AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 101

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Session 101: Literary Monsters & Demons

A Powerful Ugliness: The Poetics of the Grotesque in Contemporary South Korean Women's Poetry
Ruth Williams, University of Cincinnati, USA

In South Korea male poets are commonly referred to as siin (poet), while women poets are called yŏryu siin (female poet). As yŏryu siin, women poets are expected to write sentimental, “pretty” poetry that conforms to Korean poetic traditions as well as gender norms of femininity. In a radical transgression of these norms, the poems of contemporary South Korean poets Ch’oe Sŭng-ja, Kim Hyesoon, and Yi Yŏn-ju function like the body of a female grotesque as they seep from the page, protruding with images of violence, vomit, trash, bodily decay, and death. The poems’ “ugly” images weep an excess which transgresses not only Korean gender norms, but the strictures of the yŏryu siin literary tradition. In reading these poets’ work within the framework of Mikhail Bhaktin’s theory of the grotesque and Julia Kristeva’s concept of the abject, I will illuminate how this work creates the problematic body of a female grotesque: a body which claims the unsettling power of ugliness to challenge and transform culture. By writing poems which are neither gentle nor pretty, Ch’oe, Kim, and Yi employ the “poetics of the grotesque” to challenge Korean patriarchal gender constructions and contest the rosy vision of Korea fostered by a masculinized nationalism. Through their embrace of the seepage of the abject, these poets subvert the restrictive façade of beauty and social acceptability in favor of a grotesque permeability through which a new voice of Korean womanhood can emerge.

Limits and Possibilities of the Kisaeng Poems
Jinhee Kim, Ajou University, South Korea

The kisaeng, one of the lowest classes that served both artistically and sexually to the male upper class in pre-modern Korea, implies contradictory meanings. In most sociological studies, the kisaeng is negatively conceived as an example of prostitution, whereas in the humanities, it is often evaluated highly as the initiator of Korean traditional arts. However, it should not be merely disparaged nor unconditionally praised. It should rather be understood as an institution that induced various cultural practices and ideological competition. This paper will investigate the poems of kisaeng girls in this respect. Did they only strengthen the discourses of the male upper class or did they rupture and even surmount them? In what aspects were they subordinate or problematic? To answer these questions, the main theme of love and longing in the kisaeng poems as well as the methods of representation and rhetoric will be investigated. Both similarities and differences between the kisaeng poems and the male nobility's allegorical love poems will be argued, along with the cultural implications of these phenomena. This process will be conducted in consideration of the social-cultural changes in the kisaeng's reality and in other genres, such as the novel, or the yadam, referring to a short story in the late Choseon period. A large number of anonymous kisaeng poems that have not yet been noticed will be discussed. This paper will shed light on a broader range of kisaeng poems and on their various cultural meanings.

Envisioning the Absent One: Representations of the ‘Other Korean’ in South and North Korean Literatures
Joanna K. Elfving-Hwang, Frankfurt University, Germany

This paper discusses how the ‘other’ Korean was represented in both South and North Korean literatures of the 1980s. Although both of these literatures of the Cold War period shared an implicit positive understanding of the ‘other’ Korean, rather than focusing on the ‘sameness’ of the two, this paper proposes an alternative reading of literary fiction about the ‘other’ Korean as a site for remembering and encountering the Other in difference. The theoretical framework for this reading draws on the work of Bracha L. Ettinger, and her notion of ‘matrixial borderspace’ in particular, which allows us to consider the paradoxical absence and presence of the Other who is lost and who cannot be mourned, but is still present and haunting the collective memory of the nation. In this paper, the trauma of division, the vilification of the ‘other Korean’ and the politics of what and who can be remembered are contrasted with the way in which literary works are envisioned as narrative spaces within which the existence of the unspoken Other is recognised as part of one’s subjectivity. The literary works discussed in this paper are thus shown to occupy a narrative space within which ideological discourses become blurred, and subjectivity is created not in terms of exclusion, but as an encounter with the Other subject, whether it be the ‘Southern’ or the ‘Northern’ one. This paper will conclude with a comparative discussion about the limits of such encounter and the significance of this.

Akutagawa Ryunosuke and Fragmented Forms of the Modern Subject: History, Crime, Cinema
Satoru Saito, Rutgers University, USA

This paper considers the literary project of Akutagawa Ryunosuke in the latter half of the 1910s, marked by a heterogeneous yet focused reexamination of Japan’s modernity. On the one hand, the reexamination resulted in what is often called his kaika mono (enlightenment pieces), stories that take place during the early Meiji period and offer critical perspective on Japan’s early encounters with the West. On the other hand, Akutagawa was just as keen to take up issues that were distinctively Taisho in origin. For example, his 1920 story “The Shadow” (Kage) explores the subjectivity of a marginalized individual—a Chinese national living in Japan—within the emergent visual culture of the period, exemplified by cinema but also reflected in the phenomenon of the doppelganger. Tying these seemingly disparate categories of works is the notion of crime, whether lawful or moral, that constitutes one of the major characteristics—albeit not ubiquitous—of Akutagawa’s literary project during this period. Another major characteristic of these stories is the narrative form: they employ what might be called frames around the main narrative that relativize the content of the main narrative and generate multiple layers of meaning in the process. By examining how the theme of crime and the framing technique enable Akutagawa to mediate between present and past and/or between reality and fantasy, the paper explores the ways in which the modern subject negotiates his or her personal experiences within a larger framework of historical progress.