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Cultural Critic Jin Joong-kwon

2008/02/27 Source

Poignant Outspoken Critic

Mr. Jin made news for his scathing review of the domestic monster film 'D-War' and is again under the spotlight for criticizing the proposed fundraising to restore the burnt-down Sungnyemun gate. In a radio program, he blasted President-elect Lee Myung-bak's (now President) proposal to raise public donations to shoulder the cost. Jin is a leading social critic in the country. He graduated from Seoul National University with an aesthetics degree in 1986 and received a masters on 'Structural Semiology of the Soviet Union' from the same school in 1992. He then studied aesthetics, interpretative theories and linguistic philosophy at Free University Berlin but returned to Seoul during his doctoral program. He currently teaches at Chung-Ang University and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), contributes columns to various print and Internet media outlets and writes books. He is also one of the founding members of the critical journal Outsider. In the previously mentioned controversial review of the blockbuster D-War, he made a number of straightforward attacks.

Attracts both admirers and haters

Born in Seoul in 1963, he graduated from SNU in '86, then served his military duty and completed a graduate course at the same school. He worked for literary and cultural organizations for two years before going off to Germany to study further in 1993. He spent all his student years in social movements but was disillusioned by society becoming increasingly distorted. His move to Germany was sort of an escape. He settled in at Free University Berlin.

There at the language school, he met a Japanese woman three years his senior and tied the knot. He barely made ends meet with the 500,000 won book royalty payment coming from Seoul and by teaching at a Korean school in Berlin. With no medical insurance in the foreign country, hospital bills for his five month pregnant wife was piling up. So as he still jokingly says, he returned to Korea because of his wife.

Few people will attract both admirers and opponent as Professor Jin. He has many fans but also many who detest him. He has two strengths. He is reasonable and satirical. Ex-president Park Chung-hee, the Cold War mentality, male chauvinism, Fundamentalist Christianity, totalitarian moves among the leftists, Hwang Woo-suk and D-War are just some of the social idols Jin has taken issue with in the past few years. In a battle of common sense and reason, Jin is always present. He subdues his opponents with his acute, logical satire.

He has translated a number of aesthetics and Marxism related works and his own books include 'Aesthetics Odyssey', 'Dancing Death' and 'Slow Art Reading'. He says the critiquing culture in Korea is focused on character attacks, and not on logical opinion-based criticism. To provide a venue for sound debates, he launched the bimonthly magazine 'Outsider' in without late 1999 in which anyone, whether it be a progressive, liberal or conservative, can share views. The magazine began as a project to mature the Korean society and share that process with the public.

Freedom of Logical Criticism

He also advocates the unbreakable freedom of ideology. He blasts the country's long history of censoring dissenters. He urges self-reflection to intellects and condemns liberalists with little self-consciousness. He doesn't hesitate to point out differences even with like-minded people. He says a person is free to state his own reasonable opinion, and tolerance is necessary for conflicting ideas. He has opponents all around him, but his free spirit flies on.

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