Notions of the Third World and national literatures in the age of globalization
My topic is ‘Notions of the Third World and national literatures in the age of globalization’. What I will do is talk briefly about globalization first, and then go on to address the notions of the Third World, and then of national literatures, with particular focus on South Korean literary discourse.
So it’s always uncertain how to define the Third World, and once you have defined it, which country to put into it, and which one to exclude. And also, when you have made up the list, you have the problem that these countries are so numerous and diverse, in terms of types, wealth, size and so on, that there’s always some doubt as to whether you could group them together as the Third World. Thus there used to be some talks of the Fourth World to designate those really poor countries in certain parts of Asia and Africa.
In South Korea, too, we have had a lot of debate on this question, but on my part, I chose to get out of the difficulties in a different way. My idea was to get rid of all this tangled debate as to how to classify the Third World by saying that the idea of the Third World, or the purpose of our bringing up the notion of the Third World, is not to divide the world into three parts, but the main use of this term was actually to see the world as a single world; only, to see it not from the point of view of the rich and strong in the so-called First and Second worlds, but from the point of view of ordinary people. That was the way I tried to formulate the Third World perspective, so there’s no need to argue about which country belongs to which part.
So I think the neo-liberal globalization has reached certain limits, and I don’t think any new administration in the United States could quite repair all the damage that has been done. So maybe this is the time for the ordinary people of the world to carry on the impulse of the globalization but in a completely different manner: what we usually call ‘globalization from below’, based on local, national, regional, and worldwide popular solidarities. And I think in this process, the people-oriented global perspective of the so-called Third World or national literature discourses need to be preserved and further developed whether or not we choose to adopt the particular term ‘The Third World’ or ‘national literature’.
Paik Nak-chung is Professor Emeritus of English at Seoul National University, and the registered editor of The Changbi Quarterly.