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Needs for Identity: Appropriation of Existentialism in Critical Writings in the Liberation Period, 1945-1950

Sunghee Hong, Yonsei University  

This study explores Korean critics’ and writers’ appropriation of existentialism in the liberation period between independence from Japan in 1945 and the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. The adoption of existentialism in this period is often overlooked in studies which tend to focus on its significant influence in the 1950s. However, examining the way critics in the liberation period evaluated this philosophy is significant in understanding the needs of individuals, as the post-colonial and “postwar” generation, in this short but radically changing period. This study suggests that their need was for a new identity as “cosmopolitan subjects” in a new era of independence. As this generation, born in the 1910-20s, had no specific nationality to “recover” nor a clear sense of nation under the U.S. and Soviet military governments, they needed to seek their own role as independent subjects who take own part in radically changing world. This study describes how this need to establish a new identity and role in world history manifests itself in the “appropriation” of existentialism in their writings. Contributions to the 1948 featured section on existentialism in the popular magazine Sincheonji and other writings published by the contributors, Kim Dongseok, Yang Byeongsik, and Park Inhwan, between liberation and the Korean War, are drawn upon significantly for this discussion.