For literary figures, a forum for peaceIn this biting cold, spring seems all too far away. But if you’re planning to take part in the Seoul International Forum for Literature, time is running out fast.
The three-day forum, the second of its kind, begins on May 24, with more than 50 writers from Korea and abroad participating. The group includes Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Oe, the renowned French socialist writer Jean Baudrillard and many other authors of international reputation.
Under the theme “Writing for Peace,” the forum will offer many panel sessions, discussions and seminars, to be held at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Gwanghwamun in central Seoul. Expatriates can freely participate, since simultaneous translation will be provided in English, French and, of course, Korean for all events.
Aside from the official sessions offered until May 26, participants from universities, institutes and publishers can request private lectures, roundtable talks, recitations or speeches. The Daesan Foundation, the co-host with the Korean Culture and Arts Foundation, is accepting applications and requests for private sessions and speeches until Feb. 15 via e-mail or phone.
Following the success of the initial forum in September 2000, called “Writing Across Boundaries,” this one focuses on how literature can contribute to peace in a world suffering from conflict.
“As time goes by, authors and politics seem to separate from each other. So, we’d like to provide authors with the time and space where they can speak out,” Kim Uchang, a noted critic and literature professor, and head of the organizing committee, said at a press conference in December.
“Certainly, there is doubt about what authors can do in this age when people are constantly being killed even at this moment with rapidly developing weapons. Yet, we must try to do something and this forum will be a platform of speech for the authors,” Mr. Kim added.
Tibor Meray, a Hungarian-born, Paris-based novelist and journalist, sent an e-mail to organizers suggesting the forum participants come up with a “Seoul Declaration,” much as socially aware authors of the past like Emile Zola played key roles in politics.
Although many authors were eager to participate, including Robert Hass, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who first introduced the Korean poet Ko Un to the American literary scene, Mr. Kim had to make quite an effort to persuade others to come to Seoul, a city many of them have never been to.
Mr. Kim hopes the forum, which will be held every five years, will be an event of international scope where authors, regardless of nationality, can discuss major issues.
Some view the forum as an opportunity for the world to get to know Korea. “Almost 1,000 works of Korean literature have been translated into foreign languages, yet whether they’re playing their proper role in making Korean literature known to the world remains unknown,” said Kwak Hyo-hwan, an organizer with the Daesan Foundation. “With such a forum, not only the authors themselves but readers can have a chance to get together as a community free of borders.”
Participants will team up for such sessions as “Literary Communication and the Global Community,” “Pluralistic Cultures and Literature” and “The Environment and Literature.”
Mr. Oe and Mr. Kim will discuss “Human Values and Changes in Politics.” Mr. Baudrillard will remain true to his reputation for astute analysis of modernism and post-modernism by dealing with “Changes in Technology and the Globalization of Communication.” He will be joined by Robert Coover, Kim Sung-kon and Kim Young-ha.
A discussion of “Literature and Universal Human Values” will include renowned Korean writer Hwang Seok-young and critic Yu Jong-ho, as well as Jean-Marie Gustav Le Clezio of France and Luis Sepulveda of Chile.
For such topics as “Non-Western Countries and Modernity” and “A Variety of Western Modernities,” meaningful to developing countries, authors including Leonardo Padura of Cuba, Bei Dao of China, Japan-born, California-based Masao Miyoshi and Erling Kittelsen of Norway will gather for heart-to-heart talks. Pulitzer Prize winner Gary Snyder from the United States and promising female novelist Vera Galaktionovna from Russia will jointly speak on “The Environment, Sustainable Economic Development and Literature.”
Ngugi Wa Thiongo from Kenya, British author Margaret Drabble, one of the few women writers invited to the forum, and others will speak about “Peace and Discrimination ― Gender, Race, Religion.”
Thus, a number of established writers are preparing for a feast of literature, and everyone is heartily welcome to the banquet.
For more information, call the Daesan Foundation at (02) 721-3203. To request private sessions, e-mail < email@example.com> (English available).
Organizer finds patience prevails
Kim Uchang, the chairman of the organizing committee for the Seoul International Forum for Literature, still vividly remembers the way the late Pierre Bourdieu’s hands trembled in 2000.
Mr. Kim was seeing the renowned French socialist writer off at the airport after the first forum. Helping Mr. Bourdieu with his luggage, Mr. Kim again felt grateful to the French man of letters, then 70 years old, for flying to Seoul for the event despite his poor health.
Mr. Bourdieu initially turned down the offer to attend the forum. But Mr. Kim did not give up. He continued to approach Mr. Bourdieu, saying, “Your presence in Korea, a developing country of the Third World, means a lot.”
The strategy worked. Mr. Bourdieu attended, but then perplexed Mr. Kim by refusing to attend a luncheon with then-President Kim Dae-jung, saying, “I’ve never called on someone in a position of authority to pay respects.” Mr. Kim finally got Mr. Bourdieu to accompany other participants, and the French author wound up asking the president the most questions.
After returning home, Mr. Bourdieu sent an e-mail to Mr. Kim, expressing appreciation for the chance to build friendships through the forum, although it was for a brief time, since he died in 2002.
“To move an author, you need to persuade him with a purpose and an agenda. Things like money cannot make a literary man come,” Mr. Kim says.
For this year’s event, Mr. Kim, 68, has again worked hard to attract a number of internationally renowned authors. His biggest weapon is a faithful and polite approach based on personal connections. A celebrated author and critic, and a professor emeritus of Korean literature at Korea University, Mr. Kim will take part in the forum’s discussions and seminars, along with more than 50 authors from here and abroad.
Under the theme of “Writing for Peace,” the forum will include Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Oe and the renowned French socialist author Jean Baudrillard. Mr. Oe first declined the offer to attend the forum, but Mr. Kim continued to approach him, both directly by writing letters and indirectly by asking a mutual friend to persuade him to attend.
There were rumors that Mr. Oe was reluctant to appear at public forums because of writer’s block he has suffered since his 1994 Nobel Prize.
Mr. Kim, however, remembered his encounter with Mr. Oe back in 1994 after the Japanese author won the prize. Mr. Kim asked him, “So, what is your first project after becoming a Nobel laureate?” Mr. Oe replied, “Going to Korea and other places in Asia, for I am an Asian writer myself.”
Which was why Mr. Kim wanted to invite Mr. Oe to this forum. After declining several times, Mr. Oe finally said yes.
Mr. Kim believes that at a time when many parts of the world are suffering from the scars of war, there is a lot that authors can contribute. “With this forum, we’re trying to provide authors of the world with the opportunity to speak about their ideas and hopes,” Mr. Kim says.
He also has high hopes for the forum, which is taking place in the only ideologically divided country in the world and one that is developing rapidly, both politically and economically. “Seoul can give inspiration to authors in this sense on many issues, from the environment to democracy,” Mr. Kim says, adding, “We must stay away from the attitude of considering this forum a mere opportunity to let us become known to the world.”
Aside from the forum, this year is a significant one for Mr. Kim, who also has been invited to be the president of the Korean Organizing Committee for the Frankfurt Book Fair 2005, where Korea will be featured as the “guest of honor” country.
The German government has declared this year the “Year of Korea,” and before May Mr. Kim will tour German cities with other Korean authors for Korean literature recitations and other events.
“In our relationship with the West, we must consider the relationship with Europe important, not only the one with the United States,” Mr. Kim says. “The West also has a lot to learn from the East, where literature, and culture, can contribute a great deal, as something that enriches our lives.”
by Chun Su-jin < firstname.lastname@example.org>