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  • 조선시대 달력의 변천과 세시의례. Chosŏn sidae tallyŏk ŭi pyŏnch’ŏn kwa sesi ŭirye [Calendar change and seasonal rites during the Chosŏn dynasty] by 이창익 Chang-ik Yi
  • Dong-kyu Kim
조선시대 달력의 변천과 세시의례. Chosŏn sidae tallyŏk ŭi pyŏnch’ŏn kwa sesi ŭirye [Calendar change and seasonal rites during the Chosŏn dynasty]. By 이창익 Chang-ik Yi, Seoul: Ch’angbi, 2013, 363p.

The modern concept of time as uniform, objective, and homogenous has played an important role in unifying the Korean people—socially, economically, and politically. However, at the same time, it is also assumed that modern time has resulted in the elimination of the sacred from the ordinary world by its designation of various spatio-temporal practices, which were conducted following the traditional calendar, as superstition. In accordance with the devaluation of the religious aspects of the traditional calendar as superstitious, most studies of traditional Korean concepts of time have been constructed by focusing on the scientific aspect of the calendar. This book tries to redeem the religious aspects of the traditional calendar from the discourse of superstition, something which differentiates it from other studies.

The book, revised from the author’s 2005 doctoral dissertation “A Study on the Cosmological Complexity of Calendar in the Late Chosŏn Dynasty,” consists of four main parts along with an introduction, conclusion, and appendix. In the first part, which deals mainly with the nature and constituting principles of the Sihŏllyŏk 時憲曆, the official calendar used during the Chosŏn dynasty, the author, as a preliminary step, identifies the general nature of time that is represented by a calendar with reference to various theories of the calendar. In particular, based upon an idea that a calendar renders time to be something “socially constructed and essentially non-temporal” (pp. 38–39), he argues that “a calendar is a device by which humans can control time” and “communicate cosmological and mythical time” (p. 40). According to the author, to identify the social nature of a calendar is very important for understanding the structure of the Sihŏllyŏk because the calendar is characterized by different representations of time: the astronomical and the astrological. It is important here that these two kinds of time-representation are not simply paralleling but justifying each other [End Page 197] while orchestrating both everyday life and the ritual life of the Chosŏn people. Furthermore, the calendar is characterized by multi-time cycles that are produced through the combination of various constituting elements, such as ŭmyang-ohaeng, the sexagenary cycle, the Eight Trigrams, and so forth. Although these elements are irrelevant to astronomical time, they served to construct the micro-distinction of the propitious and the unpropitious through the calendar-annotation (yŏkchu 歷註). In this sense, he argues that the traditional calendar gave an order and rhythm to the everyday life of the Chosŏn people while also functioning as a classificatory system. The “magico-religious meaning” of the calendar, which the author seeks to argue for throughout this book, is also explained in the same vein; that is to say, through the reinterpretation of cosmological time in astrological terms, such as through propitious and the unpropitious days, the calendar not only provided a cosmological meaning to the mundane life of humans but also justified particular ritual practices.

Part two pays more attention to the calendar-annotation of the Sihŏllyŏk, while dealing with the issue of how human actions are spatio-temporally coordinated. As mentioned briefly in the first part, the astrological meaning and role of the Sihŏllyŏk is well expressed in the calendar-annotation that dictates how to set a date or a direction for human actions. However, if the first part focuses more on the inter-relationship between two representations of time, in the second part the author explores in detail how human actions are strongly regulated by the astrological interpretation of time. In the meantime, human actions, set by the temporal rhythm, cannot but be regulated by spatiality because they presuppose movements in specific places. At this juncture, the calendar-annotation connects temporality to spatiality. In addition, such spatio-temporal related regulations as dictated by the calendar-annotation demand an agent who...