Friday, September 16, 2016

The Mission: Interpreting North Korean fiction for a foreign audience

Greetings and welcome! This site was created to increase awareness and understanding of North Korean state-produced fiction, an important element in the country's socialist education and myth-creation system.

The idea is that I will read as much as my ability and time permits, and post my own summaries here for the benefit of English-speaking audiences who would otherwise be unable to access this linguistically challenging but fascinating literature. I will provide translations of short excerpts of particularly interesting passages as well as summaries and analyses of broader themes, focusing on short stories due to unavoidable time limitations.

It is not my intention to turn this into a humor blog or a compendium of North Korean absurdity - there is plenty of that to be found elsewhere on the web. I  will endeavor to maintain a respectful objective distance in my analyses. Comments are always welcome, but any condescending, mocking or hostile commentary will be promptly deleted.

As a political scientist, I am not formally trained in literary analysis and cannot evaluate this work on its literary merits. The analysis here will instead focus on the political motivations and ideals reflected in the works I read. North Korean literature is unique in the world today as a body of work that is controlled and produced exclusively according to the prerogatives of the state and the ruling Party, which funds, oversees and controls all aspects of cultural production. As such, a careful analysis can offer significant insight into the beliefs, hopes, dreams and anxieties of an otherwise very closed-off regime. It also allows us to observe the ways that the literature and language of the two Koreas have diverged over time. As one who has read a fair amount of South Korean literature in the process of learning Korean, I will endeavor where possible to highlight differences in terms of language and style.

For more details on how I got started with this project and some of my key findings to date, please see the following video:

I am assisted in this research by a generous research grant from the Fulbright Foundation and am working under the guidance of Dr. Lim Soon-hee, an emeritus research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) who has spent decades studying North Korean literature. Dr. Lim advises me in selecting works to read and interpreting difficult passages. The opinions and analysis contained in this blog are mine alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of Dr. Lim, KINU or the Fulbright Foundation.