An Introduction to Classical Korean Literature: From Hyangga to P'ansori

By Kichung Kim | Go to book overview

10
Notes on P'ansori

When we think of literature today we usually think of the written word in printed texts. But of course there is another, much older form of literature that has existed through much of human history. I mean oral literature. Some of the oldest literary works of the West originated in oral literature: The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Beowulf, the oldest English epic, just to name a few.

P'ansori is one of the most important forms of Korean oral literature. Indeed it is enjoying a surge of renewed popularity in Korea today. To better understand p'ansori, we should understand certain aspects of oral literature. First, in an oral culture-- that is, a culture without a writing system--an event can be preserved only in memory. Descriptions of events therefore need to be put in memorable words--that is, in words and phrases that are highly rhythmic with "heavy patterning and communal fixed formulas," facilitating memorization. As Walter J. Ong has pointed out, "in an oral culture, experience is intellectualized mnemonically."1

Having its own form and economy, oral literature differs significantly from written literature. Its principal features are necessitated by the central role memory plays in its composition, transmission, and delivery or performance. A few of these key features are also central to p'ansori.

The first of these is redundancy--the repetition of key words and phrases to aid the memory of speaker and also audience, and to help maintain a sense of narrative continuity. Because spoken words vanish as soon as they are uttered, an oral narrative, whether prose or verse, tends to move more deliberately and

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An Introduction to Classical Korean Literature: From Hyangga to P'ansori
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • 1 - What is Korean Literature? 3
  • 2 - The Mystery and Loveliness of the Hyangga 11
  • 3 - The Incomparable Lyricism of Koryŏ Songs 25
  • 4 Notes on the Samguk sagi and Samguk yusa 48
  • 5 - Notes on Shijo 75
  • 6 - The Literature of Chosŏn Dynasty Women 95
  • 7 - Hŏ Kyun: Hong Kiltong Chŏn and the Hanmun Lives 141
  • Notes 157
  • 9 - The Literature of Shirhak: Yŏnam, Pak Chi-Wŏn 171
  • 10 - Notes on P'Ansori 197
  • Toward Modern Korean Literature 209
  • Works Cited 219
  • Index 223
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