Yongusil 53: A World of Koreanists in Hawaii
Held biannually, the World Congress of Korean Studies sponsored and birthed by the Academy of Korean Studies in Seongnam is not conventionally the most peripatetic of events. Normally held in the hallowed ground of its verdant home base of academic discipline in the hills outside Seoul, this year, for the seventh event, the Congress decamped across the Pacific to an equally verdant and epistemic locale, the University of Hawaii, Manoa’s East West Center and its connected Center for Korean Studies.
While the AKS-sponsored World Congress was primarily focused upon the non-political, the historical, the linguistic, and the Southern, there was still food for thought for the academic mind directed north of the 38th parallel. Eun Ah Cho, of University of California (Irvine), for example, gave a fascinating interpretation of community relations and identity de-formation and reformation within “Dooman River,” Lu Zhang’s instantly classic film of Sino-Korean border interactions. Within the bounds of the Republic of Korea itself, the panel “Ethnic Korean Return Migrant Experiences and Representations” explored interactions and relations. Here, Young-a Park (University of Hawaii-Manoa) investigated the construction of North Korean cultural or flexible citizenship in a neoliberal and apparently multicultural South. However, Seung-Mi Han (Yonsei University) and Jin-Heon Jung (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity) equally delved into conceptual formations and assemblage when it came to Korean-Chinese and Korean religious communities.
Professor Byung-ho Chung of Hanyang University will be known to Sino-NK readers and scholars of North Korean politics and political structures, as an anthropologist of esteem and renowned and co-author with Professor Heonik Kwon, of the recent landmark work on North Korean politics of legacy and charisma, Beyond Charismatic Politics. Here, Professor Chung led a panel which pushed even farther toward uncovering the liminalities of a seemingly concrete Korean identity. Chung himself examining, with some gusto, what he termed North Korean’s flexible, penetrant nationalism and national identity. Yongdae Kim (University of Washington) followed by revealing–in the most fascinating presentation this author has yet seen on modern Korean cultural production–an equally flexible, penetrant Korean-American identity through the performance of a hybrid Korean-West Coast hip-hop culture. (Solid’s deployment of the symbolic 8-ball cane from NWA’s late 1980’s hip hop nihilistic rage will live with this author for some time.)
The final session of the entire conference, however, proved to be the most fruitful in terms of direct North Korean focus. Benoit Berthelier (INALCO and Yonsei University) and Benjamin Joinau (EHESS) manifested the very best of Francophone Koreanologie. Building on their respective earlier work on science fiction and architectural praxis, the two scholars focused their analytic lenses upon the cultural and literary production of North Korea deploying examples from within the ground of deep textual, visual, and theoretic cultural production.
Within that final session was the Sino-NK connected panel, “A Little Local Difficulty: Constructing Modernity on the Korean Peninsula,” which sought to assert the continuing, partial, and incomplete state of Korean modernity. The presentations brought multiple perspectives upon, and examples of, reconfigurations of Korean identity. The papers moved through the medium of recovery from the impact of colonialism on its physical landscapes in a new piece of work from Robert Winstanley-Chesters, and on the landscapes of childhood and its visual cultural encounter in the deeply moving paper “Disruption, Taint and Redemption: Violence and the North Korean Child” from the University of Sydney’s Christopher Richardson. Recent fellow of Korea University Sarah A.Son gave a convincing account of North Korean identity formation south of the DMZ, conceiving of former citizens of the DPRK as the “tainted self” under and within Seoul’s sovereign writ. Finally Sino-NK’s own managing editor, contributor to The Diplomat, and PhD student at the University of Toronto, Steven Denney, gave a deep and empirically grounded quantitative analysis of trends in South Korean identity, tracing the ebb and flow of materialist and post-materialist conception and relations in a modern South Korea.