Early Korean Literature: Selections and Introductions

Early Korean Literature: Selections and Introductions

Early Korean Literature: Selections and Introductions

Early Korean Literature: Selections and Introductions

Synopsis

Preeminent scholar and translator David R. McCann presents an anthology of his own translations of works ranging across the major genres and authors of Korean writing -- stories, legends, poems, historical vignettes, and other works -- and a set of critical essays on major themes. A brief history of traditional Korean literature orients the reader to the historical context of the writings, thus bringing into focus this rich literary tradition. The anthology of translations begins with the Samguk sagi, or History of the Three Kingdoms, written in 1145, and ends with "The Story of Master H¿," written in the late 1700s. Three exploratory essays of particular subtlety and lucidity raise interpretive and comparative issues that provide a creative, sophisticated framework for approaching the selections.

Excerpt

The experience of designing and teaching a course at Cornell University, “Introduction to Korea,” encouraged my interest in exploring history through literature, and vice versa, while focusing my attention on such matters as the ways in which written works, whether poems or dynastic histories, are summaries of previous and complex cultural, political, or aesthetic negotiations. Reading a poem, a story, a legend or myth, a part of a historical record, or a newspaper editorial from the late nineteenth century, the students and I would begin by asking, “if this was the answer, what was the question?” What, for example, might Wang Kon, founder of the Koryŏ dynasty, have had on his mind when he stated shortly before he died, in the second of his ten injunctions, that Silla, one of the kingdoms he defeated, fell because too many influential people had built too many temples wherever they wished? Or, pursuing the theme of the relationship between human beings and the natural world into poetry, what issues does the repeated theme of rustic retirement in Korean poetry engage? Why do so many scholar-officials seem to be dying for a week or a month or a lifetime in the country?

The first part of this book is an anthology of texts “representative” in, I hope, several ways. First, they represent genres of Korean writing and the figures associated with them. The texts are also a series of engagements with recurrent themes or issues in Korean cultural history, one of which is the question of how Korea has represented itself. After studying these stories, legends, poems, historical vignettes, and other works, a reader curious about Korean literature may be able to respond in some way to the question, What is Korean literature like? And perhaps, What is Korea like? The translations are one answer.

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