Sunday, May 15, 2005

Celebrating my Birthday with Korean Traditional Drama

No, I didn't attend a performance yesterday. Rather, I 'celebrated' most of the day sitting at my desk editing articles on traditional Korean drama that have been collected for publication in a book. I didn't know anything about this subject before, and I don't know much now, but some of the articles were informative and interesting.

Particularly sticking in my mind are two characteristics of the traditional Korean stage: 1) emptiness and 2) openness.

The expression "empty stage" refers to the traditional stage's lack of props. Lacking these, Korean actors had to use lines and gestures to convey setting.

The expression "open stage" refers to the traditional stage's lack of walls. Performances took place outside and encouraged interaction between actors and audience.

I can imagine that these were characteristic of traditional Western folk drama, and some of the articles note this but could have said more. A number of the articles also refered to similarities with postmodern drama in the West but didn't provide enough careful comparisons to substantiate the allusions. So, the references remain tantalizing . . . just out of my intellectual grasp.

One otherwise excellent article attempted to link changes in the Korean traditional drama with a shift in patronage from the aristocracy to the "emerging bourgeoisie." My reaction was: "What 'emerging bourgeoisie'?!" The expression seemed like a nod to leftist historical analysis, for it was otherwise unmotivated by the article's principle concerns. Be that as it may, my impression from reading Korean history is that the failure of a bourgeiosie to emerge was one factor contributing to Korea's weakness in the 19th century. But perhaps somebody can set me straight on this.

I'm hoping that the publisher will give me a free copy so that I can read the articles at more leisure. For anyone who's never edited, you probably won't know that we editors spend so much time focusing on details like punctuation, grammar, and word choice that we often miss the big picture. To really understand, we have to go back and read the edited text in a different way -- less attuned to the mechanics and more attuned to the broader themes.

The latter is how I'd prefer to read.


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