[FOUNTAIN]The writer and the world

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[FOUNTAIN]The writer and the world

“I shall proclaim that Dreyfus is innocent. I guarantee his innocence with my 40-year literary career and everything I have earned from my life... My fiery protest is simply the cry of my very soul.”
The French newspaper L’Aurore published an open letter to the French president written by Emile Zola on Jan. 13, 1898, entitled “J’Accuse...!” or “I Accuse.” In works such as “L’Assommoir: The Dram Shop,” Mr. Zola, a journalist-turned-novelist, had made his name writing about the painful lives of the proletariat.
The truth of the Dreyfus affair was revealed thanks to Mr. Zola’s courage. Alfred Dreyfus had been convicted of treason in a court martial, receiving a life sentence, because he was a Jew. After serving five years in the prison known as Devil’s Island, Mr. Dreyfus was finally freed. In the course of the struggle, Mr. Zola was convicted of calumny, and had to take political asylum. But in the end, he received the honor of burial at Le Pantheon, the cemetery of French national heroes.
Mr. Zola’s intellectual contemporaries acted upon their consciences; their social participation was called “engagement.” The French tradition of “engagement” among intellectuals influenced the political philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre. He thought that throwing the self into reality was a form of self-control that frees the human being.
After the Korean War, the Korean literary world was introduced to Mr. Sartre’s philosophy of social participation. Despite criticism from champions of “pure literature,” the participatory literature of the ’60s produced notable writers such as Kim Su-young. The legacy continued in the poems of Kim Ji-ha and the nationalistic literary theory of Go Eun in the ’70s and ’80s. Participatory literature has established itself in the mainstream of Korean literature.
Since the ’90s, the literary debate over this ideology has lost momentum, largely due to democratization and the fall of the socialist world. But literary heavyweights ― conservative novelist Lee Moon-youl and liberal novelist Hwang Suk-young ― have been mentioned as members of the committees that will select the candidates for the 2004 National Assembly election for the majority opposition Grand National Party and the ruling Our Open Party. Their political affiliations are a matter of choice; the more important thing is their vision and conscience as intellectuals. We hope to see the 21st century version of engagement.


by Oh Byung-sang

The writer is London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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