Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hwang Sok-yong "anti-American pro North Korean toady"?

Hwang Sok-yong

On a recent post concerning Hwang Sok-yong's reference to smallpox as a 'Western' disease, an anonymous poster left the following comment:
It is well known that Hwang Sok-yong is an anti-American pro North [K]orean toady.
I replied with perhaps more detail than necessary since no evidence was cited, but this point about his putative pro North Korean views is something that I wanted to follow up anyway:
Anonymous, I suppose that I'll find out when I read the book, but my impression is that he's more complex than that, for The Guest was criticized in North Korea -- or, at least, Hwang makes the claim that it was. I'll try to find out for sure, but this sounds plausible since the quote that I noted sounds rather critical of Marxism (as another 'Western' disease).
Here's more precisely what Hwang states in his "Author's Note" to The Guest:
Today, in a district known as Sinch'ŏn in Hwanghae Province, there stands a museum that indicts the American military for the massacre of innocents. The literal translation of the museum's name is "The American Imperialist Massacre Remembrance Museum." Many years ago, when I visited the North, I was given a tour of this museum as a matter of course.

Later on, during my stay in New York, I met a Korean minister named Ryu and heard the eyewitness account of his childhood in Hwanghae Province. Not too long afterwards, in Los Angeles, I was lucky enough to meet another survivor who shared with me her detailed firsthand account of the actual wartime incident that led to the founding of the aforementioned museum.

As it turns out, the atrocities were committed by none other than ourselves, and the inner sense of guilt and fear sparked by this incident helped form the roots of the frantic hatred that thrives to this day. Less than five years ago, when I completed The Guest, I received fierce attacks from both Southern and Northern statists. (pages 8-9)
The term "statists" is a bit odd, especially in connection with South Korea, where I'm unsure what it means, but this hardly sounds like the writing of "an anti-American pro North [K]orean toady." Neither does this passage in the novel itself as the Christian minister Ryu Yosŏp listens to 'witnesses' of the 'American Imperialist Massacre':
Their words flitted past, like short sentences typed out on a keyboard, typing away Yosŏp's past and future. They all said "the American troops," but Yosŏp knew for a fact that the troops had simply been passing through. They were never stationed in Sinch'ŏn; they were in a rush to get further north. Both Yosŏp and his brother Yohan knew for a fact that during those forty-five days, before the arrival of the U.S. troops and after their departure, most of the military strength in the area had consisted of the security forces and the Youth Corps -- all Korean. (page 99)
With passages like these -- clearly contradicting the North's propaganda on the Hwanghae Province 'massacre' -- Hwang Sok-yong can hardly be called a "pro North [K]orean toady."

Perhaps this point was never in serious doubt, but since I've looking into Hwang's reference to smallpox as a Western/western disease, then I felt the point about Hwang's politics needed to be firmly established.

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At 10:32 AM, Blogger Sperwer said...

<>The term "statists" is a bit odd, especially in connection with South Korea, where I'm unsure what it means <>

South Korea is perceived by many, including foreign scholars with no dog in the hunt and without the emotional animus of most on the Korean left and many in the Korean center, as having effectively continued and/or resurrected, and in some respects to have made even more totalizing, the colonial state constructed and imposed by Imperial Japan on Korea during the colonial era. Some are inclined to overlook the fact that the NORK version of glorification of the state was equally if not more repressive, because it was (mis)perceived as being more authentically Korean than the ROK successor/collaborationist regime. Besides its debts to Soviet and Chinese communism, however, the NORK regime in fact also incorporated many former collaborators, albeit not at the highest echelons of state authority as in the ROK. This was particularly true in the field of cultural policy-making and institutions, as described by BR Myers in his book on Han Sǒrya and North Korean Literature(Cornell, 1994)

At 11:27 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I can see that "statist" applies to the Park dictatorship, but The Guest was published around 2001, well into the democratic era, so I wonder who these statists would have been (a few strays, maybe?).

However, this query might be moot, for I've found an online version of Hwang's "Author's Note" (in English), and the term used there is not "statists" but "nationalists" -- my wife had suggested the latter term even before I revealed that I'd found it myself online.

The category "nationalist," though, would include just about every Korean . . .

But enough for now. I'll blog on translation issues again tomorrow.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:50 PM, Blogger Sperwer said...

>I can see that "statist" applies to the Park dictatorship, but The Guest was published around 2001, well into the democratic era, so I wonder who these statists would have been (a few strays, maybe?)<

As far as the Korean left is concerned, all conservatives, including most emphatically the current GNP government, are statists of a specifically Parkian (and hence crypto-Japanese) sort.
The great irony, of course, is that the left does not want to shrink and constrain the state, but just use it for their own purposes.

The leftists call this nationalism, but so do the rightists - both in the interest of putting a positive spin on a very troublesome phenomenon

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, I see. Is Hwang on the left? He also refers to 'statists' in the North as being critical of the novel.

Anyway, I've just now finished the entire book, and while I can see why both sides attacked it, Hwang is rather harder on the 'Christians' than the 'Reds' (to borrow terminology from the book).

One reason might be that Hwang holds the 'Christians' to a higher standard, for when one minister remarks that the Communists slaughtered Christians, too, the response is:

"Well, as you people put it, they weren't believers, were they?"

The one with this retort is himself a Christian, albeit also a Party member, and about the only fully admirable character in the novel, and his point is that Christians were always so sure that they would act in a morally superior manner.

They seem not to have done so . . . not in this novel, anyway.

Jeffery Hodges

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