중앙데일리

[Perspective]
Still a Korean book by any other name

Dec 10,2008
Isabelle Danbee Moon
I had a heated discussion with a friend the other night over whether you have to learn a language in order to access a culture. He held that it wasn’t necessary, that there were plenty of avenues to understanding without actually getting caught up in semantics.

I, overly proud of the sad collection of nouns and verbs I’ve gathered during my time here, refused to admit that it was possible to discover the true essence of a people without being able to sit down and have a heated argument with them.

But when it comes to Korea, my side of the dispute is holding less and less water. Determined as it is to reach out to the world, Korea is breaking out the English-language services at a furious pace. Last week, for example, saw the launch of the all-English FM station, TBS eFM (101.3 FM).

And as the Korean diaspora grows, the literary offerings in English are also set to explode. At the forefront of this is Yonsei University’s Underwood International College. The school has an English-language creative writing program - headed up by the very person I was having the language talk with, writer Gabe Hudson.

Members of the program are driving forces behind the UIC Cultural Arts and Theater Society, which is launching the newest edition of its literary magazine, “The Lab,” on Friday. The free event will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the university’s New Millennium Hall.

The editor-in-chief of this edition is 20-year-old Isabelle Danbee Moon, who spent part of her childhood in the States, and a later stint in New Zealand. “I didn’t ever think I would be writing about Korea,” she said, “but I realized that there’s a lot of stuff going on here that’s not touched on by traditional Korean writers.”

Moon, who Hudson assures me will be a well-known writer in no time, has been approaching her work in a way that a lot of different sectors of the Korean soft-power PR push could learn from. “I use a lot of Korean words spelled out in English that aren’t in the [English] dictionary yet. I think it’s interesting that Korean can be combined with English.”

Then, stepping right over the language-access issue, Moon landed on a related controversy.

“There’s been a lot of talk about whether a book can truly be Korean if it’s written in a language other than Korean,” said Moon. “I want people to see that a book written by a Korean about Korean culture is still a Korean book, even if it’s written in another language,” she said.

Meanwhile, I’m left clinging to the shreds of my argument as I flip through the pages of a Korean literary magazine that’s written in English.


By Richard Scott-Ashe, Deputy Editor [richard@joongang.co.kr]







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