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A textual study of Tongp’ae naksong : problems of oral storytelling, genre and the vernacular in late-Chosŏn yadam Park, Si Nae


This dissertation is a two-part study delving into genre delineation and contextualization of late-Chosŏn (1392-1910) yadam narratives as a research site. My central argument is that current treatment of yadam as repositories of kuyŏn (oral storytelling as historical events) falls victim to dehistoricizing and nationalistic tendencies and that a more historicized conceptual and methodological framework with a focus on literary aspects of yadam is long overdue. In Part One, I focus on a close relationship between kuyŏn as lifeblood of yadam and Western-modernity envy in the birth of yadam as a new subfield within ‘national literature’ in the 1970s. I show that scholars, driven by the urge to find sprouts of modern fiction, claimed to find in yadam narratives the ‘authentic’ voice of the Korean people and an objective reflection of Chosŏn social reality; this was done with much theorization and little corroboration. I address how scholarship to date perpetuates dehistoricization in generalizations of yadam as a genre, and offer counterexamples through text-based research. I construct a new framework that contextualizes yadam within late-Chosŏn literary culture and is critical of nationalist logic. I draw ideas from: previous text-based research on yadam and Chosŏn society for further historicization; scholarship on folklore, manuscript culture, Chinese narrative tradition for comparative perspectives; and Sheldon Pollock’s ideas of ‘cosmopolitan and vernacular’. Part Two illustrates the utility of this new framework by examining Tongp’ae naksong (Repeatedly recited stories of the East; hereafter TPNS) by No Myŏnghŭm (1713-1775). I contextualize TPNS and its author-compiler within contemporary literary culture and society, taking into consideration: No’s life experience; paratextual appraisals of and perceptions of genre surrounding his text; surviving manuscript editions; contemporary Chosŏn literati’s interests in fashioning Koreanness, and the lexical texture of TPNS. I finish by highlighting TPNS as a literary composition crafted by an authorial compiler who emulated and experimented with the achievements of his predecessors. My analyses shed new light on several previously-made conclusions about characteristics of yadam in general and TPNS in particular.

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