Yongusil 10: Adam Cathcart interviews Blaine Harden in the Yonsei Journal of International Studies: “In Need of an Icon” (full version)
One week in March 2012, BBC Radio 4 serialized “Escape from Camp 14” as its Book of the Week. Book of the Week is broadcast in the United Kingdom at 09:45 in the morning on weekdays, so for an entire week the final fifteen minutes of this commuter’s journey to the University of Leeds would involve listening to harrowing tales of degradation, and very often arrival in tears.
Blaine Harden’s skillfully abrupt yet empathetic recantation of the brutalizing and degrading tale of Shin Dong-hyuk’s life, incarceration and escape has shocked many a reader, sparking utter incomprehension that any political system or ideology could actually create, sustain and necessitate such a situation for elements of its citizenry as the “Total Control Zone” at “Camp 14,” and fermenting a popular, deep and abiding hostility to the North Korean government and its institutions.
In a sense Harden’s work and Shin’s story counteract media and narrative presentations of North Korea as state with a modicum of sympathy for its leadership derived in the popular consciousness from the machinations and difficulties of Kim Jong-il’s representation in Stone and Parker’s “Team America : World Police“. Blaine Harden and Shin Dong-hyuk’s vision of Kimism was not predicated on its buffoonery; one did not care that the ruler of “Camp 14” ever became “… so wonley…,” there was no laughter here, no place to look away. “Escape from Camp 14” sits alongside a literature of holocausts and brutality, of unloved autocracies and fascisms, of texts like “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “The Gulag Archipelago.” texts that damn their political and institutional spaces to eternal opprobrium and hostility.
On such texts are industries built such as those demanding eternal reminsence of the Nazi Holocaust between 1941 and 1945 and its accompanying Zionist recompense, and the developing arena of Human Rights and muscular, militant Liberalism that require adherence by all authorities, institutions and societies to the morays and disciplines of neo-liberal social democracy. In a sense such texts and their industries make the work of academics and analysts here at Sino-NK difficult, corralling, colouring and curtailing the ground of acceptability and possibility for the public in general and analyst in particular.
That does not mean it is not important for us as analysts to engage with the ”reality” of these texts, the space they envisage or describe and the ground they leave us. Dr. Adam Cathcart (now of the University of Leeds), did just that on behalf of the Yonsei Journal of Internation Studies back in 2012 for its Volume 5, Issue 1 (Spring/Summer 2013) appearance. A truncated version of the interview appeared in the journal, but here in the Yongusil/Research Room we are proud to present the extended full version of Dr Cathcart’s considered and interesting discussion with Blaine Harden, which does address some of the difficulties for the objective and academic analyst in engaging with the activist’s reality and truth; a truth which always seems to seek the iconic in its desire to deconstruct and ultimately negate the despotic. – Robert Winstanley-Chesters, Director of Research
The full interview can be downloaded here: “In Need of An Icon: Interview with Blain Harden“