The concepts of ‘nation’, and ‘national literature’, which are the important concepts in the Korean cultural and artistic circles, need to be understood historically. Working on reconstructing by tracing the usage of the concepts is ‘not to define but to interpret’. The purpose of this thesis is to convert the past into the present by interpreting the concepts of national literature amid the historical transitions, and through this, to intensify the understanding of the circumstances that condition those concepts of national literature.
First, the appearance of the concept of nation is worth noting. In Joseon, the concept of nation appeared for the first time in connection with racial confrontation. It was in the Bulletin of the Get‐Together of Joseon Students Studying Abroad published in December 1897 that the word, ‘nation’ first appeared. It was in Hwangseong Newspaper dated January 12, 1900 that the concept of ‘nation’ was used as having the usage similar to today's usage. In Daehanmaeilshinbo Newspaper, the word, ‘nation’ appeared 0 times in 1905, 26 times in 1906, 47 times in 1907, 139 times in 1908, 126 times in 1909, and 79 times in 1910, which is the year of the Japanese annexation of Korea. During the period from 1905 to 1910 when the sovereignty of the people was damaged, the awareness of the modern concept of nation was intensified and can be interpreted as gradually having the appearance of ‘resistant nationalism’.
With regard to ‘national literature’, the concept of ‘Joseon literature’ was used in early days. And it gradually showed the appearance of ‘Joseon’ combining with ‘nation’. It was Choi Nam-seon who exerted important influence on this. And as the proletarian literature of KAPF was raised in the 1920s, the concepts of ‘the people's literature’, ‘motherland people's literature’, ‘national literature’ were established as the concept opposing to it. Under the colonial rule, proletarian literature and national literature all had no choice but to be locked up in the framework of ‘imperialism’. Accordingly, the true discussion of national literature began to be active in connection with the formation of nation state after the liberation.
Among those who led the discussions of national literature during the liberation period were Im Hwa, and Kim Dong-lee. Im Hwa's discourse on national literature was expressed based on the ideology of Joseon Writers' Federation, and Kim Dong-lee's discourse on national literature was deeply connected with the doctrine of Joseon Youth Writers' Association The discussions of national literature during the liberation period had no ways to refute each other due to the division of the country and eventually the divided positions amid the opposing consciousness to each other showed the appearance of becoming permanent. The discussions of national literature in the 1950s after the Korean War were raised by Choi Il-soo, and Jeong Tae-yong. And in the 1970s, the discussions of national literature began to be active. Those who led these discussions were Im Heon-yeong, Paek Nak-cheong. Particularly, discourses on national literature in that period, were connected with the realities of the divided country, the third world discourse on literature, and discourses on the people’s literature and were elaborated.
Currently, the discourses on national literature are facing several challenges. First, as the crisis of ‘nation discourse’, criticisms on the discourses on ‘national literature’ have been proliferating. Second, due to the effects of rapid globalization, the feeling of solidarity with nation as the unit is weakening. Third, due to the realities of the divided country, the discourses on ‘national literature’ tend to be regarded as Sollen discourses.
The discourses on national literature are the languages that are politically damaged. Nevertheless, the discourses on national literature cannot be said to have become dead languages. Since national literature is a historical concept that has undergone continuous changes together with Korean modern literature, the new task of Korean literature can be established by interpreting its stratified meanings.