Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Yi Kwang-su on Milton's Satan - Of the Devil's Party, but Knowing it?

Choi Chongko
Photo from Center for Korean Studies
University of Hawaii at Manoa

In his book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793), William Blake wrote that Milton was "of the Devil's party without knowing it." Perhaps a youthful Yi Kwang-su was similar - except for the "without knowing" part - for I've recently read of Yi Kwang-su's love for Milton's Paradise Lost and his admiration for the 'heroic' figure of Satan there. I posted a bit about this on the Milton List:
[H]ere's something on Yi Kwang-su's appreciation of Milton:
Yi also felt drawn, however, to the poetry of Byron and Milton because he thought it expressed a Satanic passion that contrasted with the morality of Tolstoy. Yi had been awestruck by the defiant pride of Cain in Byron’s poetry. He admired, moreover, the image of Satan in Milton’s “Paradise Lost”: “I found his Satan heroic, falling to Hell after failing in his effort to lead a rebellion to dethrone God, and standing in the midst of the eternal flames of Hell, arms crossed, refusing to abandon his defiant will. I myself wanted to become a disciple of Satan and follow him.” (page 252)
Ann Sung-hi Lee, "The Early Writings of Yi Gwang-su," Korea Journal, Vol. 42, No. 2, 2002 (pp. 241-278).
I then realized that most scholars on the list would have no idea who Yi Kwang-su was, so I added a follow-up post:
I might add that Yi Kwang-su's interest in Milton is perhaps more than a curiosity.

Yi was more than a novelist, though he is considered to have written the first modern Korean novel (Heartless). He was a poet and a man of letters, a translator and a thinker, a Korean nationalist who ultimately worked with the Japanese colonialists, and possibly the central literary figure during the interwar years, a man who was abducted by the North Korean army during the Korean War (he died in captivity) and whose legacy continues to be disputed by the left and the right.

The passage . . . [above in my first post to the Milton List] was written by Yi's grandaughter, and since she gives no citation, I conclude that the quote on Satan comes from Yi's unpublished journals (which she refers to in the context). I suspect there's more there on Milton. Perhaps a Korean scholar on Milton could look into this.
I then decided to ask an expert, Professor Choi Chong-ko:
You might be interested to know that I posted . . . [about Yi Kwang-su] on the Milton List . . . [because Yi cited Satan in Paradise Lost, as I learned in a journal article by] Prof. [Ann Sung-hi] Lee, [who,] however, did not provide a citation. I'm inferring that she's quoting an unpublished journal.
Professor Choi replied, referring to Yi Kwang-su by his pen name, Chunwon:
[T]hanks for your inspiring message. I guess, Prof. Ann Lee's "Early Writing" means Chunwon's diary of 1909/10. Sure, Chunwon fell in [with] Byron and Satanism shortly as a young writer and intellect, but it was just an experience and temptation. The Korean text of the diary is to be contained in my coming book "My Life: Chunwon's Autobiography" published soon.
That should prove interesting, if my wife can take a look at the passage, which is in Korean. I wonder if Yi's identification with Milton's Satan was motivated by Korean nationalist feelings directed against the Japanese imperial domination over Korea since Japan had held sway over Korea since 1905 (though colonization began in 1910). Professor Choi considers Yi's admiration of Satan to be a folly of his youth, but even youthful follies have their reasons . . .

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At 4:19 PM, Anonymous Charles Montgomery said...

Well. as Yi's life was a succession of various follies, I wouldn't discard any particular one.^^

At 5:46 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

One has to err many times to prove oneself human and to attain learnéd ignorance . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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