A Year: Day to Day Men: 14th of September

Hand Over Hand

September 14, 1910 was the birthdate of Korean author Kim Hae-Gyeong, known by his pen name Yi Sang.

Yi Sang graduated in 1922 from the Gyeongseong Engineering High School with training as an architect and was employed as a draftsman in the public works department of the Governor-General of Korea. In December of 1929, Yi Sang won first prize in a design contest for the cover of “Korea and Architecture” and third prize for the cover of the journal of the Korean Architecture Society.

Yi Sang joined the “Circle of Nine” whose core members included Kim Girim, Lee Taijun and Jung Jiyong, taking the position of editor of the journal. Several of Yi Sang’s works were published in the journal, including his poems “Paper Gravestone” and “Condition Serious” and the stories “Wings”, “Meetings and Farewells”, and “Children’s Skulls”.

In November of 1936, Yi Sang went to Japan, where he was arrested by Japanese police in early 1937. This was during the time that the Korean Empire had been officially annexed by Japan with the signing of the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty. Japan officially ruled Korea, which was deprived of the administration of all its internal affairs. Yi Sang was eventually released on bail and admitted to the Tokyo University Hospital, where he died on April 17, 1937 at the age of twenty-six.

Yi Sang was perhaps the most famous avant-garde writer of the colonial era. In his work he experimented with language and interiority, the separation from inside one’s self as well as from the outer world. His poems, particularly, were influenced by Western literary concepts including Dadaism and Surrealism. Yi Sang’s history in architecture also influenced his work, which often included the languages of mathematics and architecture including, lines, dots, number systems, equations and diagrams.

Yi Sang’s literary legacy is punctuated by his modernist tendencies seen throughout his collected works. His poems reveal the desolate internal landscape of modern humanity and, as in the well known “Crow’s Eye View Poem”, utilize an anti-realist technique to show the themes of anxiety and fear. Yi Sang’s stories disjoint the form of traditional fictional writing to show the conditions of the lives of modern people. His most famous story “Wings” utilizes a stream-of-consciousness technique to express these conditions in terms of the alienation of modern people.

Yi Sang never received much recognition for his writing during his lifetime, but his works began to be reprinted in the 1950s. In the 1970s Yi Sang’s reputation soared as more people became aware of his work. The Yii Sang Literary Award, established in 1977, is sponsored by the Korean publisher Munhaksasangsa and has become one of the most prestigious literary awards in South Korea.

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