[KS] Re: Yuldo

Walter K. Lew Lew at HUMnet.UCLA.EDU
Sun Feb 27 16:29:19 EST 2000

I thank Frank Hoffmann for his astute defense of "Hong Kil-tong chOn" from
John Frankl's bewildering misreadings.  I have seen many prominently
published instances of sloppy Western literary commentary on ChosOn texts,
ranging from naively literal theories of how subjectivity arises in various
genres to assimilation of women's roles in the _minjung_ movement to an
interpretation of the "Tale of Ch'unhyang" that assumed that the brief
excerpt published in a commonly used anthology was the entire work. But
this instance is a particularly striking example of...what?

I assume that either Mr. Frankl is working with another version of the
tale, in which case I'd be fascinated and wd like to see a citation of the
text, even a posting of the relevant passages, or that he dashed his
message off in an unthinking moment (many of us have done likewise--it's
somewhat in the nature of e-mail).  In any case, I do hope that he can find
the time to clarify what his argument or intention is in regard to this
truly important work.

Yours, Walter K. Lew

>Dear John, and others:
>Is this true? Can you deconstruct one of my literary heroes just like that?
>(1) You wrote: "Ultra-trickster Hong murders the existing king of Yuldo ..."
>Wrong. Kil-tong and his men fight one battle upon landing on Yul-do.
>After that the king of Yul-do surrenders. However, in the Hong
>Kil-tong piece that I know Hong offers the surrendered king the
>second highest government post -- the former king accepts and becomes
>hereby Prince Ûiryông; in other words, he is nominally adopted by
>Hong Kil-tong as his son -- that makes quite a difference. Kil-tong
>pacifies the members of the former government; he does not murder
>them. Also, there are a number of sentences that very clearly
>indicate social reform, one has of course to read such a text as a
>literary work from the 16th or early 17th century, and possibly
>compare this to similar works -- e.g., from Europe of the same time
>(Till Eulenspiegel, etc.). In an analyses, emphasizing the
>"shortcomings" of the text in offering a theoretical-analytical
>concept of a "political correct" Utopia almost 300 years before Marx
>and 350 years before Martin Luther King seems to me
>counter-productive in understanding this great piece of literature.
>In art history (East or West) we always look at models, at given
>constructs that change only over time. When we look at paintings by
>Chông Sôn, one of the great masters of the mid-Chosôn period, then we
>can certainly say -- well, in his paintings we see that almost all
>the elements (houses, rocks, bamboo depictions, etc.) are taken out
>of Chinese painting manuals such as the _Mustard Seed Garden..._. And
>that's true for all others painters of this period as well. So,
>Korean painting is a copy of Chinese painting. With such an
>interpretation we are back to the 1880s; I don't think that this is
>necessary were we want to go. What we see here are patterns that are
>widely used, and the "genius" (dislike that word, but let me use it
>here to make my point not too complicated) of each painter or writer
>is in how he used these pattern, how freely he plays with them, in
>how many nuances he knows to use them, and also, how well he ignores
>them if this can enhance his work.
>(2) You continued: "... and takes both his daughters as prizes."
>Again wrong. You must be referring to the two daughters of two of
>Hong Kil-tong's associates. They had been kidnapped by the ultong
>monsters. Kil-tong frees them and brings them back to their families.
>They then become his first and second wife (politically incorrect, of
>course, it has to be in consecutive order). All this does not happen
>on Yul-do but on another island, Che-do. Che-do is were Kil-tong and
>his men land before continuing their journey to Yul-do. What is more
>important: there are pretty clear indications that these monsters and
>their king whom Kil-tong kills are other-worldly beings, not humans.
>The freeing of the two girls, I think, is more described in the form
>of taking them back from the other-world to the human world. Now, you
>see this as an indication that the people from the South (southern
>provinces, southern islands) are seen as uncultivated & non-human,
>etc.  While this may also be quite right in general, I would argue
>that the island Yul-do is also in the South, and that the fact that
>the surrendered king of Yul-do becomes a high-ranking member of the
>new government is certainly not reinforcing your observation. Once
>more, I think what we see here is the use of established (at the
>time) literary patterns, and the melting of different literary forms
>(e.g., Buddhist tales) into a new form -- some have called it
>"Räuberroman" (in association with Schiller's _Räuber_). Summa
>summarum: we certainly see the continuous use of established literary
>patterns, parts of other stories and folk-tales show up. But things
>are as things are, says the cow in _Babe_ ..... focusing on these
>patterns (which, to be sure, often stay for Neo-Confucian political
>and sociopolitical concepts), in my humble opinion, completely misses
>what this wonderful piece is about.
>>  > Dear list members,
>>>  The name Yuldo, however, does bring up some interesting questions for the
>>>  entire list. I believe we all tend to read Hong Kildong chon from Hong's
>>>  perspective. He is a soja and we empathize with his plight and search for
>>>  equality. What we often miss is the whole Yuldo trip. We see it, see
>>>  above, as some type of utopia to counter the oppressive Choson. But we
>>  > often miss how Hong establishes this "utopia." Ultra-trickster Hong
>>  > murders the existing king of Yuldo, and takes both his daughters as
>>  > prizes. He also sets up a mini-Choson on the island; there is no talk of
>>>  social reform, liberation of slaves, monogamy, etc. Although there is word
>>>  of his going back to Choson to peform chesa as a filial son. Finally, the
>>>  island's aboriginal inhabitants are depicted as near beasts, a literary
>>>  "technique" echoing all the way into modern lit.
>>>  John Frankl
>        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
>Frank Hoffmann * 4903 Manitoba Dr.#202 * Alexandria, VA 22312 * USA
>E-MAIL: hoffmann at fas.harvard.edu  *  FAX: (520) 438-4890
>W W W : http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~hoffmann/

Walter K. Lew
11811 Venice Blvd.  #138
Los Angeles, CA  90066


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