With the global pandemic grinding everyday life to an uncertain halt, concerned observers relate this new normal to a new civilizational crisis—a critical moment that impels us to rethink how we cope with extremes. If humanity is again “at war against an invisible enemy” that forces us to close borders and realign allies, then the Korean experience of an unending war allows us to gain historical insights into the current situation. Having dispersed, as well as contained, millions of lives across the Korean Peninsula and beyond, the Cold War not only portended the discriminatory biopolitics of today; the era also witnessed social movements and cultural forms that interrogated the given order of things and led to revolutionary changes.
To relearn from that history amid this viral time, our panel explores various Korean cultural texts, produced from the 1940s to the 2010s, that have tackled the Cold War–imposed (b)orders. Kim revisits the formative period of Cold War Korean literature and scrutinizes its bewilderment and failure in embodying state-sanctioned ideologies. Lee approaches the youth culture of 1970s South Korea as a heterogenous site of cultural politics where an alternative imagination was interwoven with authoritarian sensibilities. Yi rereads canonical division novels along with a contemporary war webtoon and connects, through the recurring trope of liminal figures, evolving visions for traversing Cold War binaries. By applying a nomadic, non-anthropocentric perspective to the division system, Jeon’s discussion of two recent works of fiction offers alternative possibilities for a post-pandemic world.
Paper Presenter: Ji Young Kim – Queens College, City University of New York
Paper Presenter: Soonyoung Lee – University of California, Riverside
Paper Presenter: We Jung Yi – Vanderbilt University
Paper Presenter: Seung-Hee Jeon – Boston College