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Dr Jerome De Wit: Rousing the Reader to Action: North Korean Literature from the Korean War (1950-1953)

  • Project Room, 50 George Square, University of Edinburgh (map)

Speaker: Dr Jerome De Wit (Assistant Professor, Tübingen University)

Date:       Monday, February 13th
Time:      5:30pm-7pm
Venue:    Project Room, first floor, 50 George Square, University of Edinburgh

North Korean wartime literature has never been valued highly by literary scholars. The lack of literary qualities in these wartime stories have deterred many from looking more seriously at this type of literature as its heroes, seemingly without any obstacles in their way, defeat the enemy and attain victory.
Add to this that North Korean literature has a subservient role to the demands of the Communist Party and the North Korean leaders, and it is obvious why one would shy away from analysing these texts.

However, even under such conditions of prescribed rules and top-down directives, the writer still needs to imbue the story with sufficient literary qualities to make it interesting to readers. This is because the author is still constrained by the fact that the novel should not stray too far from reality or else the reader will not be persuaded. The author, therefore, also needs to address issues that are politically and socially sensitive in society. Condemnation of these issues in itself is not enough: to make an ideological claim the issue needs to be foregrounded, and the author must give a satisfactory interpretation of the issue.

This led to the creation of quite interesting propaganda literature in wartime North Korea: The characters are imbued with heroic but down-to-earth characteristics that portray both the wartime experiences of North Korean soldiers and citizens, but also express the reader’s wartime concerns.
Jerôme de Wit received his Ph.D. from Leiden University, Netherlands. He is a Korean specialist on North and South Korean Wartime Literature and modern Korean culture. He is the author of articles that have appeared in the Memory Studies Journal and in several Korean journals. His research interest in Korean culture is focused on public discourses concerning history and society and how cultural sources can provide us with different viewpoints on debates such as nationalism, identity, and history. His recent projects deal with such topics as postcolonialism in contemporary South Korean alternate history novels, a study on North Korean children’s animated cartoons, and a study on the representation and the changes in identity in the literature and movies of ethnic Koreans in China. He has been a Research Fellow at both the Asiatic Research Insitute (Korea University, 2012) as well as the Kyujanggak (Seoul National University, 2014).