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Distance as Anti-Nostalgia: Memory, Identity, and Rural Korea in Yi Sang’s “Ennui”

From: Journal of Korean Studies
Volume 17, Number 1, Spring 2012
pp. 39-68 | 10.1353/jks.2012.0009

Abstract

Abstract:

In 1935 Yi Sang made an unexpected sojourn to the village of Sŏngch’ŏn in rural northern Korea. His brief stay there, sandwiched as it was between a life spent almost entirely in Seoul and an untimely death in Tokyo, left significant lingering impressions on the author and his work. Yi penned at least six essays dealing with various aspects of his experiences in the north. This leads many to lump the six together as his “Sŏngch’ŏn kihaeng” (Sŏngch’ŏn Travel Writings). As might be expected, the contents of the essays do share a certain degree of overlap, and thus allow some productive comparisons. In other crucial respects, however, they are quite different. Only two of them were written in Korean, marked by the author as having been completed, and published in the 1930s, and only one while Yi was still alive. The two essays written in Korean—“Lingering Impressions of a Mountain Village” and “Ennui”—display several salient points of divergence. The latter was written from Tokyo, and, rather than engendering nostalgia for what some would later presume to call “his native land,” Yi’s distance affects a negative distortion of memory, an actual anti-nostalgia for rural Korea.



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