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[Korean Scholars ➁]

Deep Insights into the World from the Great Scholar
Lee O-Young’s Viewpoint

A creative life led by the trinity of reading, writing, and thinking

 

2022.02.14

 

A well-educated individual is called a scholar. Today's intellectual, professor Lee O-Young is a representative figure as a scholar. A literary critic, journalist, professor, and the first minister of culture, Lee O-young left a strong impression when he first appeared in the literary world. When he was a university student, literary pieces of Yi Sang, now known as a revolutionary writer, were not welcomed. Professor Lee drew attention in the literary world by announcing Theory on Yi Sang, which interprets Yi Sang's pieces from a new perspective. When authoritarianism was at its peak, he harshly criticized peers who idolized existing literary circles in a publication celebration. His criticism was written as an article Destruction of an idol and was published on a page of a 4-paged newspaper. The article brought immense shocks and impact to the field. At the age of 22, he showed his spirit, flexible thinking, and deep insight into the core of the object as he introduced himself to the literary world. As he reaches the age of 90, professor Lee still enjoys a creative life formed of the trinity of reading, writing, and thinking.

 

The mirror that reflects professor Lee's intellectual depth and breadth

 

Professor Lee has continued to write books for more than 60 years. Due to his long life as a writer, he has more than 30 books known as his major literary works. In an interview, he said, "Life is the process of writing and editing." All his books show his keen observation and deep insights. The types and genres of his books vary, including teachings for young people, essays about his own story, a father's monologue to his children, novels and poems, and a collection of realistic and sharp editorials. In particular, the writings of Professor Lee, who has been a university professor for a long time, are becoming a guidebook for young people living in the current era.

 

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Smaller Is Better: Japan's Mastery of the Miniature, In This Earth & In That Wind: This Is Korea, House Built with Words

 

 

Smaller Is Better: Japan's Mastery of the Miniature (Literature & Thought) is one of professor Lee's representative books. The year 1934 was during the Japanese colonial era, and people learned Japan's language, culture, and history. This book is about a theory on Japanese written from a minimalist perspective, the origin of Korean's analysis on Japanese, and one of the steady selling books on Japan. The book includes Japanese classic literature and the author's opinion and criticism on Japan and theories on Japanese. At the same time, it sees through Japan while focusing on a cultural phenomenon in an objective and neutral stance. Professor Lee's fundamental insight that transcends time brings awe to people. The missing contents in Smaller Is Better: Japan's Mastery of the Miniature was published in Smaller Is Better: Japan's Mastery of the Miniature and After (Gilionwon), 13 years after, adding and modifying some parts of the previous book.
In This Earth & In That Wind: This Is Korea (Literature & Thought) is regarded as the book that raised the banner of Korean cultural theory representing this land for the first time. The book is a collection of essays published in the Kyunghyang Shinmun in 1963. It sheds new light on Koreans' livelihood and practices while they suffered from poverty and hunger. The book is also a valuable publication that shows the existence of a cultural theory on Korea to Korean society as it overcomes the cultural notion of poverty deriving from colonialism and the Korean war. The book unhesitantly expresses his broad knowledge and insightful remarks on Korea's architecture, clothes, and eating habits. The book is excellent for something written by a man in his 20s. 300,000 copies were sold in a year in Korea, becoming one of the best sellers at the time. It was translated into English, Japanese, and Chinese, playing the leading role in spreading Korean culture. Professor Lee was called “Leader of the Youth,” “Magician of Language,” and “Talented Man since Dangun” after the publication of In This Earth & In That Wind: This Is Korea. Also, a renowned Japanese anthropologist, professor Dada picked the book as one of the three books that gave him the biggest impression.
House Built with Words (Arte) is a collection of ‘Rereading Korean Poetry’ articles serialized on Chosun Ilbo in 1996. 32 valuable Korean poems are interpreted from professor Lee's viewpoint. This book is for people who misunderstand poems for being occupied with the history or life of authors or want to read poems from a different perspective. It shows the true meaning of every poetic diction, interprets the symbolic meaning of poems, and unravels the hidden but beautiful meaning of words used in our daily lives. The book shows the true value of poems, like Azaleas by Kim Sowol, Wilderness by Yi Yook-Sa, Prologue by Yun Dong-ji, Green Grapes by Yi Yook-Sa, Sun by Park Doo-Jin, which are to be remembered as valuable assets to the history of Korean literature.

 

The essence between life and death

 

As a representative intellectual in the field of Korean literature and a person near the age of 90, what message would professor Lee like to deliver to readers as he struggles between life and death? In his recently published book The Last Lesson of Lee O-Young (Yolimwon Publishing Group), professor Lee wrote down his thoughts and anecdotes about life and death under various themes, such as love, forgiveness, and religion. Although he is exhausted physically and mentally from a long battle with cancer, as a person near death, he conveys his idea that death is at the center of life through the book.

 

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The Last Lesson of Lee O-Young

 

 

In the fall of 2019, when Chosun Biz posted an article on The Last Interview with Lee O-Young in the “Jisu Kim's Interstellar” corner, many readers sent support to professor Lee, who said, “I lived a gifted life.” The article got more than 7,000 comments and was published as The Last Lesson of Lee O-Young after adding thoughts of professor Lee. In 16 interviews conducted throughout a year, professor Lee introduced his new friend, death, to reporter Jisu Kim and readers as a teacher would teach his students. He also talks about ‘death in life’ or ‘life near death.’ In the last chapter of the book, the full text of The Last Interview with Lee O-Young is included. Professor Lee answers students' questions on life and death using fitting metaphors and comparison. As a life mentor, he leaves composed words of comfort to students who will live in the world after his death.

 

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Professor Lee O-Young
(Source: BookTrailer. The Last Lesson of Lee O-Young)

 

 

Professor Lee, battling cancer, is currently serving as an advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo and chairman of the Northeastern Asia Institute of Comparative Cultural Studies. He will share wisdom by attending the 'Grand Master Class 20222 - Proof of Hope' lecture for two days, from March 26 to 27.
A Korean proverb says, “When a tiger dies, he leaves his skin, and when a person dies, he leaves his name.” As a teacher to many students living in this era, a leader guiding the times, a role model for the youth who will lead modern Korean literature, and as an eternal creator of Korea, professor Lee will be remembered forever in Korean literature, and for the pieces he left.

 

 


Written by Lee Ji-Hyeon

 

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Lee Ji-Hyeon

#Lee O-Young#Scholars#Korean Poetry#The Last Lesson of Lee O-Young#Mentor
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