Discourse on Han in Postcolonial Korea:
Absent Suffering and Industrialist Dreams


James K. Freda

University of California--Los Angeles

Copyright © 1999 by James K. Freda, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

    A Klee painting named 'Angelus Novus' shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the Angel of History. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken what is dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. (Benjamin 257-58)

  1. This essay seeks to mine the implications for contemporary social thought of the emergence in the 1970s of Korean liberation or minjung theology. Central to the explosive political activism of the 70s in Korea was a language treating suffering, discourse on han. This affective or theoretical concern is characteristic of the larger liberation theology movement most commonly associated with Gabriel Gutièrrez. The Korean case, however, is unusual in that it produced a widely shared, popular idiom explicitly treating the condition of suffering--what I am here terming "discourse on han." The elaboration of this idiom was informed by folk culture as much as by the pent-up and schizophrenic anxieties of Korea's postcolonial predicament.
  2. The idée fixe running through this essay is the call for a culture of commiseration at the heart of progressive politics, a culture which responds to and does not escape the imperative experience of suffering. Reopening this rhetorical foundation of critical thought demands a consideration of some of the aporias and antinomies that operate in contemporary theory. Key here is the general absence of a discourse treating suffering in modern, market-driven culture intent on progress and luxury. Suffering is not only without voice in dominant scientistic discourses on the social, it is without substance or consequence: it is distasteful, a horror and threat to reason and development.
  3. The silencing of this subject occurs in our own efforts to think the social, through the operation of the charged antinomies of religion and science, theology and social theory, rhetoric and reason, meaning and matter, tradition and modernity. Certain topics and sensibilities have been declared taboo to academic writing, and these strictures are not unrelated to material conveniences we all desire. Understanding the slippages that cloak the issue of social suffering is crucial if critical theory is to move with sufficient reflexivity from an analytical and structuralist focus on exploitation and class interests to one engaged with the fields of power and desire in their Foucaultian dimensions.[1]
  4. If a generalizable method emerges from this paper it is not to be found in a thorough reworking or realignment of these dyads. Rather, it will be in evoking the excluded terms in an effort to re-burden the linear movement of modernity, to slow the long, brisk strides of progress. In contrast to ordered dualisms, I am interested in Merleau-Ponty's notion of the chiasm, an indeterminate web of material perception and exchange in which (against the Cartesian system of optics, for example) vision is conflated with touch and where the object reclaims its voice and substance. David Michael Levin has it thus: "The gaze of compassion, the gaze which can be touched and moved, is but a special case of the intertwining in which vision and touch are, inseparably, joined together. A special case, and an essential fulfillment of the potential implicit in that crossing of fields." (236). Dualism serves the construction of clean, linear movement and reduces the messy chiasmic exchange to manageable proportions, providing logical direction and development. In what follows, I link this repressive, managerial reason with emotional impartiality and suggest strategies for moving beyond this modern configuration of power, knowledge, and desire.
  5. The failure of the grand socialist experiments in our day, as well as the hypertrophic success of the capitalist experiment, can be attributed to a blind faith in instrumental reason, the seductive force of abstract law, of a science eager to vivisect society with certain exquisite, technical care. Within this larger field of scientism, progressive politics and theory has constructed the proletariat to serve as a container for romantic energies and affective appeals to structural critiques and structural solutions. I hope to elude, if even for a moment here, some of the comforts of this arrangement in order to open up onto a deeper voice, an anguished because unheeded wisdom of the soul. The analyst's 'chain of events' is for the radical melancholic a mounting horror, a pile of detritus to which we remain insensible. What for us is the captivating pleasure of modernity and the lure of the future is for the Angel of History a paralyzing wind, the shock of unthinkable and total expulsion. We must find some way, by some unreasonable magic, to penetrate the hiatus between Benjamin's two temporal orientations, to remember that the origin is not only a promised Paradise but was a primal alienation, that from the other side the terms of dualism are an inhuman burden.
  6. I wish to point out the convergence of a number of recent concerns related to defining the language of the proletariat--the working-through of that almost voiceless, idealized proletarian rage into more localized expressions of social pain. Liberation theology, theories of ideology and Utopia, a focus on the "moral peasant" as in the writings of James Scott, negative dialectics, all rotate around the issue of social suffering. What is the object of the various theoretical models emerging at this time is the subject of Korea's discourse on han, and I will be working between these two spheres, the theoretical and the socio-historical, in an attempt to evoke a deeper, gestural economy of suffering, one whose agonic movements can give substance to ideology critique.[2] My focus will be on the role of the Utopian moment, and this article's contribution will be to identify Utopia with pain.
  7. The cultural turn in theory has been an effort to understand the workings of the superstructure-to which culture and religion had been banished, and the emergence of the liberation theologies in the 1970s is an unappreciated part of that process. It was the awareness of the suffering of the poor and oppressed which fueled the development of the liberation theologies in the 1970s. This intersection of theology and liturgical social practices with a sociological form of critique was fruitful and explosive. Liberation theology operates at that intersection between the millenarianisms of Marx and of the Gospels, where the respective assets of Christian social forms (the pastor, liturgy, flock) are funded anew by the scientific authority of Marx's critical sociology. Frederic Jameson has observed that:
  8. The value of religion for revolutionary activity lies . . . in its structure as a hypostasis of absolute conviction, as a passionate inner subjective coming to consciousness of those deepest Utopian wishes without which Marxism remains an objective theory and is deprived of its most vital resonances and of its most essential psychic sustenance as well. (Marxism and Form 157; c.f. Political 285)

  9. The force of faith allows the movement from analysis to action, from the avant-garde aesthetics of revolutionary form to the dialogic living of revolutionary substance. Jameson, so much an advocate of the Utopian moment within post-marxist high-theoretical discourse, here limns the theological and what Gutièrrez has termed the Prophetic. Discourse on han highlights the centrality of commiseration to this fund of radical, democratic politics; the Utopian impulse and its parallels have been conceived largely as an abstract hinge through which ideology is subverted, critical space opened and evoked. In what follows I hope to point out that this central theoretical mechanism does not function solely in the abstract, but emanates from and should return us to the existential field of immiseration.
  10. Two of the main initiators of Korea's minjung theology, Sô Nam-dong and An Pyông-mu, rely heavily on the notion of han.[3] Indeed, their theology, and their encounter with the minjung (which may be roughly translated as "masses" or "people"), remains opaque without recognition of this central element. An concludes his Minjung kwa Yôksa (The People and History) with a telling anecdote. He addresses the confessed inability of his audience at a German theological conference to comprehend the significance of han as he has used it in his preceding lecture:
  11. . . . you have said that because you have not had experience of suffering [konan] such as han, it is difficult to understand it (as an expression of collective suffering). I find it hard to believe you can say that you have not had an experience of collective suffering, even after having undergone two world wars. At that time didn't all of Europe experience extreme hardship? Didn't the Jews collectively experience suffering? . . . How can you overlook all of these things in your theology? . . .
    Ladies and Gentlemen, the general situation in which you have been placed is one not of suffering but of prosperity. From this situation, how in the world can you bear witness to a suffering God? . . . [If] you say you will continue to theologize [but] in so doing lend support to the status quo and the welfare state, no good will come of it. (418-19)

  12. At the heart of An's theology and of his conception of life in the modern world is an excruciating sensibility to suffering which in turn permeates his mythic and social vision as well as his anthropology. For An as for many other Korean minjung theologians, comprehension of this element and the requisite overcoming of complacency is the mandate of a socially responsible and correct theology and is moreover the proper basis of humanism. An is convinced of the universality of this perspective but notes that the Western ideology of prosperity mitigates against it. Thus, An argues for the need for ecumenical exchange and for Western societies to learn from the experience of countries like Korea (419). This essay may be viewed as an effort to take An at his word--to think through the silent presence (the agonized absence) of social pain in culture and in cultural theory.
  13. Han is translated in my Minjungseorim Korean-English dictionary simply as "grudge, resentment, rancor," but han is typically not translated for this robs it of its culturally embedded meaning. Han is generally considered a complex and involves at the very minimum the opposing operations of pumtta and pultta--much like the English usages of harboring and releasing a grudge. In its intranslatability we can see the mythic stature which han has assumed in contemporary Korean thought--it is a unique essence of the Korean national character, it is the kernel of Korean historical experience, the epitome of women's experience, the heart of Korean Shamanism, the motive force behind literary, cultural and even, according to at least one sociologist, economic development (K. Kim 206-9).
  14. Explanations of han invariably call up the roots of Korean culture and historical experience. In this sense, discourse on han acts as historical memory treating the legacy of suffering incurred in Korea by colonialism, imperialism (of modern and pre-modern variants), a civil war that was the first violent blossoming of the Cold War, and rapid development at the hands of foreign and domestic dictatorships. Discourse on han is varied in tone but cannot be relegated to the periphery of Korean culture. Indeed, chapters, entire books and even, it seems, academic careers have been devoted to the definition and the analysis of han. Deeply embedded in a nationalist sensibility, it seems best to grant han its mythical status and to move on to a consideration of its significance and positioning. Discourse on han in contemporary Korea is ripe with insights into Korean culture, where it intersects with modernity, the West, and the legacy that is its own past.
  15. Criticism of traditional society was a fundamental theme of the nationalist writers of the first several decades of this century, at the dawn of colonial modernity (such as Yi Kwang-su, Sin Ch'ae-ho, and Ch'oe Nam-son). Chosôn (1392-1910), the long-standing civilization of pre-modern Korea, was seen as static and shamefully weak geopolitically, lacking the independence and autonomy central to the modern world order, internally corrupt and backwards.[4] Consciousness of this societal and international weakness was heightened in the context of the new standards for modernization enforced by the success of Japan, which aggressively colonized Korea from 1905. Following liberation in 1945, the Korean war was a further shock frustrating closure to the process of national identity formation, and the sundering of Korea in half necessitated a certain awareness of postcolonial imperialist power. Thus, Korea has as yet been unable to enter into full-scale national identity homogenization; it was fundamentally disrupted by Japanese colonial policy (and the divisive reaction to it) prior to "liberation" and by its consequent ideological and national splintering in the Cold War period of decolonization. In the interstices of this fractured national discourse has emerged the elaboration of a radically critical perspective--discourse on han. It is in this sense that discourse on han, particularly the more radical minjung discourse on han, provides a highly unusual wedge into the modern politics of identity and into the easy sovereignty of modernity which, in certain (painful) ways, Korea seems to have eluded.
  16. Since the 1970s in Korea, the notion of han has had a prominent place in academic and public discourse. Literary studies from the late '40s, especially of such writers as Kim Sowôl and Yi Kwangsu, have emphasized this sentiment as a central theme. There were two main stages in the development of discourse on han, relating to its main classifications: chônghan and wônhan. Chônghan indicates a mild, sentimental form of resentment, a bitter-sweet longing, while wônhan refers to a more forceful, repressed grudge that can explode for ill or well. This latter form of han was elaborated upon from the 1970s and the early rise of the labor and minjung movements. Ch'ôn I-du observes that the initial focus on han was literary critical and came from a consideration of the person and poems of Kim Sowôl (1903-34), widely seen to epitomize the essential Korean aesthetic.[5] Here chônghan reflects the pain of separation, the ambivalent emotions evoked when betrayed by a lover. Sowôl's Azaleas (1922) is a classic reference for this:
    When the sight of me
    sickens you
    I will grant you leave without a word.

    Mt. Yak in Yôngbyôn
    I will pick an armful and strew them in your path.

    As you go, step by step
    you will lightly tread
    on the flowers there.

    When the sight of me
    sickens you
    even if I die I will not shed a tear.[6]

    The image of strewing flowers to be tread upon by a departing lover and the silent, hardened resignation pledged when "the sight of me/ sickens you" expresses the bittersweet affect of chônghan.

  17. Discourse on han became actively political only in the 70s with the rise of the minjung movement, but before moving on to that later phase, I would like to consider the work of Ham Sôk-hôn and the colonial origins of the modern aesthetic of han. Ham's career spans the modern century and in the contemporary period played a leading role in progressive religious and political circles in Korea. Like Kim Sowôl, Ham's aesthetic sensibility was a product of the culture of Korea's colonial period, but Ham's career foregrounds the historical, theological and political concerns of discourse on han in its later, more popular manifestation.
  18. Ham's Queen of Suffering[7] demonstrates much of the historical ethos felt by anti-colonial nationalists in Korea and is an early effort to write Korea's history "in a language of suffering" (Ham, Preface). In it, Ham's emphasis is on the pathos of Korea's subjections: "All Korea has is poverty and suffering. . . . Some claim contemptuously that Korea has never been a really independent nation. Although that may not have been the case, Korea's entire history is one of continuous invasion and plunder" (22-23; original in Ttût ûro pon 311-12). Ham's interpretation parallels in many ways that of the dismissive and pejorative colonialist historiography. Such histories of Korea, most pointedly those upheld by Japan, emphasized Korea's dependence, stagnation, and weakness, and proof of this was undeniably demonstrated in Korea's inability to withstand imperialist aggression. Certainly this is a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom--the cat chiding the mouse, "I told you so." Ham's strategy is to mimic the Imperial condemnation of Korea but to recolonize, or decolonize, that attack by not only following but exceeding the moral vigor of the metropolitan authority.[8] In his text, Ham provides a thoroughgoing and excoriating indictment of Korean history, but for Ham the misery he encounters at the acme of Korea's historical failures demonstrates that there is a shared and inviolable Korean essence, one that is confirmed in the collective experience of suffering--a real but negative core of identity.
  19. The basis of Ham's understanding of even the most wretched condition is a demand for universal, humanitarian respect; in the deepest condition of misery and shame exists a well-spring of honor. In a recent work Alex Callinocos, quoting Jameson, finds in the face of the hegemony of global capitalism a measure of hope for radical social change in the commitment of each new generation--a commitment that derives "not from the reading of the 'Marxist classics,' but from the objective experience of social reality. . . " (209).[9] However, without the will to recognize and confront that reality, no critical apprehension can emerge. Herein we find the merit of Ham's approach. Ham's strategy becomes clear in this passage from Queen of Suffering:
  20. Have you ever seen a work of sculpture called "The Old Courtesan" by . . . Rodin? I cannot avoid the feeling that this work is the very image of Korea. As I remember it an old women is sitting, her torso is bent forward, a hand behind her back with the fingers bent in pain. She is emaciated, bones showing through; . . . she is decrepit and infirm with age. . . . Her breasts that once charmed countless playboys are withered and ugly, covering a heart sunk in grief.
    . . . [T]hen, taking another look at her present image I was moved with grief. Living all her life for others, she was oppressed, she was walked over, handled like a thing, treated like an animal. . . . Under perpetual social punishment, she cannot but throw her wretched existence on the mercy of a society which spurns her. Such were my thoughts, and I too spat on her in contempt.
    But readers, the woman did not let me go. The downcast unseeing eyes and the sealed lips that did not speak demanded of me something more than sorrow and scorn. Yes, something more had to be shown her. We owe her respect, because she took upon herself the sins of society. Old whore, all this you took and carried on your frail shoulders, society's ignorance and cruelty, meanness and falsehood, the beast that is in man, the devil that is hidden behind personality. That is why you were robbed of your virginity and lost your humanity, wasted your youth. Thanks to you the gentlemen can assume their dignity, and ladies vaunt their purity. Society should apologize to you and pay you homage.
    Great master indeed was Rodin to discover solemn beauty in the filth that everybody spits upon. To this aged whore sitting in misery for centuries by the side of the highroad leading out from the Asian continent to the Pacific, to this queen of suffering we should bow our heads with respect, in sorrow and solemnity. (177-78)[10]

  21. Ham's identification with this image of a European prostitute has much to do with Korea's new position in the modern world system--straddled by the ideological scission of Western empire. Ham in this way recuperates the traditional poetry dealing with the violated devotion of the kisaeng (courtesan), so much a precedent for discourse on han, only now directed not at a local and sino-centric but a foreign and Eurocentric, aggressively colonial aristocracy.[11] In this reading, Rodin's appreciation for the grotesque takes on a peculiar nationalist import--Ham resurrects this image of the abject, ungainly body to serve as metaphor for the colonized body politic. Korea is the "Queen of Suffering" among nations as the courtesan is the epitome of shame in her society. By confronting this experience, Ham reveals not a judgement of Korea or of the courtesan, but of the entire system of relations which has produced the condition they suffer: it is amidst the detritus that a Utopian reassertion of dignity can be found.
  22. This "radical melancholic" sensibility reburdens the sleek futurism of structural knowledge with the troubling detritus of the past, and in this redistribution of epistemic weight it becomes possible to liberate the frozen function of myth into a more workable one of meaning. Religion, as it has been positioned outside the political and social-scientific, is over-burdened with an imperative to unquestioning devotion and belief--the shrill, unblinking and transfixed awe that we see in the posture of the Angel of History. Ham's postcolonial strategy points the way to commuting this sentence, opening up alternative paths for vigorous social action other than the developmental or social-structural with which we have become so disillusioned.
  23. Ham deals with issues of social responsibility, exploitation, and the reality of suffering on a personal and immediate rather than a merely social-institutional and abstract basis--this latter being more characteristic of the limitations of classical Marxian sociological analysis, though intimations of the former are what give it rhetorical, political force. Much of this awareness is developed in what Ch'ôn I-du has termed "minjungchôk hannon," the minjung discourse on han. The seventies were a time of a rapidly growing export economy, inflation and income disparity. Increased expectation (often in the form of labor organization) for repayment of the dividends earned by the working class through their sacrifices for the national economy was met by fierce government suppression. Lukacs argued that "with capitalism . . . and with the creation of a society with a purely economic articulation, class consciousness arrived at the point where it could become conscious" (59). For Korea, this period occurred amidst the new heavy-industrial emphasis of Park's regime, and the "class consciousness" achieved at this time was given rich expression through the notion of han.
  24. The expansion of discourse on han in Korean minjung scholarship from the 1970s, as well as the rise of minjung scholarship itself, is generally described as a reaction to the oppressive policies of Park Chung Hee and his Yusin ("revitalizing") reforms, the "sad gift of our history in the 1970's" (An 91).[12] What I want to point out here are the specific languages that emerged in this process. Two discourses emerge at this time: one profoundly aware of a history of injustice and suffering, activated in the present by more of the same, and another seeking to instill a captivating vision of a future bright with prosperity--this latter not merely touting an end to misery but in active denial of the social pain which is a major obstacle to the efficient exercise of political power and the self-aggrandizing operation of the market. Let us see how discourse on han "rubs history against the grain" (Benjamin 257).
  25. Park Chung Hee was the popular dictator from 1962-78 who produced the economic and ideological juggernaut that is today's "miracle on the Han" (referring to the Han River running through Seoul). In Our Nation's Path, Park includes a chapter titled "Chronicle of Korean People's Suffering," but this is a history of another tenor entirely, one that reinscribes the colonialist insensitivity by a developmental ethic. Like Ham, Park discusses the loss of a spirit of independence and laments the geopolitical factors which account for Korea's subjections throughout history. But Park sees only international relations, Communist aggression, American self-interest and the need for a strong leader. His speech is filled with such terms as "territorial ambitions," "diplomatic relations," and "political situation." Ostensibly about suffering, Park's text evokes little pathos and instead is filled with a cold and institutional language. Indeed, he not once mentions a personal experience of affliction in this chapter and cannot in fact address any domestic problems save those which serve his agenda for development of strong government and heavy industry. It is clear that Park cannot breach the more poignant issues of social inequity or economic exploitation, issues which typically enter talk about suffering and which directly concern the lives of individuals and communities. His is an effort to subsume such discourse into a future-oriented vision of prosperity and power.
  26. The rise of the labor movement and minjung theology is widely identified as coincident with the self-immolation of Chôn T'ae-il in 1970. But this was also the heyday of the optimistic ideology of the Saemaûl (New Village) movement, by which Park interpellated rural communities into the development bonanza. A juxtaposition of the divergent languages involved in these two efforts will help to delineate han discourse as it moves more clearly into the realm of the opposition politics and minjung thought. What follows is an excerpt from Park Chung-hee's talk, titled "Let us clarify our understanding concerning the practical plan and essential spirit of the Saemaûl movement":
  27. There are those who, when you say "Saemaûl Movement," think that taking cement and reinforcing rods to improve roads and roofs and building public wells or bridges is everything. Of course, that too is the Saemaûl movement. But that is not everything. To understand the Saemaûl movement simply in a single sentence: it is the "good-life movement." We must first escape from poverty.
    Having the good life today is of course important. However, more than that, the important thing is, for tomorrow and for the sake of our beloved posterity, to build the village and fatherland where we can live well. It is this which is the fundamental thought and philosophy of the Saemaûl movement. The problem remaining is the one of what we must do to be able to live well. To get the good life, we must be diligent, strengthen our spirit of self-reliance, and strengthen our spirit of community. . . . (emphasis added. "Saemaûl" 249-51; qtd. in Yi Chong-pôm 448-49)

  28. Park actively sought to define the escape from poverty in the promise of plenty to be found in industrialization and strong leadership. His was a rhetoric of hope, an eschatology of salvation enshrining Park, the Nation, and "living well," a rhetoric which diverted attention from the cost of progress to its rewards. The mute Angel of History, with its paralyzed pathos, is denied in favor of an energetic, forward-looking view to the imaginary future.
  29. Park's cultural politics served the ambitious project of modernization in South Korea and allowed for rapid "success." But the fruits of Korea's new heavy industry were not to be enjoyed by its manpower; the ideology of the Saemaûl movement and of Park's ethical optimist campaign was in tacit denial of the reality of suffering experienced by the working class. Park's exhortations about the "good life" and about working to realize the good life for one's children, hometown, and fatherland are at their face value laudable. It is reality crashing in, with the rise of the labor and minjung movements emphasizing a new and angrier notion of han, that vitiates Park's saccharine message.
  30. The absence of "the good life," at least for those in the Pyônghwa Market, was made evident by Chôn T'ae-il's famous last exhortations. Chôn T'ae-il was a worker in a garment factory in the Tongdaemun-ku district in Seoul. He became involved in labor organization and formally petitioned the government:
  31. We understand well the working procedures which are specified in the Labor Standard Law. However, we cannot receive the least benefit of the Labor Standard Law and what is more 90% of the 20,000 employees are on average 16 year-old girls. Even without the Labor Standard Law, as human beings how can you force girls to work 15 hours a day? (Cho 252-54; C. Yi 454)

  32. Chôn's appeal continues, describing non-existent health facilities, wages that force workers to fast through lunch, crowded conditions, and lack of days off. The dual imperatives, clearly of ideological rather than practical necessity, of a vicious internal anti-communism and export-led economic development worked against any compromise with regard to unionization or even the enforcement of labor laws already on the books.[13] Deeply disturbed by working conditions and the lack of any positive remedial action, official or otherwise, Chôn entered the Pyônghwa market and, shouting "Comply with the Labor Standard Law! We are not machines! Do not enslave the workers!," committed self-immolation in a desperate display of protest (C. Yi 454).
  33. Here is the face of reality and it is grimacing. Chôn's self-immolation brought this message home to those not already too busy preaching the good news of salvation by economic development. With such outcry from those not sharing in the official good-life begins the age of political discourse on han. It is from this point on that han emerges from the literary realm and comes to have a crucial social role; it is more closely linked to analysis of specific, contemporary social injustice and becomes integral to the philosophy of the opposition movement in society. As such, it is an important source of historical memory and contemporary discourse on identity, both personal and collective. What seems to be happening in this process of cultural representation, this symbolic enthronement of an existentially radical moment in popular discourse, is a restricted but crucial instance of the emergence of class consciousness which is given linguistic and cultural substance.
  34. We must acknowledge that in this war of position Park, who had at his disposal massive foreign (US) aid, was successful in his efforts at implanting an enthralled culture of rapid-development. In it operated the double ethic of sacrificial loyalty to the national economy (a martial seriousness) together with an increasingly aggressive consumerist enjoyment of that economy (and here is where the Bahktinian notion of carnival loses some its value). In the face of the inevitability of the developmental state, minjung activism and theory largely remained a liminal phenomenon. While han has come to be widely identified as a national or racial essence in recent years, its public use has deteriorated to some extent into simple resentment, a pejorative describing the carping attitude of those who haven't kept pace with the rest of the economy. We must recognize here both the contingency of this phenomenon as well as the overwhelming drive we all feel to turn away from sources of social suffering and its associated cultural forms.
  35. Kim Yôl-kyu observes the ready potential for han to degenerate into a vicious cycle of revenge and retribution, and through this process the negativity of wônhan is perpetuated (853). Thus the larger social form of the minjung movement and the historical resources it had available to it in Korean folk culture are crucial in providing direction for the analysis and manipulation of individual and collective han. In this sense, Shamanism has been a central source of context from within which han could be understood, manipulated, and resolved.
  36. Shamanism is usually identified as a religion of the masses but one scorned by the elite. There are exceptions to this generalization, but the popular emphasis is consistent with the close affiliation of the notions of minjung and han in contemporary Korean thought. There are other paths to the liberation of han, but these too are generally seen as forms of folk culture. Mun Sun-t'ae notes that "the ruling class and wealthy demonstrate little han. . . . But the art, proverbs, legends and folk music, and p'ansori of the underclass and minjung have han as their basis. And this was also the means for the liberation of han" (854). In this way, within Korean folk culture there exists a reservoir of genius for liberating han. Things like shaman ritual, mask dance drama, and p'ansori, a form of satiric folk opera, recount in cathartic manner the typical situations (discrimination, official corruption, or impoverishment) whereby han is accumulated. Central to these performative texts was a strong element of the carnivalesque--dancing and ribald humor, usually mocking the upper class. This humor and joy works to loosen and liberate accumulated feelings of resentment.
  37. It is important to recognize that for shamans and their largely female clientele, han has consistently been part of their working vocabulary. This fact, widely recognized by those developing the modern discourse on han, forms much of the basis for valorization of han as essential to a Korean national identity with roots in tradition. Jae Hoon Lee states that "shamans, the living symbol of han in Korea, become themselves through the experience of han, while the main pursuit of their rituals is to resolve the han of the people" (2). Thus discourse on han in relationship to Shamanism is a useful way to identify the condition of anomie or dislocation which arises in the form of shaman sickness, sinbyông, common to Shamanic religions throughout the world. Mircea Eliade has it that the Shaman initiation ritual typically involves a journey, often to death and back, through which the shaman masters her or his affliction and in doing so gains mastery over the very spirits of affliction. This is a source of social empowerment but also grants the shaman collectively acknowledged authority and ability to liberate others from affliction, or in the Korean idiom, their han.[14]
  38. A common form of affliction derives from spirits, often ancestors, who harbor han due to some unfulfilled wish in life and thus in death have been unable to pass cleanly on. Such spirits bring misfortune and sickness upon their descendants, yielding further misery.[15] Shaman ritual is cathartic both on a symbolic level, through offerings of food and money to spirits, and performatively. This latter dimension is particularly vital. The shamans enact a form of living myth, intertwining grand mythic narrative and local, personal history, involving those sponsoring and attending the kut in liberating dance, spirit possession, and empathic, confrontational drama.[16] Beyond such a cathartic function, shamans also directly address the personal and kin-related concerns of their clients in their spirit-possessed speech. As shamans they are empowered to chasten and forgive past and ongoing problems and within the symbolic-cultural context of shamanism this can be very effective therapy. The hard work of liberation, as shamans well know, involves a real exercise of this authority that transcends the sorrows of death: an effective kut is not only, or primarily, a scene of easy jouissance but is one of confrontation, accusation, commiseration, and final release in tears, a working-through of hardened troubles.
  39. Kim Chi-ha, a minjung theologian, poet, and activist, sees himself as a priest of han in the traditional role of the shaman. Kim has developed a theology emphasizing tan, meaning severing, as the form of discipline necessary to break the cycle of retribution and dependence.[17] In Kim's view, the dialectical process of history, the enforcement of death and suffering upon the people of the Third World by the advanced nations, will lead to a "great war" in which all people and all living things will find "brilliant salvation":
    In the place where there is not accumulation of han, there is no subjugation. It is by the great pushing force of accumulated han that han itself is extinguished. As starving people seek food . . . those who strive to find Buddha--the thought of the difficulty of meeting Buddha--without that kind of deep han true salvation can not be reached. However, the paradoxical conversion is possible only upon the decisive condition of sagacious tan [a break, severing], divine and communal tan, which ends han's vicious cycle of revenge. (Ch'ôn 93)

  40. Kim emphasizes that only by venting, and not repressing, spleen (to use a fitting term from Baudelaire) can it be resolved. We may infer here the importance of the expression and elaboration of a culture or language treating social suffering. For Korean discourse on han, the emergence of this language drew on folk culture as well as the Utopian imaginary of Marxist thought. Post-war religious syncretism in Korea has at its disposal not only the varieties of East Asian and Western theology but critical sociological theory with its own (compatible) eschatology and theodicy. Discourse on han emanates from within a traditional and mythic or religious world view in Korea but here demonstrates clear affinity with the revolutionary impulse inherent to the rhetorical force behind Marx's proletariat. In this postcolonial elaboration on the Marxist position, discourse on han recuperates the mythic frame inherent to but overtly denied by the scientism of modern, enlightenment thought.
  41. Reason and science have become enshrined as sacrosanct not only in their privileged function but in their dismissal of alternative epistemologies and dialogical sensibilities. The rhetoric of reason is an important form of symbolic capital but where it reigns it denies expression of heterodox but fundamental and persistent modes of human experience. A reading of discourse on han challenges the sublimation by modernity of folk culture and its associated (unofficial) religiosity--this latter mode is one which has generally proven more able to give cultural expression to the emotions involved in the experience of exploitation and distress. For Korea, its reservoir of myth and symbol, particularly in the form of Shamanism, has provided much of the form from which modern discourse on han could develop. Moreover, the affiliation of modernity in Korea with the imperial other (the West, Japan) has motivated a conscious mining of this indigenous, folk culture of commiseration.
  42. It is in the interest of the state and the market to sideline or deny discourse on suffering, and this built-in bias has significant pedagogical implications. The human price exacted by the functioning of the system is fundamentally pain and in this sense the denial of discourse on suffering acts literally as analgesic, allowing for more efficient operation of the state and economy, much the way barbiturates allow the athlete's self abuse in order to reach greater performance levels. We have seen how, since the days of Park's anti-communist authoritarian developmentalism, the crisis mentality of Cold War nationalist ideology is seamlessly replaced by the (an)aesthetics of consumer culture which works its magic at ever more pervasive levels.
  43. Leszek Kolakowski, in The Presence of Myth, discusses what he calls the "culture of analgesics": "those organs of civilizations, those customs, and those models of communal existence, thanks to which we are able to conceal from ourselves sources of suffering without attempting either to remove them or to face them" (91). Kolakowski assails a modernity whose cultural and institutional make-up is at root hostile to discourse on suffering--hostile to the recognition and expression of suffering. In creating a more uniform culture as the basis of nationalism, the culture that emerges essentially works against a commiserative ethos, previously the domain of the "folk" stratum of pre-capitalist society. In the drive to modernize, to homogenize culture, the goal is usually the standard set by the elite; in Gellner's terms modernity is the "age of universal high culture" (35). This pursuit is at heart one of wealth and comfort, a "society of perpetual growth" (24). We all seek participation in the expanding market; there is a visceral appeal which comfort and luxury hold for us, but beyond that appeal is an aggressive effort to deny the price of such comforts and the darker reality of the world in which they are enjoyed.
  44. The recuperations and transformation that I attribute to discourse on han is not achieved simply by a return to an abstract, romanticized ideal of communitas or pre-modern organic social harmony. This backward gaze is an ambiguous part of the project and is itself implicated in the futurism of modernity as its assimilable reaction. A better dialectical strategy is to grant neither the race forward into progress nor the fundamentalist escape into the "good old days," but instead to suspend these two poles in our attention and to expand our awareness dialectically to the present. Discourse on han is an instantiation of that praxis which neither flees into the future not the past but confronts the present in a lived awareness of alienation.
  45. The dichotomy of elite/common or official/folk which is so clear in this analysis, whatever its empirical verifications (or lack of them), is implicated in the "othering" integral to the critical gaze. Often in orientalist literature, the dominion of ideology in which the civilized we are trapped does not apply to the cultural alien, the peasant, the Korean worker, the immigrant, who is seen to preserve a past organic ideal. This analytic discovery of polyphony in the field of the social other is less a rupture of ideology than a restatement. However, through this distantiating, dualist strategy, apprehension not allowed the self but allowed "the other" becomes available to writing. The lesson that emerges from studies of the social other and "primitive" religion is, on the one hand, the value of the social order there and, on the other, its inevitable loss here, and the challenge is to overcome the displacements of this dualist strategy.
  46. Where Bakhtin opposed to a stultifying official culture the carnivalesque laughter drawn from images of peasant life in Rabelais, I contend that in late capitalism it is more appropriate to assume a parallel but inverted strategy, opposing the numbing sensual excess of consumer culture with the sobering, sensitizing ethic of han, drawn from the texts of postcolonial modernity in Korea.[18] Both strategies call for us to de-center reason and abandon the illusion of empowered language, the mono-logos, and instead to recognize the substantiation of being in a progressive dialectical praxis engaged in a social emotional immediacy which counteracts the distance inherent to the analytic mode.
  47. Modernity's promise of progress and unlimited abundance carries with it the demand for not only historical amnesia with regard to past exploitation, but ongoing and expanding insensitivity to contemporary injustice. Korea's discourse on han seeks to retrieve the cultural forms through which the experience of suffering can be recognized and dealt with. It is in a way a modern innovation that rehabilitates pre-modern sensibility but does so with an aggressively critical edge provided by Marxism--specifically here in the form of Korean liberation theology. The consequence is not a return to a romanticized folk culture but a recuperation, a strategic reclamation of an epistemological mode which at the popular level served to recognize and resolve suffering. It is in modernity, however, that the larger field of political awareness is appended to such traditional, local cultural forms and it is in this process that we have come to theorize "proletarian rage" or "peasant unrest" positively as engines for social change.
  48. There is of course already a very large body of theoretical and empirical literature on this subject. The intervention being made here is to eclipse the terms of this formula, normatively identifying the progressive or revolutionary moment not within an abstract class structure or as the concern of a social other--the waking masses, liminal emergent social forms, or primitive religion--but, submerged within the very conditions of the late capitalist social order, specific to the fetishized human relations in which we are quite profoundly implicated. Discourse on han takes up arms with the bad faith of high theory, calling for a strategy which recognizes at once the mythic or symbolic nature of social action broadly defined and, conversely, the specificity of the ultimate object of theory which is only fully sensible at a lived, existential level.[19]
  49. Lukacs complained that "the consciousness of class struggle has been overlooked by vulgar Marxists" and while there has been considerable elaboration of Marxist theory since Lukacs, the immanent and affective components of the negativity which constitutes that consciousness has been either significantly undertheorized or positively neglected (68). The particular value of the moment under study here for theory is that the development of discourse on han in Korea provides a social context for theories of negative dialectics or of Utopian resistance. As a restricted but potent instance of the realization of "class consciousness," Korea's discourse on han involved the cultural construction of a language and social grammar referring specifically to the "rage of the proletariat"--or more accurately in this context, the suffering of the minjung. Both the emergence of this discourse and how it intersects (or rather, fails to intersect) with Western pedagogical predilections tells us much of the lineaments of critical theory.
  50. Paek Nak-ch'ông argues that "by han we mean the pain and sorrow of the minjung, who have since days of old lived amidst poverty and victimization" (28). The minjung are the proper subjects of history by dint of their suffering--the source of their virtue. Their guiltlessness is achieved by having been consistently the objects of the dark workings of the underside of civilization. In his Manifesto, Marx discusses the identity and role of the proletariat, which "cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air" (65). The proletariat is the universal revolutionary class, those who have been forced down to the very bottom of society and whose uprising is so total and thoroughgoing as to erase the entirety of civilization built through the dialectical historical process-and in so doing escape that very dialectic, ushering in the end of history. The proletariat are the innocents, the people destined to fulfill the purpose of history, the last who will be first in the perfect society without rank.
  51. The rage of the proletariat fuels their revolution, and their rage is utter and complete. There is great simplicity and force in the notion of a proletariat as the world-historical revolutionary class, and there are great problems inherent to it as well.[20] Laclau has given this problem extended attention, most recently in his Emancipation(s). Laclau effectively negotiates the binarisms and contradictions that operate around this universalist concept, but does not attend to the affective role it plays--this aspect emerges more clearly through a consideration of minjung theology. An Pyông-mu has an elegant treatment of the problem of the identity of the minjung (however a more loosely proscribed notion than proletariat): when asked to define the term, he simply declines, observing that, as with such terms as 'love' or 'han,' experience must precede definition in order to avoid a one-sided, intellectualist treatment (92). Thus, commiseration and closeness to the life of the minjung is a precondition to discussing them.[21]
  52. In the recourse to objective scientism characteristic of the enlightened, sociological frame occurs the elision of any imperative to subjective existential praxis on the part of the intellectual; it is the imperious force of reason and not the surrender to commiseration which qualifies the vanguard, simultaneously removing them from the proper field of humanistic (sympathetic) engagement. The crisis in contemporary theory is one of political agency. In the wake of the fiasco and collapse of authoritarian, managerial communism, in negotiation with the poststructuralist challenge to authority that for many seems to culminate in relativism, how do we effect change that is simultaneously local and total, that overcomes the global and personal articulations--the sheer fluency--of capitalist desire? Amidst the sleek reign of global capital, I argue that we must turn our attention to other sensibilities and new forms of language that derail the train of Cartesian thought, opening instead onto the realm of social being.
  53. Part of the problem is surely the heroic dimensions required by classical revolutionary rhetoric--an impossible burden for all but a tyrant or saint (pity the Angel). Moreover, the scale of modern atrocity is emotionally crippling: it leaves no recourse to action. Silence and a deepening of the heart is perhaps the only response possible to something like the Warsaw ghettos and their fate, or Cambodia's killing fields.[22] But as we re-theorize the proletariat and radical politics, and as we surrender the totalizing impulse to universal representation, we should not omit a consideration of this affective aspect of the dynamic. Discourse on han, seen in light of contemporary theory, suggests we mediate our structural understanding of (or indignation at) the global system of exploitation (or more euphemistically, competitive self-interest) with a local, intimate sensitivity to social suffering.
  54. Gustavo Gutièrrez and all liberation theologies recognize the importance of naming the experience of suffering in a theoretical and social praxis which seeks the goal of liberation. Gutièrrez argues for the creation of "an appropriate language about God that does justice to the situation of suffering" (On Job 93; qtd. in Haight 139). The language that Gutièrrez proposes involves two components, the prophetic and the contemplative. Roger Haight describes the language of contemplation as that of an encounter with God, a mystical transcendence of suffering in which the positive flow of truth is experienced (143). The language of prophecy, in contrast, is the critical mode that rails against the hard reality of existence in society. This latter is directly concerned with the phenomenon of suffering while its counterpart is required, in Gutièrrez's view, for the creative healing activity that must follow a cleansing or purging.
  55. Haight points out that "prophetic language is most fundamentally a language of protest" (140). It derives from the awareness of an unjust situation and finds no justification for the suffering experienced. As such it is radical and independent--"it rejects every rationalization of the situation. Any received ideology that tries to make sense out of the situation and hence justify it becomes refuted by the situation itself" (140-41). Prophecy in this sense, like Mannheim's Utopian logic, disrupts the seamlessness of the given order in an act of primal negation. In this sense there is a parallel with Marx's reference to the ultimate detonation of proletarian rage, but by specifying the dynamic of this eruption and locating it as axial to simply unjust suffering in any situation a much more precise and operational conceptualization is possible--one with a lower (and less brutal) threshold for action than that of the total proletarian revolution required by classical theory.
  56. Discourse on han, with its more explicit affectivity and personal significance, clarifies the ways in which the Marxist ideal of revolutionary class consciousness is rooted in a direct perception of injustice. The architects of revolution, in the best sociological manner, had little taste for the disorderly but pervasive realm of lived alienation. This myth of the proletariat supplants a direct confrontation with existential reality, a confrontation necessarily theoretical, commiserative, and engaged. We can appreciate the specificity of the revolutionary impulse afforded by this insight; the Marxian revolution seems to be one that occurs simply on a class or collective level, but now we can understand the process at a personal level more clearly as the existential reaction to an alienating situation--what seems to be an unmediated "pain reflex" in the ground of the dialectical process.
  57. It will be necessary to confront the problem of defining the "deep structure," the ontic ground which accounts for the moral sense behind this perception of wrong, what liberation theologian Edward Schillenbeeckx terms an experience of "negative contrast" (Jesus an Experiment 621; qtd. in Haight 142). This problem of ground is not limited to philosophical considerations but is implicated in the rhetorical strategy of Marxist humanism as it is broadly employed. Alienation, for example, is incomprehensible outside some understanding of an essential, meaningful materiality of the self and consequent "original human relations" which it is in violation of. It has been consistently the strategy of Marxist theory to give these latter only in silhouette, either negatively or solely in outline, and the consequence is that they play a rhetorical role which theory can neglect. Yet the experience of contrast to which this rhetoric refers is one of fundamental pain and, when confronted, energy for positive social change. In recounting the notion of prophetic language my aim is to isolate within theoretical discourse a more general (and meaningful, consequently imperative) mechanism whereby critical consciousness is formed. And the religious and trans-cultural resources of the traditions of political theory/theology I have been citing have a clear role in making available this insight.
  58. This proposed "language that does justice to the experience of suffering" has especially rich linkages with the tradition of negative dialectics in Frankfurt School thinkers ranging widely from Mannheim and Bloch to Adorno or Marcuse. Their aesthetic and social theory is really a culling of such experiences of negative contrast. This primal moment of "prophetic" negation is the gist of the theory of Utopia which has come to play a significant role in contemporary critical theory.
  59. Utopia is crucial to ideology critique; it is generalizable less as a literary genre of fanciful and impossible dreamscapes than as a fundamental critical or waking moment rooted in social being. In the positive flow of ideology constitutive of social order, the Utopian impulse forms an intervention by a "no-place," a negative opening which is at the same time the remembrance or evocation of a primal garden--a "good place." This play between the two senses of outopia and eutopia (Levitas 2-3) in the title of Thomas More's original Latin text, Utopia, recalls Schillenbeeckx's negative contrast and gives the term its significant if limited function, as a political antistructuralism--as well as its affinity with the role of totality (always absent, ever receding) that forms the perceived horizon of thought so central to Lukacs, Sartre, and Jameson. As such, it is a coding for the concrete which is inevitably eclipsed by efforts to think revolution.
  60. Jameson and Ricoeur are the contemporary figures who have most sought to develop the concept of Utopia as the basis for a positive, critical hermeneutics. Indeed, Jameson's Marxism and Form and his Political Unconscious can be viewed as extended meditations on the role of the Utopian moment for a Marxist hermeneutics which, like society or freedom itself, could not exist without it. Jameson follows Ricoeur in emphasizing the importance of a balanced hermeneutics, a unity incorporating a critical (Marxist) "hermeneutics of suspicion" with a more affirmative (Durkheimian) "hermeneutics of meaning" (Political Unconscious 291-92).[23] For both, a positive hermeneutics is one which grants the ideological a role constitutive of social identity, yet they qualify this move carefully and posit negation as inherent to symbolic action and so an immanent betrayal of sanctioned structure.
  61. For Ricoeur, ideology "preserves identity, but also seeks to conserve what exists and is therefore already a resistance. Something becomes ideological--in the more negative meaning of the term-when the integrative function becomes frozen. . . . Ideology operates at the turning point between the integrative function and resistance "(266). It is here that Utopia is crucial for it preserves the possibility of opposition, exposing the "surplus value" by which ideology mediates the gap between belief and consent (178-80). The Utopian moment is energetic; it derives from the lived experience of repression, emerging in visceral reaction to it as a grievance or protest--a lived experience of contrast in which negation is given form and impetus by the sense of purpose which eludes language but persists as integral to the materiality of being.
  62. Ricoeur discusses Utopia in three forms (254-268). First, as a literary genre Utopia is the "flight into writing," a flight away from praxis, and at this level Marxist thought simply collapses it into ideology as another form of false consciousness. Next, in contrast to ideology's legitimating role in support of power relations, Utopia involves the delineation of alternate, oppositional forms of power, most often stressing egalitarian and anti-authoritarian values. At this level, the Utopian imagination fuels the ethical rhetoric of the Marxist scientific project and may generate new social forms or ways of living. Finally, the Utopian impulse is the simple evocation of the "nowhere" and an open exploration of the possible. But this impulse, grounded in experience of social suffering, is not an abstract privilege of intellect. Against the escapist exercise of literary imagination, this last form of the Utopian aims most directly at reality. Rather than the dream, it is the moment of waking--the intrusion of what Laclau would call the constitutive outside, or the Real, into the ideological narrative (Impossibility 89-92).[24]
  63. My discussion of the rise of discourse on han in Korea demonstrates this typology, though with one very important caveat: discourse on han points out the identity of the Utopian with pain. Discourse on han initially emerged in the literary realm in a passive, subtle form characterized by Sowôl's poem, Azaleas. Later, as discourse on han became politicized, it would criticize the earlier literary exercise as escapist. But that literature, expressing as it does a certain ethic of hurt, was never utopian in any straightforward way, either in terms of its content or as a genre identifiable with Thomas More's famous text. Discourse on han was less a settling down upon a fixed vision of utopia than an aestheticized (and later, politicized) articulation of grievance. This distinction, the aesthetic suspension of the very impulse to utopia, rather than the flight into it, is what makes the Korean case so interesting. But let us continue considering Ricoeur's three-fold typology with reference to discourse on han.
  64. The second, more social and political form of the Utopian, may be identified in Korea's minjung movement in the 70s and 80s, where it fueled the imagining and enacting of a more democratic (and reunified) Korea. Here too was an articulation of grievance characteristic of discourse on han, but it is clear that at this time not merely literary texts but new social forms were produced. These were recuperations of folk culture in student, worker, and women's collectives, arising out of millenarian hope and desire for comfort not provided by the system. This was a confrontation with the disjunctures of modernity in Korea at the apex of its push for development: rapid industrialization, authoritarianism, extreme pressures to conform.
  65. However the political edge given voice to at this time has recently been subsumed in the burgeoning of party politics and the new, liquid pleasures of the market. The fine line between resentment and ressentiment dissolves in this process of sublation or "progress," and han in parallel deteriorates into mere, meaningless grudge. What we are left with is a residue, discourse on han as legacy, whose significance is its cultural naming of social pain, collective and historical suffering.
  66. This residue exists for our consideration as an essence, an utterance, a gesture, and as such gives cultural and socio-historical dimension to our understanding of the Utopian impulse, Ricoeur's third type and the one most widely employed in critical theory. The cultural history of discourse on han offers an important and neglected insight into the theory of Utopia--its proper basis is not in literary practice but in lived experiences of contradiction. Utopia is grounded in anomie, a sense of dislocation or social pain, and this pain must have its voice. Discourse on han underscores the fact that the Utopian impulse is only sensible, like the pain reflex which is its bodily correlate, in mannered forms of expression. The communication of pain generates an imperative--an imperative to belief in that pain and an imperative to answer to that call in commiseration.[25] As a critical theorem, the Utopian impulse offers a position of critique from within the omnipresence of the field of power and desire, but discourse on han reminds us that this operation is not theoretical but material, and its agonized reverberations constitute the social.
  67. Sustaining a language and culture treating suffering is crucial to the progressive project. It is useful to point out and interpret the continuing presence of the Utopian in a society that seems increasingly dominated by the logic of the capital form, a culture in which the trope of "marketing" defines institutional relations and the social itself. But beyond the culling of a staccato of negations in postmodern artistic, literary, and cultural studies we must find those sites where, in James Scott's parlance, the "hidden transcript" grows and where alternative cultural forms begin to mature, which have grown in the felt aporia or sprung up defiantly from under the weight of domination. This sort of positive cultural elaboration ensues upon particularly vital and collectively felt Utopian or liminal moments. If we see our role not merely as critical spectators of this process, but as immersed within it even as we reflect upon it, then the Utopian as I have described it here serves not only the thought exercise of interventionary politics but, in giving voice to social suffering, calls us into a commiserative engagement beyond the analytical or interpretive text, substantiating its meaning in situ.
  68. We must grant the degree to which the actors evolving social forms are consciously critical, leading us to reflect not simply on the cultural artifact that is our analytic distance as social scientists (and its underlying political strategy) but on the depth and force of our shared condition. Such a strategy would at the minimum have to engender an affective and existential grasp of real suffering in the social order. The painful "work of the negative" is the force of creativity which necessarily complements and neutralizes the material tyranny of the sign (Scott 111).
  69. To summarize the significance for this point in terms of rethinking Marxist notions of class consciousness, it helps to recall Marx's sociological intervention into the Western critical tradition, which may be seen as an inverted correlate to the individual one posed by Descartes. Descartes' renunciation of the body permitted the clarity of the mind and its mathematical truth. What for Descartes was an act of self-denial and interiorization operating across the distinction of mind and body, became in Marx's sociology a collective or class-based phenomenon: it would be the utter denial of the humanity of the proletariat by the industrialist machine that would produce true, transcendent knowledge--knowledge that operates across the distinction of class. And this millenarian knowledge would explode the system in a penetrating vision we can recognize as Utopian.
  70. In the persistent absence of a proper class subject of knowledge, we are left without the completion of Marxian social-scientific truth and administrative attempts by the vanguard to supplement this lack have been disastrous. Mathematical and sociological scientisms both promise a true knowledge yielding authority and confidence, but the insecurity of this confidence produces the command to conformity. In contrast, by better articulating the Utopian dynamic inherent to Marx, we see that in place of confidence we really only have only hope, as Ernst Bloch has stressed, hope that can be disappointed (16-17). Recognition of the fragility of this hope signals interdependence, the need for the messy world of human and transhuman intimacy. In place of the hegemony of science, we can perhaps look forward to what Bourdieu has recently termed a "reasoned Utopia." Such a strategy disrupts the confidence of the analytic, managerial mode and, in not relying on it for the goal of progress, perhaps opens a path out of the contemporary crisis in theory, stressing the location of truth is in context and identifying the Utopian imaginary with pain. Our task is then, is to articulate a language treating social suffering, a voice that is informed by structural analyses of injustice but that speaks personally, and in doing so sounds the call to commiseration, to action, and renews rather than represses that hope that is the fragile origin of the social.
  71. I have tried to discuss a particularly visible and articulate instance of the "practical activity" of the subaltern and have moreover sought to put it in an interpretive context which demonstrates its universality as the necessity of freedom. It should be apparent that I have taken to heart An Pyông-mu's admonitory advice given to his audience of puzzled German theologians and, following that, I have been concerned to show how Korea's radical discourse on han ought to speak to us and how it calls us, in turn, to speak in response.[26] My concern here has largely been the thinking through of Jerry Brown's appealing, insistent call for an ethic of "enoughness," blunting the linear force of modernity, reburdening it with its exclusions as it drives across the chiasmic exchange.[27] The violence of the relentless, forward movement of progress is the denial of the ecological web that is our relation with others and the world, a silencing of the quiet voices of desire, demand, and protest--voices that do not have Cartesian clarity or force, but whose subtle, insistent authority, like that of the conscience, would slow and enrich all we do.
  72. With modernity has come the expectation of democracy and economic equality--universal access to the status and wealth dreamt of by all as the end of suffering. In addition to the fact that even position and property cannot provide complete liberation from certain basic miseries, the ideology of "the good life" has the shortcoming, much as the old feudal cult of suffering did, of functioning to oppress. The promise of prosperity buys allegiance to the industrial system from those consciously serving it, while the cult of pleasure denies awareness of the contradictions inherent to the system. The language of contemplation--of hope, optimism, and promise--operates without the checks provided by the prophetic mode when we flee from the existential condition of suffering.
  73. Kolakowski reminds us that at the conceptual heart of modernity, in addition to Reason, we must add Bentham's calculus of pain and pleasure. Yet we have seen how the great promises of industrialization, elsewhere as in Park's Korea, were made to all but fulfilled for only a few. Modernity is in denial of its own discards, the detritus it leaves behind as it races forward to the sensual paradise it has shaped for itself. It is not the religion of Marx's day but the religion that is the ideology of the modern nation--the cult of pleasure and progress--that is the opiate, the analgesic of the masses and elite alike. The aggressive institutionalization of a consumer culture and a pleasure ethic sidetracks any sustained contemplation of the violations that persist at the heart of modernity. I am not sure that the crime of deliberate exploitation is more appalling than that of systematic and collectively endorsed insensitivity.
  74. As prophetic language, as the whole culture of utopian negation, discourse on han reminds us that there is not simply unjust suffering but unjust pleasure. Gutièrrez writes:
    The existence of the poor is not a fated fact: it is not neutral on the political level or innocent of ethical implications. Poor people are byproducts of the system under which we live and for which we are responsible. . . the poverty of the poor is not a summons to alleviate their plight with acts of generosity but rather a compelling obligation to fashion an entirely different social order. ("Liberating Praxis" 8; qtd. in Chopp 49-50)

  75. It is here that I want to locate discourse on han. Inscribed within the cultural context given it by Korean Shamanism and minjung theology, discourse on han is a source of existential and affective power for liberation. As a cross-cultural referent, its specific sociological origins in postcolonial Korea reminds us of the ways in which it is possible to disrupt the major epistemic imperialisms of international capitalism as they operate in popular and intellectual culture. Discourse on han itself cannot build an entirely different social order, but it is a valuable way to rehabilitate the discourse on suffering which modernity denies and which is the antidote to much of the insensitivity demanded by the modern appetite for progress.


    [I would like to acknowledge the seminal role played by Henry Em in the conception of this essay. Helpful critical comments and close readings were kindly provided by Kye-Young Park, John Duncan, Gi-Wook Shin, James West, and Tim Tangherlini. This paper also benefited from consideration of it at the 1996 AAS annual conference, the 1996 Columbia University conference on East Asia, and a lively discussion at an early stage at a meeting of UCLA's Korea Workshop.]

  1. See Foucault 205-217. Back

  2. On the impact of modernization on ways of living and writing, and embodied strategies of resistance, a quite provocative study is Vaheed Ramazani's "Writing in Pain." Back

  3. An credits Sô with introducing the notion of han into minjung theology (96). Back

  4. See Robinson's overview of this in his Cultural Nationalism in Colonial Korea. Back

  5. Ch'ôn cites as the earliest influence the 1948 essay by Kim Tong-ni, "Ch'ôngsan ûi kori--Kim Sowôl [Blue Mountain Path--Kim Sowôl]" in Munhak kwa ingan (Ch'ôn 54). Ch'ôn relates that Kim Tong-ni's emphasis on and utilization of han for his reading of Sowôl heightened awareness both of Sowôl's work and the notion of han itself, but it was a decade later, in 1958, that Sô Chông-ju more fully developed this interpretive angle and laid the foundation for a consequent, wider focus on han in literary circles. See Sô, cited in Ch'ôn (55). Back

  6. My translation. Original in Kim So-wôl Chônjip 17. Back

  7. This was originally a serialization in the journal Sôngsô Chosôn running from Feb. 1934 to Dec. 1935 (issues 6:1 to 8:2). The final installment, including the section titled "the meaning of suffering" (konan ûi ûimi), was censored. But see Ham's later text for the complete version, also Sôngsô Chosôn 3:10 (1931.7.1) pp. 146-150. Back

  8. For a discussion of this strategy, see Scott 103-107. Back

  9. This quote is from Jameson Late Marxism 251. What I have left out is Callinocos' discussion of the totalization inherent and necessary to engaged theory. Back

  10. Original in Sôngsô Chosôn 8:2 (1935.11.1) p. 250; Ttût ûro pon pp. 436-38. This passage is the last to appear in Ham's initial serialization before it was censored. Back

  11. The kisaeng were the caste of women who "entertained" Korea's elite, similar to Japan's geisha, and their own poetry, or poetry written by men in the voice of the kisaeng, expressed a delicate sense of disappointment as their devotion went unreciprocated. The tale of Ch'unhyang (Ch'unhyang chôn) is a well known depiction of this in folk-operatic form, or p'ansori. Back

  12. For elaboration on this and discussions of periodization of discourse on han see An 96; Ch'ôn 89; Lee 11; Paek Nak-ch'ông 4. Back

  13. For some historical background, see Eckert, chapters 4 and 7. Back

  14. An extended discussion of this with regard especially to African shamanism is in Lewis. Back

  15. See Lewis, chapter V, and Kendall, especially chapters 4-6. Back

  16. Kut may be translated either as "Shaman ritual of exorcism" or "spectacle," underscoring its communal, staged, and performative nature. Back

  17. For a discussion of this and its relationship to shaman ritual, see Lee 125. Back

  18. It bears mentioning that, as Kristeva has recognized, the carnivalesque is serious (50). Back

  19. See Sartre 115 and passim. Back

  20. Certainly this concept and its political usage has received major criticism from Laclau and Mouffe in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. See also Laclau's Emancipation(s) 11. Back

  21. In a recent personal exchange, a Korean graduate student asked me, in English, whether I could feel the minjung--he wanted to know whether I understood what 'minjung' means, or perhaps more accurately, whether I had a commiserative grasp of who the minjung are. The minjung, defined by their han, are not an abstract category accessible to abstract reason but are only available to a Sartrean comprehension that entails affective engagement. Back

  22. See Georg In the Warsaw Ghetto: summer 1941, an unusual collection of photographs and diary passages. Back

  23. See also Gardiner 228-29, note 14. Back

  24. See Riceour 273, 280, 309; also Zizek 249-260. Back

  25. See Kleinman et al., especially the chapters by Veena Das and Stanley Cavell on the imperative nature of giving voice to pain in Wittgenstein's philosophy and on the divide between public and private levels of pain. Back

  26. For an interesting take on this in the form of a speculative sociology, see Yi Kyo-chae. Back

  27. For a related discussion of this sort of strategy see McKibben, "The Problem with Wildlife Photography." McKibben also has an excellent, brief discussion of the sort of tragic, commiserative ethos I am arguing for with a consideration of its contemporary epistemological necessity in his essay, "Postnatural." Back

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