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Voices from the Straw Mat

Toward an Ethnography of Korean Story Singing

Chan E. Park

Publication Year: 2003

From its humble "straw mat" origins to its paradoxical status as a national treasure, p'ansori has survived centuries of change and remains the primary source of Korean narrative and poetic consciousness. In this innovative work, Chan Park celebrates her subject not as a static phenomenon but a living, organic tradition adapting to an ever-shifting context. Drawing on her extensive literary and performance backgrounds, Park provides insights into the relationship between language and music, singing and speaking, and traditional and modern reception. Her "performance-centered" approach to p'ansori informs the discussion of a wide range of topics, including the amalgamation of the dramatic, the narrative, and the poetic; the invocation of traditional narrative in contemporary politics; the vocal construction of gender; and the politics of preservation.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xii

If you wish to be a good singer, you must first be a human being,” the elders said. This aphorism sums up the legacy left by my teacher Chŏng Kwŏnjin–sŏnsaengnim, 1 who could not overemphasize the essence of humanity as the fundamental strength in p’ansori, a story-singing tradition from premodern Korea. His prerequisite...

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pp. 1-22

Storytelling takes place in a fundamentally amorphous physical setting, requiring only a teller and a listener. The realm of the story is located within the voice of the teller. A far cry from...

Part One: From Straw Mat to Proscenium and Back

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Introduction to Part One

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pp. 25-26

If art is a reflection of society, it evolves as society changes. Insofar as the society is “a world in becoming, not a world in being,”1 artistic expression as human social metaphor would at its best be in transformative modes. “Meaning” in narrative art is a function of the relationship between...

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1. Locating Kinship

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pp. 27-55

A recent folkloric debate concerns the performative relationship between ritual and entertainment. A particularly engaging issue is how, in the emergence of performance genres from ritual traditions, the concept of performance shifts. No written documents...

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2. Gentrified

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pp. 56-84

P’ansorideveloped in the nineteenth century to become a favored form of entertainment among royal and aristocratic patrons and audiences. Still outcast, it strove to naturalize its own contradictory existence. The language of p’ansori reveals a unique sociolinguistic construction, “keyed” to entertain social superiors. 1 A blend...

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3. "Singing Theater"

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pp. 85-113

Modern Korean drama is often viewed as disconnected from the past. At the inception of modernity, traditional kwangdae accommodated experiments toward the modern. Critical in the shaping of modern Korean drama, they later became excluded in the violent departure toward Westernization. The...

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4. Narrating Faith, Resistance, and Healing

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pp. 114-152

P’ansori’s thematic concerns are often oversimplified as a dichotomy between the folk and the Neo-Confucian. Underneath the dyadic simplicity lies a complex network of themes, ideologies, and applications. From...

Part Two: Ethnography of a Voice

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Introduction to Part Two

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pp. 155-156

In an artistic text, “the language is more than the neutral bearer of meaning. It is part of the meaning. Hence the information of a particular belletristic work can be conveyed only via that particular ordering of language.”1 For an artistic text...

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5. Acquiring Sori

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pp. 157-201

There are three modes of narrativity in p’ansori: sori, the singing; aniri, the speaking; and ch’angcho, the recitative in between singing and speaking. This ethnography of p’ansori singing focuses on the point where narrative lyricism converges with the musical poetics of the sori. This chapter explores...

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6. Narrating the Interior

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pp. 202-213

What does p’ansori singing look like from the interior, from the perspective of the singer, the audience, and the learner? In p’ansori, the physicality of singing is inevitably related to the mentality of the person maneuvering the voice. Beyond the culture of...

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7. Negotiating Tradition, Gender, Self

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pp. 214-232

What little discussion there has been of gender in p’ansori has been more or less limited to psychosociological analyses of females in Confucian narratives. Although women have been narrating these stories for over a century, rarely is anything heard about them besides basic biographical data. Apparently...

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8. The "Authentic" Audience

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pp. 233-245

In labor and in leisure, p’an conceptualizes an imagined frame of participation, where “performance” is sublimated as a ritual process. An art of storytelling is not only developed via “telling” but also tuned in “listening.” In modern...

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9. The Cross-Cultural Voice

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pp. 245-272

Dance and instrumental arts, with their nonverbal modes of communication, freely cross regional and national boundaries. Verbal art for its language-dependency is less able to cross to another shore. In transnational...

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pp. 273-276

A traditional “voice” departs its native land and migrates to a new soil. There, it adapts to a new climate, culture, audience, and language to emerge with a new identity. Its journey invokes the minority discourse of displacement, alienation, and assimilation in America. Eventually...


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pp. 277-299


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pp. 301-311


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pp. 313-327


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pp. 329-338

E-ISBN-13: 9780824865504
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824825119

Publication Year: 2003