From a Theory of Citizen Literature to the Discourses of Overcoming Modernity
Paik Nak-chung’s theoretical works on modernity and postmodernity emerged above the horizon in the early 90s, some years after two great, national and global, political upheavals: in 1987, the Korean people finally succeeded in taking back democracy, at least in the formal and procedural dimension, from more than a quarter century of military regime; a year after, the so-called existing socialist states collapsed.
The successful democratization, combined with the collapse of the socialist states helped make the values the Korean people have grappled with suddenly look obsolete, so that many Korean scholars moved to the right. In fact, a considerable part of those who ‘turned coats’ were at the progressive camp, thinking that the triumph of capitalism was absolute and left them no other option than a postmodern version of Weltanshauung to understand the world as it was unfolding in front of their eyes.
Paik Nak-chung also changed his theories at the face of new-fangled political situations, arguing that the Korean society reached a new phase. Instead of following the then prevalent climate of the Korean academia or forsaking the ‘old’ values as obsolete, however, he developed two new theories, the Discourses of Division System, and the Discourses of Overcoming Modernity, one by one, responding to the nature of the new challenges the Korean society faced.
What is fascinating about his theorization is the fact that those newly coined discourses are not wholly new, but, as is argued here, that it should be aligned on the framework of his earlier arguments: the content changed, however, with its framework left almost intact. Then, this article is aimed to chart the way his theorization has been changed at the fresh challenges of the Korean society and, nevertheless, the way it has kept its essentials, refusing an easy dichotomy between modernity and postmodernity.
Keywords: Paik Nak-chung; Immanuel Wallerstein; Enrique Dussel; Theory of Citizen Literature; Discourses of National Literature ; Discourses of Division System; Discourses of Overcoming Modernity; Postmodernism; the Third World literature; the Enlightenment; Post-colonialism.
Prof Song Seung-Cheol 송승철 began his study of English at Seoul National University, where he met Paik Nak-chung at the graduate program, when the latter was finally reinstated at the University nearly 10 years after he was deprived of his professorship because of his dissident political views. Prof Song continued to study critical theories and cultural studies at University of South Carolina. He published many articles on modern critical theories, British and American cultural studies, war literature, and Korean literature. Now he teaches at Hallym University, mostly reading materials related to the conceptual history.