this capitalist system cannot be reformed part by part and requires fundamental change which is a very extreme progressive view in Korea”. This was quite interesting as firstly, socialism in Korea is pretty rare but also since he seemed to espouse the most radically left wing views of anyone I’d talked to and it was a chance to look at the social-economic issues the left sees in Korea today as well as to look at the way they express such views such as through labour movements.

EA Video Interview 1: Member of the Unified Progressive Party

My first contact with the Korean left after those protests was in the form of an interview with Gang Han Soo. A member of the now forcibly dissolved Unified Progressive Party. He discussed, among other things, the potential for social democracy in Korea stating for example that “although it’s impossible for everyone to be equal shouldn’t there at least be equality of opportunity or a framework for fair competition”although he also said that from the perspective of youth today it would be better to avoid looking at things from the perspective of ideologies but instead look at them from the perspective of how best to improve society.This interview would be most useful as my exposure to the progressive left in Korea.

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