THE LITERARY VALUE OF SIN CH’AE-HO’S
DREAM SKY: A MARGINAL ALTERATION OF DANTE’S COMEDY
- Author: PARK SANGJIN
- Publish: Acta Koreana Volume 15, Issue2, p311~340, 00 Dec 2012
The issue of canonicity has been widely discussed, particularly since the spread of cultural influence from the European great powers to the peripheral areas. In the past, the classical canons suppressed differences in locality, gender and generation. What matters now is to recognize the changeability, rather than the constancy, of canonicity which this article intends to observe in the historical and cultural processes of the marginal alteration of a Western canon in modern Korea. Indeed, we need to imagine how a canon exists; it is premised on the dichotomy of center and periphery, yet with its blurring relationship, it repeatedly both negates and maintains itself so as to be highlighted through its literary value. This article takes Sin Ch’ae-ho’s novel
Dream Skyas a good example with which to discern the minute crack of alteration in the configuration of the canon and to scrutinize how it is shown in the peripheral literature. As a novelist as well as a historian and a revolutionary seeking national independence, Sin Ch’ae-ho always thought about the importance and possibility of social practice through literature. His activity as a literary writer partly derived from his understanding of the Italian writer Dante Alighieri; he adored Dante as an enlightened intellectual and recognized his Divine Comedyas the record of his salvation, and in writing Dream Skyhe took it as his own pointer for resisting Japanese imperialism. This article aims to re-evaluate Dream Skyas an aesthetic reconstruction and thus to concentrate on textual analysis, whereby I expect to re-highlight its ability to practice marginal alteration and the work of the dialogical imagination.
alteration , universality , metamorphosis , struggle , allegory
My premise is that the literary value of a text is not located only in the text but also decided and changed according to the context in which the reception of that text occurs. We need to imagine that the literary value of Dante Alighieri’s
Divine Comedyis not fixed in any specific space-time and cultural context, and if there is a Comedyof Italy, there may also be a Comedyof Korea. T.S. Eliot observes that Dante’s language is easier to translate than Shakespeare’s language; in other words, in translating Dante, one can preserve much of the original meaning, which allows the reader to encounter Dante’s language intact.1 Here the “clear direct visuality,” which Dante’s allegory offers, abolishes the distance between language and reality (Eliot, 22).
We might suppose, then, that Dante appealed to Korean readers more strongly or uniquely than other Western writers. If they read Shakespeare, for example, they might have developed a stronger and more obvious cultural infatuation with the West, in that they would be more conscious of learning about and adopting modern Western civilization. By contrast, Dante’s most prevailing influence on them was to encourage them to indulge in literary pleasure while also raising a desire to learn about Western modernity.
I suggest that, unlike the reception of other Western writers, that of Dante in modern Korea was pursued through a reciprocal, horizontal and conversational relationship with the receiver. What made Dante’s literature universal was its power to endlessly alter its own language, rather than succumbing to the hegemony imposed by an imperialist language.2 Although we cannot deny that Dante’s writings were regarded as a symbol of Western enlightenment, and, as such, as a key factor in Korea’s process of modernization, his literature can also be understood as a creative counter-force, an object of powerful resistance to the homogenizing influence of modernity and the modern nation-state system (see Park, Sangjin 2007).
It is for this reason that I turn to the modern Korean writer Sin Ch’ae-ho, who strove to discover literature’s potential for resistance to the totalitarian social and political system established by Japanese imperialist rule, and further to overcome the homogeneity promoted by the nationalist tendencies in East Asia at that time. It is possible to say that Sin Ch’ae-ho wrote his novel
Dream Sky3 under the influence of the Comedy. This is so because, although it is very difficult to find raw materials showing the influence of the Comedyon the Dream Sky, Sin Ch’ae-ho himself was deeply interested in Italy and Dante, and indeed we can see many similarities of structure and contents between the two works; in other words, even though there is no direct influence-relationship, we can infer their relation from the concept of reception. The discipline of comparative literature focuses not so much on what one receives as how one digests and reconstructs the origin of reception, and what meanings one recreates from it in one’s sociohistorical context (Weisstein, 52–53). So I will concentrate in this article on textual analysis of Dream Skyand evaluation of its literary value rather than comparing it directly with the Comedy. In this process, we will be able to investigate the aspect not of unilateral reception but conversational alteration that Dream Skypromoted, and thereby examine its literary value in a more universal dimension. Finally, my discussion will converge on the “alteration” rather than the Comedyin the subtitle of this paper: “a marginal alteration of Dante’s Comedy.”
What the term alteration implies goes beyond a certain kind of adaptation of the
Comedy; it may mean a new form of creative work that Sin Ch’ae-ho produced in response to the demands of the time. There have been many attempts to explain the dissonances between Sin Ch’ae-ho’s political ideology and his literary representation. These encompass recognition of the national incompetence of Korea in his realism, nationalism in his historiography, arguments for the struggle against imperialism in his articles, and anarchist conversion to phantasmagoria in his novels. One of the values of his literary text is that it allows us to seek the modern significance of the attempts to transcend the conflict between those heterogeneous aspects.4
At a time when the style of the modern novel was coming to fulfillment in Korea,
Dream Skyincluded modern reality in its mythological imagination, which had mainly appeared in the traditional Korean war novel or hero novel. That is to say, in Dream SkySin Ch’ae-ho tried to reconstruct the spatial structures and styles of the traditional novel according to his own situatedness. The transcendental space and time that we can observe in Dream Skycan never belong to the modern imagination but insofar as it inherited the structure of the traditional novel via his own sensibility, it was able to represent his contemporary reality successfully (Han Keum-Yun, 153).5
It is difficult to verify whether Sin Ch’ae-ho possessed comparative literature’s concept of alteration; however, we can find the
symptomof this concept in his literature. Sin Ch’ae-ho intended to express himself rather than imitate Dante, which means that his aim was to show his particularity situated in a particular era, or more precisely, his marginality and its irreducibility. Therefore, the traces of alteration in Dream Skydo not necessarily obtain their meaning only by being linked to Dante but have their own independent power and structure inviting open interpretation.
Many papers on the history of modern Korean literature have tended to classify the works of Sin Ch’ae-ho as historical or biographical novels and to define their aims as patriotism and enlightenment. But this vision looks too simple, at least if we note that his texts are too solid and evocative to be defined as such. It is true that his allegories indicate such forms of national consciousness as the national spirit, national striving, historical consciousness and resistance, but, on the other hand, in order to evaluate his text properly, we need to scrutinize the universalizability of the meanings that these allegories may produce. In other words, the concept of marginal alteration leads us to understand the ideas of nation and history, which Sin Ch’ae-ho might have shown in his text, more universally.
1Eliot observes that in the Comedy we can find the “logic of sensibility”; both “logic” and “sensibility” here indicate human abilities that have decidedly allowed Dante the position of a writer and us that of ‘writerly’ readers (Eliot, 32–35). 2On Dante’s linguistic experiment to establish a de-centering language, see his usage of vernacular Italian in the Divine Comedy and his discussion of it in De Vulgari Eloquentia. 3Series of Tanjae Sin Ch’ae-ho. ed. by The Club of Commemoration for Tanjae Sin Ch’ae-ho. (Seoul: Hyungseol. 1995. vol. 2), 174–224. Hereafter cited as Series. 4In relation to this point, Choi Su-Jung’s statement is worth citing: “The characteristics of the structure and phantasmagoria in Sin Ch’ae-ho’s literature shows his individual recognition of reality and his power of material imagination that were all possible from his features of literary man and fighter at his time. As we see from his moderated representations, his literature is the result of both ideological attitude and radical imagination.”(Choi Su-Jung. p. 197). On the other hand we can refer to the argument that his novels contributed to the development of modern Korean literature by virtue of their heterogeneous peculiarity in comparison with other novels at that time. The literary writing of Sin Ch’ae-ho leads us to question what modern Korean literature is. His recognition and practice of literature differs from the concept and writings that the mainstream of modern Korean literature had hitherto produced. We need to consider that his particularity has the possibility of overthrowing the mainstream. On this kind of discourse, see Lee Dong-Jae. 5According to Min Chan, this is actually an original modern style of writing because it is traditional. “It is noteworthy that Sin Ch’ae-ho’s traditional form and methodology succeeded as a kind of post-modern literature. At his time when the fact that the traditional literature and modern literature were divided was approved tacitly, he developed his own way of writing though it was to some extent closer to the traditional literature, which can be regarded as an important example with which to explore the universal role of literature.” (Min Chan, 90).
In 1907, as Korea was coming under Japanese imperialist rule, Sin Ch’ae-ho translated the
Story of Three Heroes in Building Italy(意大利建國三傑傳) by the Chinese writer Lian Chi Ciao(梁啓超). This was intended to indicate a Korean way of coping with modernization and imperialism, drawing on the historical examples of Garibaldi, Mazzini, and Cavour in the Italian Risorgimento, the process of building up the modern-nation-state in Italy. Here Dante is described as a pioneer, patriot and great poet who yearned for the unification of his country, and in whom Sin Ch’ae-ho wanted to find hope for Korea. He paid special attention to the modern history of Italy and wrote an article “The Oriental Italy” in a newspaper Taehanmaeil-sinboin 19096, which shows that he was already equipped with some knowledge of Italy. He hoped to project the future of Korea along the lines of the reconstruction and independence of Italy and argued that the country could become an ‘oriental Italy’. Perhaps Sin Ch’ae-ho himself also dreamed of becoming the ‘oriental Dante’.
Sin Ch’ae-ho’s interest in Dante is evident in his novel
Dream Sky, written in 1916 in Beijing, the place of his exile. However, it could not be published at that time and only became available later in the Series of Sin Ch’ae-ho.7 Therefore, although he supposedly wrote it taking his contemporary readers into consideration, the readers who actually read and evaluated his novel were the people of almost a half century later. This means that the sociological-receptional approach to the contemporary meaning of Dream Skymight be less meaningful than that based on the text itself which leads us to an aesthetic evaluation.
In general this approach is related to the canonization of a text insofar as it allows us to re-highlight its literary values from diverse aspects; yet in the case of
Dream Sky, this becomes more complex in that the text was a result of a response to a so-called canonical work: the Divine Comedy. It would not be an overstatement to say that the value of Dream Skyis that it shows that literature can reflect the particular or regional contexts by adapting a canonical work according to the particular situation of the margin.
Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, there is no direct evidence that Sin Ch’ae-ho had direct contact with Dante’s
Comedy. However, Dante was already a well-known writer in Korea at the time, so we can infer that he gained some knowledge of Dante, and it is possible that he read the Comedytranslated into Japanese.8 How can I guess that? I can do so because Sin Ch’ae-ho was so interested in the independence movement in Italy and recognized Dante as an intellectual who practiced enlightenment and liberty. But more interestingly, Dream Skyand the Comedyshow a strikingly similar structure, technique, and subject in their narratives. It would be very difficult to say that it is just by chance, and even if it is just by chance, highlighting those similarities is undoubtedly important for understanding not only their literary values but more crucially their relevance to such up-to-date issues as marginal alteration of the canon.
Sin Ch’ae-ho, as the writer of
Dream Sky, intended a marginal alteration, not a unilateral reception, of the literary values of the universalized center (the Comedyby Dante) and, as a post-nationalist and anarchist theorist, pursued the practice of enlightenment by interpreting national history in such a way as to escape from narrow nationalism. This shows how alteration on the margins helps to construct true universal value in the literary and ideological dimensions.
It has been taken for granted that Sin Ch’ae-ho accepted the survival of the fittest, as supported by the theory of social evolution, which was no more than the basic logic of imperialism. (Park, No-Ja 2005a, 244) This was a sort of intellectual surrender. (Park, No-Ja 2005a, 243). In the same way, the evaluation that the anarchist revolutionary Sin Ch’ae-ho was overwhelmed by the nationalist Sin Ch’ae-ho, who was injured by imperialism, might be more appropriate for him as the author of
Dream Sky. (Choi, 27)
However, it is worthwhile to re-highlight the symptoms of trans-nationalism in
Dream Sky, which can be found in his attempts to overcome nationalism as an ideology and simultaneously to seek the site and sociohistorical meaning of nationalism in his reality.9 Sin Ch’ae-ho was a representative intellectual who pursued this kind of discourse through literary writing; he thought that the only freedom he could enjoy under the current oppression was to produce imaginative writing based on historical facts and to publish it so as to sympathize with the society of his day. In fact, in Dream Skyhe warns us not to commit the error of following America and Germany.10 Here we can see that his nationalism was no longer the exclusive nationalism based on modern evolutionary theory but a much more advanced type; for him, to imitate the modernized Western countries, as Japan did, could not be the solution.
At the beginning of the 1900s, Sin Ch’ae-ho strived to understand ‘nation’ on the basis of territorial homogeneity and historical continuity, but independently of nationalism as an ideology.11 Henry Em attempts to read Sin Ch’ae-ho’s literature as showing that his freer concept of nation led him to form his (literary) identity as a Korean under Japanese rule in such a way as not necessarily to be homogenized into a nation. (Em 1999a)12 In fact Sin Ch’ae-ho argued that the subject of revolution is no longer a nation but the proletariat, and that only this group would be able to eradicate the institutions that made it possible; here there exists a political program beyond nationalism and historical consciousness outside nationalist discourse.13
Sin Ch’ae-ho’s trans-nationalism should be more actively interpreted in terms of the complex logic of resistance and de-homogenization. This is strictly linked to the issue of ethics; his trans-nationalism makes ethics softer and more context-bound, which is what I describe as responding to the demands of the time. It was
Dream Skythat led or anticipated Sin Ch’ae-ho’s trans-national idea and ethical emotion. As I mentioned above, its writing was bound up with the Comedyby Dante.
Here Weisstein’s statement on the
Comedyis worth quoting:
Sin Ch’ae-ho was also one of those “few poets,” because his work bestowed a particular significance on Korean literature and its readers by rewriting Dante in the colonial period. He pursued a creative betrayal. The term betrayal may suggest that
Dream Skyhas less literary value than the Comedy, but on the other hand, it reminds us more powerfully of the meaning of alteration. When we grasp the relationship between Sin Ch’ae-ho and Dante in terms of alteration rather than influence, we can say that Dante’s text realizes the power of alteration by its ‘betrayal’ in Dream Sky, and that thereby Dante’s greatness is highlighted once again in the context of the Other.
Comedy, Dante gave life to the structure of the afterlife: hell, purgatory and paradise. Sin Ch’ae-ho, in Dream Sky, relocates such order into purgatory-hell-paradise, according to the demands of his time. For Sin Ch’ae-ho, purgatory was a place that reflected human reality in that it offers a chance to purify ourselves of our sins. Sin Ch’ae-ho probably located the purgatorial experience in the first part of his novel because he wanted to foreground the ruin of his country. That is to say, he wanted to remind the Korean people of the historical reasons that they had fallen into the ‘hell’ of colonial reality. In the Purgatory, Dante describes the pilgrim Dante progressing towards salvation. Sin Ch’ae-ho represents purgatory as a place where the Korean people must fight against the great enemy, experience severe trials to reach ‘the country of hope’ and examine their will for patriotism. It seems to show a response to the very urgent demand of the time for resistance to Japanese imperialism.
Interestingly, the seven sins that Dante postulates in the
Purgatoryare pride, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust, which are all related to love (the first three are a perversion of love, the fourth is a sign of defective love, the last three represent excessive love, and love is in fact a more universal concept than national independence in Sin Ch’ae-ho’s case). By contrast, the seven trials to which Sin Ch’ae-ho submits are pain, poverty, envy, wrath, despair, solitude, and lust, which are to be understood in relation to the Korean independence movement. Pain, despair and lust represent the situation that the citizens of the colony must face and overcome. The pilgrim Dante finally purifies all his sins in purgatory and ascends to paradise, while the protagonist of Dream Skydoes not overcome the trials and rather descends to hell. The descent from purgatory to hell in Dream Skycan be understood as a metaphor for the loss of sovereignty of Korea under Japanese rule.
The hell described in
Dream Skyis much simpler than that of Dante. Only two types of souls, the enemy and the traitor to the nation are located there, whereas in Dante’s hell, many types of souls are described. This is because Sin Ch’ae-ho intended to concentrate on the crisis of his country. What he means by the ‘enemy’ are Korean people who are mobilized by Japan or who make a fetish of Japan or marry Japanese people, and what he means by ‘traitors’ are Korean people who live their lives satisfactorily despite the ruin of their country. Sin Ch’ae-ho shows his refusal to allow an inch of compromise with the invaders in the first case, and exposes his resentment towards those who lost their combative spirit in the second.
Dante’s paradise guarantees eternal happiness but Sin Ch’ae-ho’s paradise differs; it was once a peaceful place where the cultural properties of Korea were gathered and where those who had dedicated themselves to the independence of the nation lived, but now it is covered with dust. This ruined paradise symbolizes the reality of Korea under the rule of foreign countries. Sin Ch’ae-ho never allows himself to describe his paradise as a place separated from reality, but can only describe the figure of the ‘new man’ who incessantly fights for the national spirit even in this hopeless paradise.
In sum, Sin Ch’ae-ho’s
Dream Skycan be evaluated as a localized revival of the Divine Comedyas a Western canonical work, which supports the idea of the universalizability of the Comedyvery powerfully. Here I think what is called marginal alteration operates. We could postulate that, to borrow Franco Morretti’s metaphor (Morretti), Dante is a wave and Sin Ch’ae-ho is a tree. A wave runs into the branches of local traditions, and is always significantly transformed by them. Morretti states that “this[relationship of wave and tree] is the basis for the division of labor between national and world literature: national literature, for people who see trees; world literature, for people who see waves.” (Morretti, 161) He states that there is always controversy about whether the tree or the wave, the nation or the world, is the dominant force. This leads us to consider the comparative approach to literature, which allows us to look at literatures from a different viewpoint. Thus, in order to evaluate a literary text, we need to maintain not “ugly one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness” but a comparativist perspective (Morretti, 161), which will possibly be linked to the concept of marginal alteration and thereby a truly universal dimension of literary achievements. But in order to reach this kind of conclusion, we need to pursue first a scrupulously close reading of Dream Sky.
The hero of
Dream Skyis Hannom who is described as a being in whom “sleep and dream are united with each other (174).” Inasmuch as his characteristics as well as the whole setting of Dream Skyare surreal, most scholars14 have regarded it as traditional or pre-modern phantasmagoria.15 What matters in this article, though, is to ask more profoundly how we can define the world of the text as such and what implications it has. In this sense, it is worth considering the argument that phantasmagoria can be an effective means to communicate with reality.16 However, what we also need to consider is that the text adopts an aesthetic form by virtue of which it can guarantee the diversity of interpretation. We can imagine the text as a response to the demands of its time and simultaneously as a work open to diverse interpretation beyond its time.
The basic framework of
Dream Skycan be found in the mixture of phantasmagoria and reality. The elements of phantasmagoria can be seen in Hannom’s diverse ways of existence: conversation with the flowers, which is oneness with nature or the outer world; meeting with the sages, which is the surpassing of time; exchanging the right hand with the left hand and becoming eight entities, which are the supernatural metamorphosis or non-separation of self and world. The elements of reality can be seen in the fact that most of the characters and events in Dream Skydraw on historical materials. But the writer advises the reader to “watch [them] separately without mixture (175),” which I think means that he wishes for phantasmagoria and reality to establish the relationship of harmony and supplement withinthe reader. The elements of phantasmagoria in the text are never limited or confined to the text itself but are meaningful only insofar as they extend toward reality or relate to it; indeed in the text the writer invites the reader to dream very freely rather than to follow his pre-fixed intention. He wants to be free at least in writing because his real situation does not allow him freedom, and he leads the readers to playwith the elements of phantasmagoria such as flowers, sages and heroes (175) and at the same time to “watch [them] separately without mixture” (175) because even though the text is full of unrealistic, poetic and mythical elements, it always refers to the historical facts based on such books as Kogi(古記), Samguk sagi(三國史記), Samguk yusa(三國遺事), Koryŏsa(高麗史), Kwangsa(廣史), and Yŏksa(繹史)(175). With such a contradictory statement, the writer desires to harmonize phantasmagoria and reality in such a way that they maintain their own territories. In a situation in which he is deprived of his freedom, the only freedom that he can enjoy is to create imaginative work based on historical facts and to disseminate it so as to extend the scope and in particular the depth of sympathy with his readers.17
Therefore, by declaring that Hannom is the being in whom “sleep and dream are united with each other,” Sin Ch’ae-ho shows his own desire for independence in a very simple, direct and succinct way that justifies adopting Hannom as a guide. This reminds us of the
Comedyin which Dante indicates that the sleep and dream of the pilgrim signify not a synthesis but something which makes them (sleep and dream) different, by showing that the writer Dante exists in the same way as the pilgrim Dante.18 The sleep and dream are a rite of passage and progress towards the transcendental world, playing the role of self-revelation and self-guiding. In the preface to Dream Sky, Sin Ch’ae-ho tells readers that he wrote Dream Skynot after a dream but during a dream (174). Lee Chang-Min holds that this proclamation may well be a device for eliminating the narrative stage of immong(entering the dream).19 On this Kim Young-Min comments;
However, regardless of such an authorial intention, we need to consider its
effect, which does not signify something that occurs in contemporary society (the problem of socio-reception history) but rather something that the text embodies and raises in the process of interpretation. Then, even though the text that Sin Ch’ae-ho wrote in his dream is free from the hardship of reality, that freedom does not indicate its irrelevance to reality but the liberty of dreaming itself, which is nothing other than a creativework.
Sin Ch’ae-ho and Dante use the same narrative technique in that they appeal to the readers directly; this is because they aim for the practical (or political) literature that can be achieved by the writer who maintains a clear consciousness of his reality.20 As in the
Comedythe writer Dante and the pilgrim Dante are the same character, so in Dream Skythe writer Sin Ch’ae-ho and the hero Hannom are identified with each other.21 The whole structure of Dream Skyis sustained by the memory of “I” (the writer), who is the same entity as Hannom (191). Accordingly Sin Ch’ae-ho makes Hannom act as a substitute for him, yet the writer himself lies concealed behind the text and instead makes Hannom represent both the writer (reality) and the character (fiction or phantasmagoria). This means that Sin Ch’ae-ho, as the intellectual-writer who responds to the demands of the time, projects his own self-consciousness and historical consciousness into the character22. As in the case of Dante, Hannom identifies himself with such figural elements as freedom, independence, initiative, enlightenment and exile, and is thus solitary and belongs nowhere, which can be called the identity of non-affiliation; he can only place his reliance on the ancestors (184).23 So Hannom appears by himself, without colleagues (188), and although he has a number of alter-egos, all of them disappear and he remains alone eventually.
He was not alone from the beginning; his seven alter-egos form a oneness with the writer by being called “we” (191).24 The writer separates himself from the Hannom composed of seven entities and simultaneously unites himself in them; this is the landscape in which, through his separation and synthesis at the same place, the writer reflects himself by making them console, encourage and reprove each other. All of them are in fact a single body (this is what “Hannom” means actually) which is precisely Sin Ch’ae-ho himself and the community of the Korean nation. Therefore we can say that the scene where all of them are disunited and isolated allegorizes the collapse of community.
As the pilgrim Dante maintains his will to ascend throughout the
Comedy, Hannom and his alter-egos do not cease to move forward in the Dream Sky. In this process, however, most of the alter-egos fall by the wayside; Innom falls out of the ranks because of “pain” (199); Yŏtchainom is separated from the others because of his desire for “gold” (199); Sennom dies because of the “disaster of Saeam” (199); Nennom, who shot Sennom mistakenly, is burnt to death (199). Here “Saeam”, which means a water stream, implies betrayal. It reminds us of the rivers which penetrate hell till they reach its bottom and form a lake where the souls who committed the worst crime in this world are situated. Their crime is precisely betrayal as we see the same position in the Comedy. Dream Skydescribes in detail how the crime of betrayal has been committed historically (196–197). To pass through “Saeam” implies to overcome crime. As the pilgrim Dante succeeds in reaching purgatory by escaping from hell, Hannom and his alter-egos cross the “Saeam” successfully. In Dream Skythe essential tools for overcoming “Saeam” are suggested as Hwarangdo25, Chinese literature, Buddhism and Christianity, all of which are derived from the pursuit of reciprocal communication among universal morality, knowledge and belief.
As mentioned above, the diverse identities which compose Hannom connote the situation of his split identity. Now there remain Tannom and Tunom; Tannom decides to live with a disengaged attitude and Tunom to surrender to the enemy. Hannom’s final decision in this situation is that as each has its own load each needs to go separately (200), yet in fact he hesitates about his decision because for him there remains the desire to unify his own alter-egos and internal troubles, and set them in order. Nonetheless he remains alone, which means that he bears the load by himself. 26 The six Hannoms who were reproduced in the same figure of Hannom were put in the text to show the problems that can take place when the nationalist who must be “Tae-a (大我)” cannot but be ardently attached to the desires of “So-a(小我)” that he encounters in the real situation: desperation due to hardship, temptation to live in splendor, jealousy of colleagues and, as a result, loss of nationalist patriotism so as not to build up “Tae-a.”27
Ultimately, Hannom has to travel in the transcendental world by himself; he desires the country of “Nim (esteemed person)” yet is lonely, tough and sad indefinitely (201). He desires a guide who can carry sympathy and an object of the sympathy, yet realizes that he will be unable to encounter the guide with his alter-egos or his contemporary community because the destination of that guidance is precisely his own future aim; in other words, the aim itself is the guide for Hannom. Thus Hannom’s travel is always guided by its prospect, and therefore Hannom is obliged to change incessantly yet remain the same; he is endlessly extended, continued and radiated, yet in this process of metamorphosis he cannot escape from the struggle (184), which, as discussed above, guarantees the endless continuity of Hannom’s identity of non-affiliation and context-boundness. Only through struggle do the metamorphosis and identity of Hannom co-exist (I will return to the issue of struggle in chapter 4).
At this point, it is interesting to observe that
Dream Skyis composed of 6 chapters but most of chapter 3 does not exist and chapter 6, which is believed to be the last, remains unfinished. It is very probable that the incompleteness of such a creative form was intendedby the writer. Indeed the discussion about whether Dream Skywas really intended to be read28 and the reasons why he left it unfinished will never be properly resolved. Instead I would like to pay more attention to his assumed intention, which means that he intended not to be obsessed by a certain literary form: the novel as the typical, canonical modern Western genre; in other words, the incomplete form helps us consider that the writer aimed at an unrestricted expression of his own internal world and his reaction to his contemporary situation.
In fact, he declared in the preface of
Dream Skythat he did not seek formal completion (174). At the end the text finishes with the incomplete phrase: “I am naturally heartless and do not realize how many tears I shed for my humankind……” (224). This is the quintessence of Sin Ch’ae-ho’s self-reflection. Thus we can say that Dream Skyas an unfinished text exists as a part and process of his historical insight that has neither beginning nor end. Another point is that the form of Dream Skyis unique in that it is a mixture of poem and novel; poetry doubles the appeal while the novel explains, yet in the prose-description of characters and struggles we can find rhythm.29 In his paper “ Ch’ŏnhŭidangsihwa,” Sin Ch’ae-ho defines a poem as the “essence of national language.”30 In particular, the poem in which Hannom realizes why the sky is covered with dust in the country of Nim and imagines the future when someday the sky will be blue again(119–220) shows exquisiteness in adopting the basic characters of the Korean language for alliteration.
Sin Ch’ae-ho’s world appears succinct but if we look into its strata we can find there innumerable folds, which leads us to consider two points.
First, he designs the spiritual world as an eternally repeating world (182), in which the same scenes, including the errors of the earthly life, appear over and over again (199). It reminds us that in the
Comedyhell is sustained by eternal punishment and paradise is full of eternal happiness, while purgatory reflects the errors of the earthly life, yet also offers chances of correcting and even overcoming them. Once repetitions begin, they continue without difference; however, the contents can differ according to the order, achievement and result of the earthly life. In this structure in which the order, achievement and result of the earthly life are maintained changelessly, the position of purgatory is no longer stable and thus very ambiguous, which is linked to the determinist world view that whatever is determined in the earthly life continues in the spiritual world. Although the function of purgation is caught, it never opens itself up (183).
Second, the writer asks readers to consider as allegory what Buddhism and Christianity say about hell and paradise. This means abolishing the unrealistic view that this world is the middle and thus passive stage wherein one’s destiny, whether to go to hell or paradise, is decided. Problems that one faces, such as those of community, salvation and justice, are to be solved here in the earthly life, and the division between hell and paradise is made according to how hard one tries to solve such problems.
In Sin Ch’ae-ho’s world, everything is concluded according to the message from the sky (Nim), in line with which, more concretely, the victor goes to paradise while the defeated goes to hell. However, this principle differs from the logic of the survival of the fittest that we find in Social Darwinism. For Dante as well as for Sin Ch’ae-ho, to win in the struggle for justice is important;31 but what is more important is to ask what the struggle for justice should be and how one has to work for it. This ambiguous and fluid definition of justice and struggle is indispensable for understanding Dante as well as Sin Ch’ae-ho; the ways to solve this problem are what we have to consider in both writers.
After all, it is the struggle that sustains the fundamental world view of
Dream Sky. The influence of struggle ranges from the earthly world to the spiritual world, from the East to the West, and it continues endlessly. Therefore, man in his historical context must inexorably participate in the struggle, and in Sin Ch’ae-ho’s era, when Korea was under Japanese rule, participating was much more indispensable. In fact the writer describes how Hannom perceives the cosmological significance of struggle and represents the practical intellectual who feels solitude and sadness before such a huge stream of history. In this respect, it is worth noticing that Nim, whom Hannom meets in paradise, appears as the companion who shares the solitude and sadness of Hannom. For Hannom, Nim’s existence is indispensable because neither he nor his alter-egos alone can overcome the existing difficulties as I discussed above. Nim, as a sympathetic companion for Hannom, is also Hannom’s emotional and ideological aim; in other words, that aim itself is Hannom’s companion and guide. Here Hannom appears as the self-reflective intellectual who takes his aim as his guide.
The other companion of Hannom is history. For instance, Nim gave him a sword that Chŏng Ki-ryong, the general of loyal troops in 1592 when Japan invaded Korea, used. The writer makes the sword speak;
This is precisely to make history speak so as to highlight the judgment of history and the sword’s will to punish commander Toyotomi Hideyoshi. However, at the instant when Toyotomi Hideyoshi is transformed into “the greatest beautiful woman of the age,” Hannom drops the sword which becomes one of the reasons why Hannom falls into hell rather than justly ascending to paradise (211). Hannom, along with other people who do not understand what crime led them to hell, meets Kang Kam-ch’an, who was a distinguished general in Korean history and is now the messenger of hell, and he explains all. Now Hannom realizes that hell belongs to this world32 and asks a notable question:
The answer is:
The big crimes that Kang Kam-ch’an enumerates are five, but he sends to hell only the souls who committed the first unfaithfulness to their nation, which is exactly the crime of not responding to the demands of the time. Here hell becomes an ethical space. The nature of this crime is clarified in great detail by comparison with the rest of
Dream Sky. In fact, it covers most of the crimes that man can commit in this world.33
Kang Kam-ch’an also emphasizes love; there are many kinds of love but the love that he emphasizes is directed only toward the nation. He takes love for a woman as an example of the other kinds of love and says that the two cannot be compatible at all (211). His concept of love includes the physical aspect and ideology. Concerning this, Kang Kam-ch’an says:
What the physical aspect signifies here is that ideology must be sustained by practice, which is comparable with the non-physical aspect in paradise. That is, while the love in paradise is not physical, the love in the situation which Hannom-Sin Ch’ae-ho faces must be physical. Kang Kam-ch’an’s moralizing lecture (212) concentrates in this way on the originality and uniqueness of patriotism.
What is interesting in
Dream Skyin this respect is the recognition of space; hell and paradise exist in the same place and at the same time.
If one thinks that the Country of Nim (paradise) is in the sky and hell is under the earth, and thus the distance between them must be a thousand or ten thousand miles, this is merely so in human thought. The reality differs; the earth is the same and the time is the same; likewise, if you bring it down it becomes the country of Nim and if you turn it upside it becomes hell; if you run vertically you can go to the country of Nim and if you run horizontally you can go to hell; if you fly you will be in the country of Nim and if you crawl you will be in hell; if you catch it you will be in the country of Nim and if you lose it you will be in hell. In all, the distance between country of Nim and hell is merely this (213).
Hannom moves from hell to paradise in the same place. Just as in the
Comedy, hell is under the earth and paradise is above it, but while the two are distinctly separated materially and physically in the Comedy, in Dream Skyparadise can be located in the very same place as hell, depending on Hannom’s way of living.
Saying “My body was not intrinsically bound to hell, so there is nothing to unbind,” Hannom shakes himself free, and thereupon without chain and jail only the body of Hannom rises aloft (212).
The identity of unbounded-ness, the liquid and fluid identity of Hannom makes the interleaving (existing in the same place) of hell and paradise possible, which means that Hannom’s subjective practice is what realizes the place of paradise; hell and paradise co-exist flexibly. They exist as non-place-ness, and change according to the ways of existence of the souls who cope with them or reside there. The souls in paradise are historical figures who pursued the subjective practice in diverse fields. Their work is to make brooms and sweep the sky because “today our sky is more dusty than our earth”(261), and the dust continues to accumulate so that there is no more “blue sky” and instead “white sky covers our head”(217). Hannom’s question on this is scrupulous and striking;
Although we can hardly find the answer to this question in the text, we can realize that there is not always a blue sky; there may be a
mistysky covered with dust. Although it may sound self-contradictory, it exists in reality. Then we need to pay special attention to how that can be. If a sky is truly a sky, it is not because it is so originally or unchangeably but because it becomes so due to the endeavor of the subject who maintains the sky as it is. Therefore the Nim who is in the sky is described not so much as the absolute being who transcends man but as the being who shares Hannom’s tears; paradise and reality align with each other, progress together, and influence each other.
It is not possible to know how many died badly under this misty sky; thus if they repent of their past errors in this world and sweep the dust out of the sky altogether even from now on, it would not be difficult to maintain this sky, this sun and this moon as they are (219).
The salvation of Chosŏn is also the salvation of paradise and vice versa, which is the particular and universal mission for all mankind. This for Sin Ch’ae-ho is linked to opening up the horizon of a nation beyond the modern nation-system for which power and struggle function indispensably.
The writer sets the historical background of
Dream Skyas “some” day in the year 4240 of the Tan’gun era (1907 A.D.) and the place as the city, countryside or foreign countries; the time and space are ambiguous and even unimportant. This indicates that the scenes of the novel are not confined to any particular time and space; the writer seems to show that his story can be realized not only in his time but also any time in human history.
In the introductory part of the text, the writer “sits on the blossom which is as large as a big room, laid on the innumerable miles of branch of the huge Rose of Sharon.”(176) Suddenly the sky parts and reddish rays stream out, and a government official, who wears a hat of soft cloud and a Turumagi (a traditional Korean man’s outer coat) which is more red than those rays, appears and shouts like thunder:
This proclamation is placed at the beginning of
Dream Skyso that the readers cannot but consider the meaning of “struggle.” The “struggle” here encompasses not only man but also all things; in other words, all things in the world exist in the form of struggle (177). The struggle is “the nature of the universe” (178) and it is man’s “responsibility” to “take part in the struggle (178).” In reality, the gruesome struggle between the East and the West breaks out before Hannom’s eyes; that is, Hannom is invited by the Rose of Sharon to become the observer.34 At this sight Hannom sheds tears (178), and falls on his face and cannot stand up again (180). Then he experiences the metamorphosis of his own body after hearing from general Ŭlchimundŏk about the structure and meaning of earthly and spiritual worlds, their inter-relationship, and the historical implication of the struggles he has witnessed (181–183).35
The Rose of Sharon teaches the meaning of the struggle with her “sweet voice”:
What draws our attention here is the fact that the metamorphosis of Hannom leads the Rose of Sharon to suggest the meaning of struggle. His metamorphosis is linked to that of all things and nature, and appears as the figure of struggle. Although the metamorphosis takes place in his body, Hannom stands back in the position of an observer. However, even in that position Hannom is unable to understand the meaning of struggle, and the Rose of Sharon comes to teach it.
Here the flower undoubtedly indicates the abstract reality of the Han (Korean) nation (한민족). It is abstract because it does not indicate the immediate reality represented by Paektu Mountain and Chosŏn, but reality as the historical potential that is connoted in the flower’s statement:
Interestingly “Han (한)” may mean both Han (韓) and oneness (一), and “nom” (놈) means a real human existence and Sin Ch’ae-ho himself. Sin Ch’ae-ho identifies himself with Korea and thinks that struggling for the independence of Korea is his destiny and way of life. Ultimately, “Hannom” means the Korean nation as oneness and its realization, and further Sin Ch’ae-ho’s endeavor for it. The Han nation reproves and guides Hannom-the writer Sin Ch’ae-ho, and conversely Hannom-Sin Ch’ae-ho begins to realize fully his moral responsibility to respond to the demands of the time. The historical potential of the Han(Korean) nation is linked to the emergence of “Toryŏnggun (도령군)” at the end of the text (221). Here “Toryŏnggun” indicates directly the Hwarang of Shilla yet it encompasses the whole history and spirit of the Han nation, enlarging its origin and scope by referring to such historical texts as
Samguk sagiand Koryŏsaand thereby connecting the historical facts—e.g., the Hwarang of Silla and Buddhist army of Korea—with each other.
The general Ŭlchimundŏk plays the same role. Hannom meets Ŭlchimundŏk, who lived about 2000 years ago. To Hannom, who hesitates over how to address him because of the distance in time, Ŭlchimundŏk explains the historical continuity of Korea ranging from Tan’gun to Koguryŏ and the historical identity of the Han nation.36 In response to his kindness Hannom makes a low bow in the Koguryŏ way (181–182), which shows the unification of the two identities by verifying their common historical roots. Here Ŭlchimundŏk’s definition of struggle is noteworthy in relation to power and salvation:
It follows that Ŭlchimundŏk, in response to Hannom’s mention of the
History of Koreaby Chŏng In-gi, argues that although the Han nation was originally huge, it is now reduced to small dimensions because it has always been humane and indulgent, not distinguishing the subject and the other (186). According to Ŭlchimundŏk, if “power is the ladder to paradise (187),” we must pursue the struggle against an enemy country, not be indulgent towards it. It reminds us of the fundamental historical view of Sin Ch’ae-ho that “history is the struggle of the I (아) and non-I (비아)” as he clarifies in his book Chosŏn sanggosa(조선상고사 ).37 If one gains victory, one gets power which must be right; in other words, a righteous struggle is required for righteous power.38 So struggle means establishing a righteous relationship. This is the indispensable process for constructing a human community and at the same time reconstructing a misguided reality. Here it is important to note that the struggle must be pursued in this world first and then continued to that world, which leads us to consider the continuity and universality of the (re-)construction of community and conversely the principle that righteousness should be sustained by power. After witnessing the struggle in the country of Nim, Hannom gains such understanding:
This principle is a universal one which can be applied to both this world and that world even in the country of Nim. Justice is not a clearly defined concept and thus practice (struggle) is required to maintain justice; justice can be justice only through struggle, which means that justice is always a process of practice. To think of this process-like nature is to maintain justice.
Here we need to scrutinize further the implications of the statement above that the writer Sin Ch’ae-ho and the protagonist Hannom are united. The Rose of Sharon asks Hannom to become conscious of the demands of the time; Hannom asks how to distinguish his own identity and the object of struggle:
The flower gives this acute explanation:
Sin Ch’ae-ho’s world view, in which the metamorphosing subject includes the universe, could be understood as cosmopolitanism. But the meaning of metamorphosis is neither complete nor sufficient in itself. In order for the metamorphosing subject to obtain self-sufficiency and perfection, it must be able to pursue struggle within itself. The metamorphosis consists of struggle. This is the way our world exists and operates. We do not know whether it is universal or not; all that we can tell is that for the writer Sin Ch’ae-ho these were the demands of the time, to which he had to respond as a practical intellectual.
Allegory deserves to be highlighted as the literary technique for sustaining concepts that are useful for understanding
Dream Sky, such as alteration, metamorphosis, power and struggle. Dream Skyis filled with the traditional type of allegory whereby something is introduced merely as a signifier whose existence is entirely dependent on what is signified. Hannom, the bird and the flower in Dream Skydo not exist in our reality but are merely signifiers which exist in order to connote something. Through the signifier the reader can graspthe signified if he is faithful to the writer’s intention, or can constituteit if he is faithful to the reader’s intention. Those elements mentioned above in Dream Skyare meaningful only insofar as they bear their own implications and connote something, regardless of whether they exist or not in reality. Therefore, when readers interpret Dream Skyas an allegorical text, they should be able to grasp and constitute new meanings, which will extend almost indefinitely according to the contexts in which the readers are situated and the perspective from which they consider the writer and read the text. The traversing of presence and absence is indeed the methodology and definition of allegory.39
What is the signified that we have to grasp and constitute in the allegories that Sin Ch’ae-ho created in
Dream Sky? The concept of nation will be a strong candidate; what matters is that his allegory starts from the problem of the nation (or nationalism), yet implies something beyond it. In fact his translation of the Story of Three Heroes in Building Italywas the result of his choice of political allegory to realize the national consciousness, and thereafter political allegory became the fundamental form of allegory that he attempted (Hong, Kyung-Pyo, 289).
The most urgent literary task in the time of Sin Ch’ae-ho was to establish the perfectly new form and content through which the writer could configure the rapidly changing world situation. His approach was unique; its uniqueness derived from his attempts to embrace and express very actively his duty as an intellectual-writer on the ideological and aesthetic bases of Korea, in terms of both form and content. It is precisely in this respect that we need to pay special attention to the allegory. Probably Sin Ch’ae-ho had no chance of acquainting himself with allegory, insofar as it has been a technique formed in the long history of Western literature. Nevertheless we can recognize that the abundant allegories in
Dream Skywere used as a spontaneous and promising response to the demands of the time. This becomes more plausible when we remember that in a literary text allegory operates in response to the socio-historical contexts of the writer as well as the reader.
Allegory should be explored because it links the problems of the here-and-now to the universal. The allegories that Sin Ch’ae-ho used were general and traditional rather than particular and individual, so that readers are able to understand the connotations in the text through them without difficulty. In this respect
Dream Skycan be considered a literary achievement for communication and consensus rather than for self-completion. Now the indivisible relationship between allegory and contextual interpretation needs to be emphasized; the allegorical text realizes its meanings in the process of being interpreted.
Sin Ch’ae-ho used allegory to fulfill his responsibility as an intellectual to the contemporary times and society. What we can find in the allegorical representation in
Dream Skycan be summarized as a historical consciousness of the people’s struggle, which was to suggest his historical consciousness of the confrontation between the I and the non-I as the strenuous efforts for national independence. To repeat, Dream Skydescribes struggle by saying that “the struggle should take place between me and the other.” What “me” means here, as Sin Ch’ae-ho’s early article “The Big I (대아) and the Small I (소아)” declares, is “the I who never ever dies”; “although the small I may die, the big I never dies.”40 Therefore the I that he intends to signify must be the Big I which “decreases and increases according to the time; in other words, in the age of the family system, the family is the I, while in the age of the nation system, the nation is the I.”(185)
Dream Skythe I does not appear as clearly as the non-I. The non-I indicates the diverse characters in hell and the objects of struggle and unfailing victory. However, it is ironic that in Dream Skythe I is not so much concretely shown as represented by Hannom, who is characterized by sadness and tears. This might be because the social system of the people, which should be meant by the I, had not yet settled down properly, or because what is represented through the existence of Hannom includes more complex aspects of that time such as tradition, changing emotions, subjects who opposed radical social change, clear intellectual consciousness, and the people who were still ambiguous.41 In this context we can understand that sweeping the sky connotes the fact that the contamination of this world ranges over the sky, that the sky is no longer an isolated and pure place yet it is the place which must be purified by the being of this world (Hannom-the I or the Small I), and that consequently there is the oneness of this world and the sky (Hannom-the Big I)
Yi Do-Yeon holds that in
Dream Skythe gap between fiction and reality is so narrow that it does not rely on rhetorical modification of the novel form but shows direct contact with reality, and it may be the key for understanding Dream Skyas a text sustained by an allegorical structure (Yi, Do-Yeon). However the narrowness of the gap between fiction and reality does not necessarily make allegory operate. As I mentioned above, the operation of allegory depends on the ability to pursue context-bound interpretation; it does not rely on the fact that the meaning of the text and its structure show familiarity with reality; Dream Skyinvolves the overcoming of reality but this overcoming stems from the transcendental nature immanent in it; namely phantasmagoria. In short it yields possible worlds through repetitive overcomings.
6Series. (Annex). pp. 184–187. Sin Ch’ae-ho states that “In Italy there were great poets like Dante and great idealists like Mazzini; after they expressed the national spirit, the country gained order.” (ibid. 187) Also it is worth noticing that in his writings “Hero and World” (ibid. 111–3) in 1908 and “Heroes of the Twentieth Century New Oriental World” (Series. Vol. 2. pp. 111–6) in 1909, Sin Ch’ae-ho focuses on the possibility of re-highlighting the heroes’ lives in terms of the present. 7Many literary manuscripts by Sin Ch’ae-ho were not published. He was held in prison from 1928 and died in 1936. Afterwards they were forgotten. Though some tried to publish them, it was to no avail because of the censorship under Japanese imperialism. In the 1960s they began to be published in such North Korean magazines as Chosŏn munhak and Munhak sinmun between 1964 and 1965. Dream Sky was first introduced in Munhak sinmun on October 20, 1964 with Ju Ryong-Gul’s commentary. According to Kim Byung-Min, his manuscripts were arranged in the National Central Library of North Korea from 1966 onwards (Kim, Byung-Min, 2–3). In South Korea, the Committee for Editing the Series of Sin Ch’ae-ho was established in 1970 and the first Series were published in 1972 at Hyungsul Press (Series of Tanjae Sin Ch’ae-ho. ed. by The Club of Commemoration for Tanjae Sin Ch’ae-ho. Seoul: Hyungseol. 1995). So Dream Sky was not shown to the public until 1964. 8On the reception of Dante in modern Korean literature, see Park, Sangjin 2007. 9Here we need to refer to his feature as the so-called ‘inclusive transcendental’ in his “Chosŏn hyŏngmyung sŏnŏn (Proclamation of Chosŏn Revolution).” On the other hand, this point relates to his unique recognition of modernity. See Kim, In-Hwan. Chai Jin-Hong. Park Jung-Sim. 10Sin Ch’ae-ho. Dream Sky. p. 175. Hereafter, only the page number will be cited with parenthesis. 11This proposition is the basis of the whole position of the book: Gi-Wook Sin and Michael Robinson. 12Henry Em. “Nationalism, Post-Nationalism, and Sin Ch’ae-ho,” Korea Journal, Summer 1999, pp. 283–317. 13Henry Em maintains that Sin Ch’ae-ho’s concept of the people (minjung) led him to overcome the narrow category of nation and to move his historiography toward a transnational dimension. (Henry Em 1999b). 14Sin Ch’ae-ho’s novels have long been evaluated as examples of the traditional and pre-modern style. See Han Keum-Yun, Ryu Yang-Sun, Kim Sung-Kuk, Yun Myung-Ku, Yu Jong-Kuk, Sin Ch’ae-ho Jae-Hong, and Cho Dong-Il. 15Yang Eon-Suk defines it as a “traditional mongyu (몽유) novel.” (Yang Eon-Suk, 1). 16See Han Keum-Yun (1998). 17I agree with Lee Chang-Min’s argument that Dream Sky can be more properly understood when we approach it through the theory of representation which differs from the theory of imitation; it tends to stimulate imagination so as to harmonize phantasmagoria and reality. (Lee Chang-Min, 67). I think his argument sustains the assumption that Sin Ch’ae-ho utilized Dante in order to create his representation rather than imitate him. Interestingly Yi Do-Yeon grasps this point from a romanticist perspective; that is, Sin Ch’ae-ho’s imagination starts from yearning and proceeds within yearning so that it does not reach completion and remains in the process of eternal generation. (Yi Do-Yeon, 224–225). In my view, eternal generation is something that Dream Sky appeals for over and over again: for instance, in the future potential for an independent nation. 18See Park, Sangjin, 2011 (particularly chapter 2). 19Yi Chang-Min. p. 68. We can define Dream Sky as one of the mongyu novels lacking the stage of entering the dream(immong/입몽), if we follow Sin Ch’ae-ho Jae-Hong’s classification according to which the typical narrative structure consists of entering the dream, guiding, sitting, discussing, the banquet, the performance and exiting from the dream (Sin Ch’ae-ho Jae-Hong, 275). 20On this proposition, see George Orwell (p. 5). According to him, all writings are political. 21The writer calls Hannom “I”, which indicates the writer himself (185). According to the Chronological Record of Sin Ch’ae-ho, he used Hannom for one of his pen names (Chronological Record. In Series. Vol. 2. p. 495). In all, Dream Sky was an autobiographical novel (see Chronological Record. P. 500). 22In national literary trends of the 1970s, Sin Ch’ae-ho was mainly highlighted as a historian and thinker, and there was discussion of how such aspects were projected in his figure of the literary writer. (Han Keum-Yun, 137–138). 23This corresponds to the way that Dante takes the Roman poet Virgil as his guide and considers Rome as the ideal community. In addition, they dream the ‘utopia’ which is the community that is now absent but to be achieved in the near future; for them the community is represented as the process of achieving itself rather than that achieved already. I have explained this with the term “utopia in-process.” (Park, Sangjin 2010, 27–47). 24Dante uses the pronoun ‘our’ in the first part of Inferno to show that his book was written for all mankind. 25This term refers to the rule of the elite youth in the Silla Dynasty who excelled in beauty, bravery and military arts. 26This solution sounds similar to that in the Comedy. See Purgatorio 6. 133–135 and Paradiso 5. 55–57. 27Han Geum-Yun. 145. Here ‘Tae-a’ can be written as ‘the Big I’ while ‘So-a’ is ‘the Small I’. The relationship between the Big I and the Small I is the main basis of his ambitious construction of Korean history Chosŏn sanggosa, in which he strives to seek the origin of Korea. 28See Hong Myung-Hee’s statement; “Sin Ch’ae-ho wrote many novels but he didn’t have any intention to present them. He did it in order to express the outcry of Chosŏn, the fidelity of Chosŏn, broken out from the bottom of his unbearable heart.” (Hong Myung-Hee). See also the concept of “acceptability” suggested by Jung Gin-Won (108–111) in relation to the aesthetic evaluation of Dream Sky. 29Yi Seon-Young defines it as “poetic prose style.” (See Yi Seon-Young). 30See Cho Dong-Il’s comments in his Hankuk munhak t’ongsa. Vol. 4. p. 330. 31The problem of justice was one of Dante’s main concerns for building up a human community, as we can see in his Comedy and De monarchia. There are many articles about it, and I discussed it in my paper (Park, Sangjin 2010). 32The recognition that hell belongs to this world has long been expressed by Italian writers such as Dante, Calvino, Pasolini and Primo Levi. 33Interestingly, the punishment in Dream Sky is based on the principle of contrapasso as in the Comedy. 34Here the East and the West directly indicate Koguryŏ and Sui (隋) (182) and indirectly indicate Chosŏn and Japan or the Western powers. 35This reminds us of Dante’s pride in his own description of metamorphosis, which he considers much better than that of Ovid. See Inferno 25. 92–103. Sin Ch’ae-ho’s description of the metamorphosis of Hannom (184–185) is very dynamic and vivid. 36Virgil does the same thing to the pilgrim Dante. 37“What is history? History is the record of the psychological activities of the struggle between the I and the non-I in human society, which has enlarged and developed in time and space. . . what is the I and what is the non-I? . . . the I is one who is in the subjective position and the rest is the non-I. . . Therefore history is the record of struggle between the I and the non-I.” Sin Ch’ae-ho. Chosŏn sanggosa. In Series. Vol. 1. p. 33. This fundamental view of history was repeatedly submitted, along with the terms “indigenous Chosŏn,” “free people,” “popular economy” and “popular culture,” in Sin Ch’ae-ho’s papers “Chosŏn hyŏngmyŏng sŏnŏn” and “Nanggaek ŭi sinnyŏn manp’il.” According to Yi Do-Yeon, we can hardly find such an acute recognition of the contemporary situation and the nature of empire in other papers of that time. (Yi Do-Yeon, 228–229). 38The Comedy tells that in Limbo there are many souls who were lazy in their commitment to struggle or duty in earthly life: for instance, Pontius Pilatus, who avoided judging Jesus, and Lucifer, who rejected God’s grace. They were faithful only to themselves, without pursuing the struggle for justice. See Inferno-Canto 3. The metamorphosis of Hannom shows that justice can be justified only in and toward struggle. 39In this sense I agree with Kim Chang-Hyun’s explanation that the past research into fabular literature has not sufficiently considered the historical consciousness and the aesthetic form in Dream Sky, and therefore the concept of allegory needs to be used for more profound research. (Kim Chang-Hyun, 365–366). 40Sin Ch’ae-ho. “The Big I and the Small I.” In Series. Vol. 2. pp. 81–83. 41In this respect, Sin Ch’ae-ho criticized the fact that the non-I is included in the I in his article “Proclamation of Chosŏn Revolution.”(in Series. Vol. 2. pp. 38–40).
David Damrosch holds that works of world literature are best read with an awareness of the work’s original cultural context, but they typically wear this context rather lightly. When we read the
Comedyas an Italian literary work, we see it naturally as a work related strictly to the medieval poets, theologians and political thinkers who have not been known further afield. But Dante’s poem transforms itself while traversing borderlines. The Comedyis a completely different work in foreign countries and even in Italy it was a very different work for Italo Calvino and Primo Levi in the twentieth century than it was for Boccaccio in the fourteenth century. The Comedy’s effect has been always shaped by the readers’ strong sensibility to it as a poem which stemmed from a very different time and space (Damrosch, 139–140).42
How many contexts are required to evaluate a text properly depends on the text itself and the aims with which the text is read. Therefore we can say that the universality of a text derives from its power to overcome any specific space-time, which means that the text should be read differently according to the different space-times and at the same time maintain its consistency. This is what I have described as alteration. A high level of diverse alteration, which requires the text to sustain its consistency along with its altered features, guarantees its universalizability. The original context of the
Comedystill remains in Dream Sky, yet more importantly the scope of alteration in it was rather radical. The alteration rarely occurs directly; alteration needs distance, yet consistency tends to remove distance. I find here the power of universality which is nothing other than the power of embracing the presence and absence of distance. Damrosch states:
Dante has his own particular world and all the notes of the
Comedyare the supplements added to it. All the notes have the same rights; they color Dante’s particular world only until it maintains itself. The Comedyhas been re-canonized by a process of intermingling the original and the alteration. Dream Skyis one instance of such processes; it testifies to the universality of the Comedyand more importantly becomes a new canonical work born in the cultural context of modern Korea, and further the lens through which we can observe the ever transforming geography of world literature.
We can never neglect both the original context of the
Comedyand the readers’ strong sensibility to it. In the case of Dream Skythe former was too weak while the latter was too intense. What does this mean? Should we think that, just as Dante’s originality arose from demolishing his own theological frame, Sin Ch’ae-ho’s radical alteration inherited and operated Dante’s originality as such? If we do, Dream Skymay well have made the Comedyricher rather than damaged it, and may have gone beyond it toward creating its own literary world based on the writer’s knowledge and consciousness of both general human history and Korean history. Therefore, we can conclude that, in evaluating the aesthetic and ideological value of Sin Ch’ae-ho’s literature, it should be much more meaningful to consider alteration rather than reception, the subject of reception rather than the object of reception. However, this does not mean that I value Dream Skymore strongly than the Comedyor vice versa; rather this article aims to focus on their dialogical partnership and therewith evaluate Dream Skyfrom a broader sense of cultural exchange.
The consciousness of marginal alteration helps us question whether universality can be maintained in the Others’ contexts and vice versa. To sum up, the ultimate concern of what I have called marginal alteration is to maintain both universal and local contexts; we need to try to maintain a consciousness of the Others’ contexts which enables us to have a more just vision. In the case that concerns us, the original Dante, which consists in his own poetic form, characters and events, mostly disappeared in
Dream Sky, which means that it was received by Sin Ch’ae-ho in the way that Europe received the Arabian Nightsand the Epic of Gilgamesh. Yet we need to pay more attention to the fact that Dream Skyhas the effect of recreating the original as well as that of losing it. We also need to return to the original of the Comedyover and over again so as to compare the original aura and the reproduced plural auras. I expect this will allow us to highlight the literary values of the Comedyand Dream Skyin a more democratic way.
42Damrosch refers to Dimock, Wai Chee. “Literature for the Planet.” PMLA. 116.1. 2001. 173–188.
21. Orwell George 2004