Yongusil 48: Korean Studies Graduate Conference 2014 at St. Petersburg State University

By | October 11, 2014 | No Comments

Scholarship focused on East Asian matters and specifically Korean issues in Russian academia has an extraordinarily long history. Analysis of Korean and Japanese culture began in-depth almost as soon as Imperial Russia signed the treaty of Nerchinsk with China in 1689 and began its expansion into Kamchatka, Chukotka and what would be the Far Eastern and Maritime Provinces. The eventual foundation of Vladivostok in 1860 was the culmination of this eastward expansion and acquisition of knowledge, but it was hardly its end. St. Petersburg itself had an Asiatic Museum dating from 1818, and produced some of the earliest academic publications in Russia on both Korean and Japan. It is surprising, therefore, that Russian academic output is not more widely recognised or considered in the field of either Korean or North Korean studies. Soviet scholars such as Maria Triglubenko and more contemporary writers such as Professor Kurbanov of St Petersburg State University, and Larisa Labrovskaya of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Far Eastern Division in Vladivostok have continued the tradition of Russian scholarship in Korean studies, offering highly grounded and empirical perspectives on North Korea askance or a little removed from the generality of academic production in Western Europe, the US, Australia, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere.

Perhaps it is only right, therefore, that 2014’s Korean Studies Graduate Student Conference in Europe should have been held at the Oriental and African Studies Faculty of St. Petersburg State University, an institution proud of its offering of some 102 Asian and African language programs and a wide variety of more political, cultural and socio-linguistic research. As it tends to be known for, the KSGSC featured young scholars from the “wide arc” of the earth (as Milton would put it), representative of institutions from Asia, Europe and the CIS Nations. The standard of presentations was thus high, with an intriguing focus on linguistic production, development and history, but also containing more contemporary issues of Korean colonial, post-colonial and separation natures.

From a Sino-NK perspective, Kang Minkyu’s (Seoul National University) analysis of post-colonial and Marxist poet Lim Hwa’s ethical navigation of the post-Liberation early separation period was a fascinating combination of the personal and the literary in a period when the personal was rapidly becoming acutely political. Personal interaction with the post separation status quo was equally the focus of Jerome de Wit (Leiden University)’s delicate parsing of Yi Munyol’s short story “An Appointment with his Brother.”

Michel Marion (of the Academy of Korean Studies) engaged with the fluidity of colonial Japanese law, in particular the Sunchon Trial, revealing a legislative milieu which surely will be familiar to analysts of North Korean law and legal structures. Equally, Sangpil Jin (of SOAS) presented the terrain of pre-colonial Chosen’s endeavors to assert and establish its neutrality at a moment of impending colonization, revealing a landscape of interested and disinterested ‘Great Powers’ that will be familiar to any student of nuclear and diplomatic negotiation between North Korean and the wider world.

Andrew Jackson (now of the University of Copenhagen), in his paper ”DPRK Film, the Acousmatic Voice and Order No. 27,” presented a rare study of potentiality so far as the internalization of political charisma in the North Korean is concerned. For North Koreans watching this tale of justificatory derring-do, is the voice driving the action forward one of the internal or the personal, or is it the universalized omniscient and omnipresent Kim? Finally returning to the post-colonial–or even the extra-colonial–Andrew Logie (of the University of Helsinki) examined the voices or absences of voice in the life experience of Koreans of Sakhalin. Logie’s intriguing piece of field work revealing communities struggling with distant histories, a distant nation and in some cases a distant and alien language positing a social space where Korean-ness is detached from North and South as much as the voices in Order No. 27 are disembodied.

KSGSC 2015 is to be held at the rapidly developing Korean Studies department at the University of Malaga in Spain and is, as usual, for the potential of its connections and the depth of its scholarship, highly anticipated.

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