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)
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)
. . . 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)
When the sight of me
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
even if I die I will not shed a tear.
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
[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.]
See Foucault 205-217. Back
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
An credits Sô with introducing the notion of han into minjung theology (96). Back
See Robinson's overview of this in his Cultural Nationalism in Colonial Korea. Back
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
My translation. Original in Kim So-wôl Chônjip 17. Back
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
For a discussion of this strategy, see Scott 103-107. Back
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
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
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
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
For some historical background, see Eckert, chapters 4 and 7. Back
An extended discussion of this with regard especially to African shamanism is in Lewis. Back
See Lewis, chapter V, and Kendall, especially chapters 4-6. Back
Kut may be translated either as "Shaman ritual of exorcism" or "spectacle," underscoring its communal, staged, and performative nature. Back
For a discussion of this and its relationship to shaman ritual, see Lee 125. Back
It bears mentioning that, as Kristeva has recognized, the carnivalesque is serious (50). Back
See Sartre 115 and passim. Back
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
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
See Georg In the Warsaw Ghetto: summer 1941, an unusual collection of photographs and diary passages. Back
See also Gardiner 228-29, note 14. Back
See Riceour 273, 280, 309; also Zizek 249-260. Back
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
For an interesting take on this in the form of a speculative sociology, see Yi Kyo-chae. Back
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