Monday, February 8, 2010


Chul Baik (백철)

Born in 1908, died in 1985

Studied in Tokyo

Professor of SNU at the department of Korean language and literature (1952~)

Professor of Joongang University (1955~1973)

Exchange professor at Yale and Stanford (1957)

Wrote many books on Korean literature including History of Korean literature, Theory of Korean literature...

And called as Marxist in his times.

If this information is right, I think I can introduce you to some SNU professor(s) who study and admire you grandfather.

Reply to my email please.

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This is a project that has been in the making for several years, one that I've discussed, loosely, with my sisters and close friends.

The point of this blog to log any associative (yet hopefully productive) thoughts that come out during this research project. Each post is not intended to be a neat package of "facts." Each post, though, will strive to articulate some kind of discovery.

The basic premise of this project is to learn as much as I can about my grandfather's work, and to see what comes out of my research.

A helpful framework and one I've sorely needed:

I'm currently pursuing an independent study with a professor in the East Asian Department here at NYU, Henry Em, who has helped lay out a reading list that will help me become more familiar with the literary context that my grandfather found himself situated in (reading his work will take some time, most likely an intensive study of Korean).

Some other "facts":

He was a writer writing in several languages: Hangul, Hanja (Chinese characters incorporated into the Korean language, with Korean pronunciation), Japanese. During much of his career, he was writing during the Japanese colonial era (1910-1945) where Hangul was banished, at least in the public sphere, in every public and educational institution. He was educated in Tokyo (as many Korean intellectuals were at that time). Despite his own Marxist past, he was accused of being a Japanese collaborator.

My first reading "assignments":

*Yi Kwang-su and Modern Korean Literature: Mujong (Cornell East Asia Series:2005).

There are also two accompanying essays by Hwang Jongyon.


My starting-off point is merely a (more) substantial attempt.


My initial thought is that I will write a fictionalized memoir.

But why fictionalized? Because the idea of memoir invokes its own set of problems -- that of memorializing the author's idea of a person, rather than articulating a "true" account of the subject being written about.

A "real" memoir would be impossible; to even attempt a full recuperation seems false.


The email that begins this post is the first "big" email I received, in regards to my grandfather's work.

It came in the summer of 2006. It was written by the then "PR manager" of Seoul National University.

This was also the first time I had returned to Korea, after my family and I immigrated to the US, in July 1984.

It was also the first time that I spent time with my grandmother (paternal side) since her visit to my parents' home, years back, in California; I must have been in third grade or so. To put it simply, my mother and my father's mother did not get along, and partly, it was this familial tension that my grandfather (and his work) was rarely talked about.


A few summers later, my grandmother passed away.

It was an evening in late June?

I was staying just outside of Boulder, by the Eldorado Mountains, as a fellow at Naropa University's Summer Writing Program.

I remember this evening, because I had just finished Kristin Prevellet's "memoir" on her own father (who killed himself), a longer, graceful essay, interspersed with disparate poems.

The book recalls, articulates a kind of broken reflection that didn't leave me feeling broken, only wondering on what happens after grief, grieving (if this is a process that ever actually has a clear ending), and how we think about grief in order to write its experience and impact(s).

The book is entitled I, Afterlife: Essay in Mourning Time.

I sent a very brief email out to some close friends on the book. I find the email now. I wrote

"high recommendation:::

kristen prevellat's [I, Afterlife] [Essay In Mourning Time]. it's a
quietly devastating book that describes grieving,
and delves into the sterile language that society uses
to 'record' death."

I realized many months later (early fall) that I had sent this email out the same evening my grandmother passed away.

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