What comes to mind when you think of literature? Most of the students will say, "it's boring," and "it's difficult". You must have heard something like, "the novel narrated from the first-person’s point of view." or "this expression is a metaphor and that expression is paradoxical," in high school literature classes. We read and studied a lot of literature in our school days. But most of this was not for real appreciation, but rather for examinations. Did a stereotype that literature is only a subject of study implicitly settle in our minds? Isn’t that the reason why we tend to look away from literature even at university? Now, through an interview with Professor Choi Myung-sook, a professor of Korean literature at Gachon University, who is also a novelist, we hear that that literature can also be an object of appreciation.
1. What do you think is the reason that university students having trouble learning literature? Also, what do you think about the current state of Korean literature education?
It seems to me that these days, there are more entertainment media and things to enjoy like games, movies and dramas. Even if you don't read a book, you can still have plenty of fun. Also, students seem to be more concerned about what society requires, such as obtaining various certificates and qualifications for employment.
Korean education tends to focus on analyzing literary works and forget that literature is something to enjoy. After all, analysis is, ultimately, for the appreciation of works, so our country should consider educating our students with the nature and function of literature first.
2. Give me a brief description of the composition of the professor’s lecture that are different from the traditional teaching methods and why you are doing this.
The method of education in high school tends to value theory. I’m not saying that theory does not matter. But rather, how literature affects readers is also important. When we know and understand literature only as a theory, it will not be really enjoyable. So first, I give a brief lecture on the general theory of literature and then share my appreciation and reading. And finally, I give lectures for students to create their own’s poems or essays that they can see and understand literature more deeply from various perspectives.
3. What do you think is attractive about Korean literature?
It seems to me that the variety of expressions that Hangul possesses is very attractive. For example, if you use the word ‘yellow’ in English, there is one expression for it. But expressed in Korean, there are various ways, such as ‘Norikirihada’, ‘Nwooreotahada’, ‘Norwoonorwoohada’, ‘Satnoratahada’. Also, the abundance of onomatopoeia and mimetic words are a charming aspect’of Korean literature.
4. What is the literature that impresses you most?
It is Lee Chung Joon’s <a Humanist Mr. Mwoo So Jak’s Jong-Saeng-Ki>. It tells a story that contains novel theory. Through the life of the narrator M.r Mwoo So Jak, the author tries to make the readers reflect on their life. It was refreshing that the novel theory was embodied in one story. It is also very impressive to me because it made me think deeply about what a novelist is.
5. Do you think that expression-oriented literature therapy education, literature therapy programs, and poetry writing for self-reflection are actually helpful to students?
In fact, I treated elementary school students who had kleptomania with literature therapy. At first, the student did not admit that he was wrong, but when I directed him to receive self-examination through literary therapy, he cried and admitted his mistake, and later the symptoms improved. In addition, there was a middle school student who had severe conflicts with friends. He had suicidal thoughts and so he started receiving literary treatment, and now she is making good friends and pursuing her dream. Looking at these examples, writing poems that re-create existing poems with experience or feeling creates an opportunity to reflect on ourselves. Likewise, literary therapy through reading novels is very helpful to students by giving them time to look back and think deeply about themselves through characters in the novels.
6. What are some literary events or programs that students can get interested in?
There are a variety of writing contests and book discussion meetings. There are also programs like ‘humanities on the road’, ‘humanities academy’ or writing programs that are run by local and national libraries. Also, there are writing contests run by each of the magazine companies, so it would be a good idea look for a contest and participate in one you like.
7. What are the positive effects of students approaching literature?
Literature is closely related to our lives because it is made by reflecting and imitating life of reality. Therefore, literature can have many positive effects on our lives. For example, looking at how the main characters in the novel deal with problems, we can also improve our ability to solve many problems that we face in our life. We can also gain a healthy sense of value and lead our own lives. In addition, understanding the emotions of different characters in the novel and empathy with those characters can help communicate well with others in real life. Lastly, we can have a wider and deeper view of life.
8. How can students get to know literature more easily and feel closer about literature?
You shouldn’t just browse the plot of a literature work, you must read the full text yourself. You need to read it very carefully like when you eat a fish, you carefully look into the flesh to see if there are any bones. And create your own literature. It would be a good idea to express your feelings and thoughts with your own writing or essay. If it is difficult, you may start by keeping a diary simply.
9. Finally, do you have anything to say to the students who are not familiar with literature, who are reluctant to read literature?
Rather than just thinking of literature as too difficult and boring, it would be nice to first approach and read a piece that will interest you and make you enjoy reading. Reading works of literature is highly personal so you have to read them yourself to taste them. It's important to try to read, from a funny book to even cartoons, you must first try and read books without comparing yourself with other people.
Until now, we didn't know how to enjoy literature properly. I thought literature was nothing but a subject of learning and something different from our lives. But literature is a reflection of our lives through writing. Sometimes they heal us or make us look back on ourselves. Now, how about living your life with literature? If we live our lives with literature, they will become richer.
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