Conversation with Alex Taek-Gwang Lee.
Following the era of the military government and the student protests in the 1980s, a time when the prime task of theory in Korea was to be the theory of social revolution and national liberation, so-called postmodernism entered South Korean society in the late 1990s, coinciding with a period of political liberalisation, economic growth, and the beginning of the K-pop and K-movie industries. After the collapse of the East Bloc and a retreat from their own dreams of socialist revolution, Korean intellectuals were hungry for fresh theory to fill the vacuum left after the previous decade’s quest for the one and only correct ideology seemed to be over. Within only a few years, the writings of Althusser, Balibar, Derrida, Deleuze, Foucault, and Negri were extensively translated into Korean, and those of Benjamin, Lacan, and Badiou followed suit. At the same time, the works of Nietzsche, Freud and Heidegger were (re-)translated, and all these authors came to be read and discussed not only by trained academics but by a larger readership who visited various (mostly non-collegiate) lectures and seminars around the new postmodern philosophies.
Alex Taek-Gwang Lee was socialised during the golden days of the student movement but started his academic training at the very beginning of the new age of postmodern theory. Since his MA and PhD studies in Pusan (South Korea) and Warwick (UK), he has been ceaselessly writing and translating books and articles, alongside numerous columns, critiques, interviews, and TV appearances, concerning not only French and German theory, but also Korean cinema, pop culture, art, and other social and political issues.
In our first session of the series in theory, Alex Taek-Gwang Lee will talk about his training and his contribution as a theorist, the contemporary South Korean theoretical landscape, and the effects of European critical theory in an Asian and international context.