Rina Kim

Rina Kim, Lecturer in Drama in the Department of English, talks about her discovery of Irish fiction and the universal connections of language, memory and emotion.

Rina Kim, Lecturer in Drama in the Department of English
Rina Kim

The story of how I came to specialise in Irish writers involves the well-known Irish singer, Enya. When I was about 15 she visited Seoul to promote her new album, and she happened to be the first native English speaker I spoke with in English. On discovering some of her verses written in Irish Gaelic, I was fascinated by the language and puzzled by how the written language doesn’t correspond to the way it sounds. From then on, I became mad about anything Irish.

I studied English Language and Literature at Sookmyung Women’s University, Korea. I became quite a strong Irish nationalist at heart and was irritated that Irish Literature was not studied in its own right but rather under the umbrella of British Literature. As a third year undergraduate I made up my mind to study in Ireland enrolling in a masters programme at University College Dublin.

Though I quickly realised the commercialised side of mystic Ireland, I was still extremely passionate about Irish literature, writing my thesis on Irish avant-garde theatre, particularly focusing on W. B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett and Marina Carr. My specialisation developed to encompass Anglo-Irish literature and Anglo-Irish writers. I began with Jonathan Swift. After a while, when I felt I had got to know him, I moved to Oscar Wilde, then Yeats, and then George Bernard Shaw. For each writer I felt I came to know them, but when I encountered Samuel Beckett I was stuck there.

The writing of Samuel Beckett, with his complex writing styles and devotion to creating a unique voice, constantly intrigues me. My goal to grasp the core of one of the world’s most challenging modern writers has been relentless and has had a marked effect on my career.

Later, while in Korea weighing up prospects in Britain and the United States, September 11 happened. Quite terrified at the atmosphere in the United States I headed for the UK to do a PhD in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick. I stayed there about eight years doing research and teaching at the same time. I completed my PhD and further developed my expertise in Anglo-Irish literature as well as British and European Theatre.

My PhD is on Samuel Beckett and his literary treatment of women and his native Ireland. Although Beckett is often considered as a writer who removed any autobiographical, social or historical elements, making his works more universal and abstract, my research shows that we can identify these ‘absent’ clues. For example, he wrote many of his works in French while in self-imposed exile in France. However, Beckett goes back to the English of Ireland and also often creates a more conspicuously Irish setting when his works have a woman as a protagonist or speaker. Following my PhD I wrote my monograph Women and Ireland as Beckett’s Lost Others: Beyond Mourning and Melancholia (Palgrave Macmillan). I proposed that his exile influenced his poetics of grieving and unveiled his uneasy relationship with his homeland Ireland and his mother — an anxious part of his identity.

This leads into my other research interests: home, loss, and the connections between language, memory and emotion. I am interested in writers who, like Beckett, choose to step out of their national identity which also stems from my own personal experience of being away from home and how language can influence the way we communicate emotion. I am also interested in gender studies and psychoanalytic theories.

My own identity is intertwined with my research interests. I tend to call myself a ‘Beckettian’ — although I find it quite problematic to borrow someone else’s identity to label myself. After handing in my thesis I had to find my own way of distancing myself from my Beckett project. I flew to Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris where Beckett is buried. I burnt the introduction to my thesis in front of his tomb as a dedication and as a way to close that chapter in my life.

Currently, together with Dr Claire Westall at the University of Warwick, I am editing a volume on Cross-Gendered Voices: Appropriating, Resisting, Embracing. This book explores male writers’ use of the female voices and female writers’ use of the male voices, and investigates whether the creation of cross-gendered voices reflects specific psychological, social, cultural, historical and political contexts as well as the author’s own artistic ambitions.

I am also in my dream job teaching Drama in the English Department at The University of Auckland. I feel as if I am now directing my life rather than pursuing a dream. It is all quite exciting.