Reading with RWC – Recent Book Reviews

Published in S/N Korean Humanities 3 (1): 125-133.

Go East Young Woman…A Review of “Red Love in Korea: Rethinking Communism, Feminism, Sexuality” in “Red Love Across the Pacific: Political and Sexual Revolutions of the Twentieth Century” eds: Ruth Barraclough, Heather Bowen-Struyk and Paula Rabinowitz (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) and “Red Love and Betrayal in the Making of North Korea: Comrade Hŏ Jŏng-suk,” Ruth Barraclough, History Workshop Journal Issue (Spring 2014), 77 (1): 86-102

“I have no eyes now, yet I can still see the revolution” (Ch’oi Hŭi-suk, quoted in Chosōn Yŏsŏng 1986, 25)

Ch’oi Hŭi-suk’s plaintive and impassioned final words recounted by North Korea’s journal Chosōn Yŏsŏng (“Women of Korea”), before she was killed by Japanese Army doctors is perhaps a perfect distillation of contemporary or recent North Korean notions of how a perfect female revolutionary should behave. Ch’oi Hŭi-suk, along with her fellow female companions and fighters in the 1920s and 1930s such as Pak Rok’ Gum and Kim Hwak-shil and their leader and mentor (at least in North Korea’s historiography), and eventual wife of Kim Il-sŏng were ‘crackshots’, experts in the brutal killing of those that they sought to contest, as well as generally experts in the act of dying. These women’s passions and energies are for the most part in their sparse biographies and the fragments of their lives recorded within articles in Chosōn Yŏsŏng and elsewhere, directed in moments of conflict and at the moment of their death. A number of their bodies are used as weapons or explosive objects, their own violent annihilation serving to negate in some small way elements of Japanese colonial power. These narratives of self-immolation and destruction make it difficult to think beyond the cultural frame they provide, make it difficult to think of these women at other moments of their lives, perhaps even make it difficult for us to think of North Korean women or women connected to North Korean history in other terms. Even that most central of North Korean historical female figures, Kim Chŏng-suk in the historiography of Pyongyang is predominantly a figure of intense self-sacrifice who determinedly suppressed her emotions in favour of revolutionary politics, who sought to ignore both her desires and pain to support her General (Biography of Kim Chŏng-suk, 2002). Even though Kim Chŏng-suk would ultimately be something of a revolutionary immortal (in a grand and historic Korean cultural tradition), she was never beyond completing the repairs of her male counterparts uniforms, cooking food for an entire camp (having spent the entire day marching and fighting Japanese forces), or enduring brutal and intimate tortures. Even Kim Chŏng-suk’s most important role to North Korean history, as partner to Kim Il-sŏng and mother of Kim Chŏng-il is extracted of any passion and carnal energy, to the point that her biography deliberately and artfully skips over the consummation of her most important relationship.

These are the women who interestingly through their pains and tendencies to not physically survive the processes which would produce the politics and nationalism of North Korea, actually conceptually survive not only their moments of combat and the difficulties of the nation’s Liberation, early development and the tumult of the Korean War (and its political aftermaths), but, even if some are obscure, still live in Pyongyang’s political mind today. Ruth Barraclough in the fascinating book chapter and journal article reviewed here recounts the story of a group of women who unlike these vital, energetic characters of North Korean mythology and mythography are very much deceased, remembered only briefly and partially occasionally by countervailing histories, whose narratives are reconstructable in our present at best in fragments and echoes. Perhaps the best way of introducing the possibility of the fascinating female lives Barraclough uncovers is to remember another recent work in which seemingly equally impossible journeys are recounted. Sho Konishi In ‘Anarchist Modernity: Cooperatism and Japanese-Russian Intellectual Relations in Modern Japan’ (Konishi 2013), explodes a myth of pre-post-modern hypermobility. Within the pages of Konishi’s work, Mikhail Bakunin (legendary Russian theoriser and practitioner of militant anarchism), escapes his incarceration in Siberia to discover the tumultuous and chaotic possibilities offered by the Meiji revolution and friends in Yokohama, before setting sail for mid-19th century San Francisco and another anarchist safe house before finally travelling across a United States still in formation and across the Atlantic to Europe. Inspired by Bakunin’s revelation of an Asian nation (Japan) in energetic reconfiguration, Lev Mechnikov (younger brother of Ilya Mechnikov father of modern gut biology and pro-biotics), travelled to and lived in Yokohama to it seems consider the nature of Japan’s revolutionary political moment, and to set up (as a sociologist and linguist), the precursor to the current Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (itself eventually partly responsible for producing a burst of Tolstoyan religious commitment in Japan) (Konishi, 2013). At an impossibly difficult moment in political history, and well before technologies such as air travel or intercontinental train travel (the Trans-Siberian only reached Vladivostok in 1916) compressed time and space these unconventional political activists and theorised traversed the globe, human transformative vectors for both their own politics and the political cultures which encountered them. Barraclough’s women make similarly extraordinary journeys, bridge previously insurmountable bounds, develop new cultural and social forms of relation, the type of which would not be seen before.

Just as Mechnikov in the terrain revealed by Konishi would make transformative connections with Japanese activists through the explosive and iconoclastic work of Leo Tolstoy, so those enmeshed within Barraclough’s would find direction and inspiration from that of Alexandra Kollontai. Kollontai, at one point the only woman in Lenin’s first cabinet in 1923 produced a novel called ‘Vasilia Malygina.’ According to the introduction to the monograph in which Barraclough’s ‘Red Love in Korea…’ sits, within five years the newly retitled ‘Red Love’ had been translated from Russian into Japanese, then Korean, then Chinese and then in 1932 into English (using the more heated title ‘Free Love’). Kollontai’s story of the impact principles of Bolshevik common holding and cooperation would have on personal, sexual, familial and social relationships and the exploding of both monogamy, patriarchy and the notion of the nuclear family had a seemingly dramatic impact on political subcultures across both North America and the Asia-Pacific region. Barraclough and her fellow editors Heather Bowen-Struyk and Paula Rabinovitz trace the waves of sexual and social energy and reconfiguration throughout the political movements of the period, though mostly as I have already said from the faintest echoes of this buried, repressed and forgotten politics.

Red Love’s translation in 1928 into Korean generated a wave of ‘Pulkŭn Yŏnae’ which was essentially extraordinary to Korean colonial society of the time. Those familiar with social and cultural norms of the later Yi dynasty and its intersection with Japanese colonial times would of course be aware that what might be now termed sexually liberation relationships and social organisation and an overturning of gender hierarchy would have been utterly shocking to both ancient Korean culture and new forms of Imperial Japanese or colonial subjectivity. However this in a sense was a time for shocking and to be shocked. Korean’s had been enormously challenged by cultural elements brought by those who sought to dominate its politics and reconfigure its culture, the famous Queen Min for example is recounted as having been so thoroughly disturbed by the prospect of women engaging in physical activity (namely a game of Tennis), that she refused to continue watching or to return to the part of town in which it had taken place ever again (Gwang Ok, 2007). While many were disgusted, depressed or severely disorientated, others were of course enormously excited. Just as the new is shocking (in the way cultural commentator Robert Hughes would have it), it is also extremely attractive and enticing. While some of course would find new linguistic forms and the domination of Japanese over the Korean language during the colonial period, some politically minded writers found the abandonment of Korean as liberating and the vector through which their writings would find new audiences, freed from the historical shackles of Chosŏn. Equally at the edges of the Japanese Empire, Koreans and those close to them would find cultural liberation in the Japanese vassal state of Manchukuo, rumours abounding of Jazz clubs in Hsinking (Changchung) and Harbin and mythic visits by Josephine Baker (who did it seems actually visit Japan in 1954 (Ara, 2012)). The collapse and eradication of historical forms of Korean social and cultural organisation of course left a great deal of space for those who were not disturbed in a negative way by dramatic changes in social relation, but in fact those for whom such change was imperative and necessary.

Barraclough’s opening sentence “In the 1920s and 1930s, some of Korea’s most famous Communists were young women” (Barraclough, 2015, 23), seems of course impossible and incongruous in the South Korea of today. Being a famous Communist in Seoul, Daegu or Busan is certainly not an ideal occupation for anyone. However in the 1920s and 1930s across the globe being a Communist, a Socialist or a follower of Trotsky was of course in some sense to be modern. Music, film, culture and social organisation were all being deeply impacted and creatively empowered by the politics of the left, unhooked and unleashed by the victory of Russia’s 1917 Revolution, the end of the First World War, the collapse of old certainties and the forging of new possibilities. With the benefit of long hindsight of course we in 2016 or 2017 might see this as a brief moment of flux before another brutal global conflagration, the rise of Japanese Militarism and the disappointments of Stalinism and the later Soviet Union. It did not look or feel like this obviously in 1928, Marxist principles and materialistic dialectics breaking so many bounds and restrictions as to make anything seemingly possible, even female ‘Pulkŭn Yŏnae.’

These fascinating women such as Hŏ Jŏng-suk, Vera Kang, Kang Kyong-ae and Chong Ch’il-song that Barraclough describes would dramatically break the moulds which once bound Korean culture. Some of course would themselves be broken by those new moulds which grew around them and imposed new social boundings under Communism both in the Soviet Union and in an early North Korea. In a sense these stories may be familiar to readers of Janet Poole’s recent work on the first generation of North Korean literary figures, ‘When the Future Disappears: The Modernist Imagination in Late Colonial Korea.’ Poole outlines the similarly ground breaking lives of characters such as Im Hwa, Pak T’aweon, So Insik and Choe Myongik, writers who found the allure of the bright possibilities of a field of cultural and political production freed of the strictures of Capital, Empire and the past incredibly tempting (Poole, 2014). However none of these writers appear to survive the disruptive period of the Korean War and the political period following it during which Kim Il-sŏng and his followers purge North Korean politics of factional difference. As excited as these writers might have been by a future of internationalist, futurist Communist utopia, they would never really see it and their writings would scarcely/barely escape the vortex of political correction and cleansing to become known in our present. As bright as these figures of early North Korean literary production might have sought to shine, their histories are dark, shadowy and traceable only by their ruins…a characterisation we might bequeath Barraclough’s most famous Communist young women.

Once part of a powerful network of activist and theorist interaction and exchange, the women Barraclough encounters make extraordinary connections and then are separated equally dramatically by politics, time and fate. Vera Khan and Hŏ Jŏng-suk for instance met in Shanghai, Jŏng-suk recruiting Khan into the Communist movement and forming the Society of Comrades in 1925 (Barraclough, 2015, 26). This first socialist feminist organisation engaged in activating the political minds of working women, just as Vera Khan had done in the early 1920s in the giant industrial enterprises of Chem’ulpo (Inch’ŏn). Novels, newspapers, interviews both Hŏ Jŏng-suk and Vera Khan would become what Barraclough recounts were considered ‘beautiful socialists’ (Barraclough, 2015, 29), both would become equally famous for their relationships which exploded convention, as much as they were ultimately tragic (Hŏ Jŏng-suk engaging in a new love affair, while her current partner was in prison for political insurrection, Vera Khan finding a new husband when Pak Hon-yong, who she had married in Seoul in 1924 before moving to the Soviet Union was arrested and presumed killed by the Japanese (Barraclough, 2015, 28). This new husband, Kim Danya was executed in the Soviet Union in 1938). Vera Khan’s period as one of these ‘beautiful socialists’ would not last until Korea’s Liberation, and she found herself in 1938 expelled like so much of the Korean population of the Soviet Union and eventually sentenced to five years in a prison camp in what is now Kazakhstan. Hŏ Jŏng-suk survived to become the first and founding head of the Democratic Women’s League (as which she secured the passage of Gender Equality legislation into North Korea’s constitution), North Korea’s Minister of Culture and finally between 1957 and 1959 its Minister of Justice (Barraclough, 2015, 28). Barraclough delves even further into the complicated processes through which Hŏ Jŏng-suk’s rose to prominence and temporarily maintained her position in the complimentary article for the History Workshop (Barraclough, 2014).   Eventually the post Korean War purges and cleansing of North Korean politics caught up with her and she was forced to implicate her own former husband in counter-revolutionary plotting.

Barraclough along with more esoteric and liminal characters such as the former kisaeng (royal courtesan), Chong Ch’il-song and still reknowed writer and once member of the Kununhoe feminist movement, Kang Kyong-ae, presents Hŏ Jŏng-suk and Vera Khan within a rich web of actors in a burst of enthusiasm, commitment and experimentation for the practices and principles of Red Love. Barraclough also grounds these stories, experiences and life fragments within the inevitable and inescapable context of what she terms ‘Cold War Gender Politics’ (Barraclough, 2015, 33). While many of the most beautiful and most committed amongst these women would not even survive to see something being called the Cold War being born, nor certainly to see either its death of continuation on the Korean Peninsula their energy and love (and lovers) were almost invariably caught up in the practices, processes and structures of the Cold War. The potential these women saw for personal and gender liberation and transformation through the lens and power of Communism and Materialist dialectics for the most part would be dashed by the reality of autocratic state formation, the misery of Stalinism and the rise to power of a disinterested Kim Il-sŏng clique. Just as North Korea’s literary leading lights encountered by Janet Poole, Barraclough’s ‘beautiful socialists’ would never see their dreams and desires fully realised, the bounds of gender and patriarchy fully broken. Their personal futures were often to be messy, painful, disappointing and desperate of course, however perhaps the most astute an interesting elements of Barraclough’s powerful work has been the citing of some of that messiness and disappointment in the reflexivity of memory. Through the fractures and shards of these women’s lives that she is able to recover and reconstruct, Barraclough also uncovers streams of memory focused on them which are interesting in their distinction and differences between each other. Hŏ Jŏng-suk is apparently seen as an object lesson in the dangers of Communist enthusiasm, while Kang Kyong-ae, like some of Janet Poole’s writers, is still remembered and revered in South Korea, a talented, insightful yet difficult voice from the past. Vera Khan’s memory, it seems following her rehabilitation in 1989 by a dying Soviet Union was even accorded the honour of a posthumous Medal of Patriotic Honour in 2007 for her work with Koreans in the Russian Far East (Barraclough, 2015, 29). In these differences are of course the cracks of memory, opened up by the political processes of both remembering and forgetting, processes common to many of those who were touched by the reality of North Korea’s revolution and the powerful politics of Liberation (in all its forms), during the first half of the 20th century. Ruth Barraclough in this fine work of literary and biographic archaeology allows us a real glimpse into these cracks, the energy of Red Love and its adherents still visible in between.

Works Cited:

Anonymous. 1986. “Daughter of Korea,” Chosōn Yŏsŏng (Women of Korea) 4 (1986): 25

Anonymous. 2012. Kim Chŏng-suk: A Biography.  Pyongyang: Foreign

Languages Publishing House.

Ara, Konomi. 2010. Josephine Baker: A Chanteuse and a Fighter.” The Journal of Transnational American Studies 2 (1): 1-17.

Barraclough, Ruth. 2014. “Red Love and Betrayal in the Making of North Korea: Comrade Hŏ Jŏng-suk.” History Workshop Journal 77 (1): 86-102

Barraclough, Ruth. 2015. “Red Love in Korea: Rethinking Communism, Feminism, Sexuality in Red Love Across the Pacific: Political and Sexual Revolutions of the Twentieth Century eds: Ruth Barraclough, Heather Bowen-Struyk and Paula Rabinowitz. New York City: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gwang Ok. 2007. The Transformation of Modern Korean Sport: Imperialism, Nationalism, Globalization. Seoul: Hollym.

Konishi, Sho. 2013. Anarchist Modernity: Cooperatism and Japanese-Russian Intellectual Relations in Modern Japan. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Poole, Janet. 2014. When the Future Disappears: The Modernist Imagination in Late Colonial Korea. New York City, NY: Columbia University Press.

Published in S/N Korean Humanities 1 (2): 121-128.

Review of Shine Choi’s “Re-Imagining North Korea in International Politics: Problems and Alternatives”

‘Under the Demilitarized Zone…the Beach’: Or reading Choi through Guy Debord’s ‘Society of the Spectacle’

“Separation is the Alpha and the Omega of the Spectacle…” (Guy Debord)

“The International problem of North Korea is that North Korea is a work of fiction…” (Shine Choi)

The Demilitarised Zone in which, within which and across which the contemporary separation and rupture of the Korean Peninsula is most distinctly, concretely and completely manifested is surely the source of much of the eloquent research focused on that painful division. Yet it cannot also be ignored that the Demilitarized Zone as the ultimate physical embodiment of the post Korean War status quo is the division system at its least eloquent. It is a space of bluntness and a space of assertive punctuation, a full stop to the political articulations of either side. In a sense it is a space of acute political theatre as the recent theorists of political ideological forms in the North, Heonik Kwon and Byung-ho Chung would have it, a space of political charisma. Similar this author supposes to the conception of the vast majority of readers of this review of those North Korean political forms, the theatre and charismatic output of the Zone, however is one of only tragedy, deeply unfulfilling and unrequited. It is a tragic theatric space, on and in which neither side really wishes to either perform or spectate, but which both are bound by the vagaries of historical incident and accident to participate.

But is this really the case? Shine Choi in this essentially provocative work “Re-imagining North Korea in International Politics: Problems and Alternatives”, suggests perhaps it is not, perhaps we can all permanently exit stage right (or left), perhaps we can all retire or retreat at the interval, perhaps we can all demand the end to the performance. If North Korea and therefore the separation between the two Koreas is a work of theatric fiction, the whole process no matter how physical or concrete in some form is a cultural production. Similarly as provocative as this work is, Choi’s reviewer here, in order to appropriately connect and engage with the terrain conceived of within it wishes to view the text through the lens provided by another provocateur. Guy Debord, a French post-structuralist philosopher, in 1967 wrote a text of complicated, obtuse verse, “The Society of the Spectacle” (“La Societé du Spectacle” in its original French). Debord and his conception of the ‘Spectacle’ paved the intellectual way for the birth of Situationism, the radical cultural movement which underpinned the ruptures and displacements and almost revolution of Paris in 1968. With the assertion “Under the paving stones: the beach”, Debord and others fuelled youthful and academic assertions and conceptions that ultimately all expressions of culture, power, politics, social function etc were ultimately theatric ‘spectacle’ and all could be undone with a turning away, playful reconfiguration, ‘detournément’ and ‘derivation.’ Reading Choi in this dense, neutron star of a book through Debord’s more playful lens, this reviewer suggests might help the reader to better grasp the assertive and acerbic pulsing vigour of her words.

Readers of S/N Humanities, or in fact any reader with an academic or empirical focus upon the issues of either North Korea or the current and historical separation of the Korean Peninsula will be in some way aware of the tropes of the output and production of that focus. North Korean studies in particular revolves primarily paradigms of what Hazel Smith has called “mad, bad or sad”. Such discursive paradigms are temporally bounded by conceptions of Pyongyang’s future longevity, conceptions which Marcus Noland and others have termed paradigms of “collapsism” or “muddle through.” Such a field of analysis has resulted in North Korea and the division system’s capture by agendas of securitisation, threat and risk, the universalist, (Neo)Liberalism of human rights and regime change advocates, and what the reviewer terms the ‘comedy-fication’ of Pyongyang. It cannot be understated that in comparison with other academic fields and subjects/terrains of study, North Korean studies has not benefited empirically or empistemically from these approaches, and the trope of cultural and media production, that matters north of the demilitarized zone are ‘unknowable’ or opaque is partly a production of this unsatisfying combination of strategies. Ultimately and in ways which Debord might well recognise, our analytic vision of North Korea, its politics, people and spaces has become a production, a construction of our own making. Essentially, as academics, analysts and interested parties we achieve through this theatre of confusion, the North Korea that we are comfortable with, an unknowable space or constructed darkness. In this way the North Korea that we encounter and understand becomes more about us, the viewer, the reader the activist, the watcher and our preconceptions, fears, desires and fantasies than it does about the grounded subject that it’s the space of sovereignty governed by Pyongyang and its people.

For a number of considered and careful analysts, more used to the empirical rigour and methodological development of other more distant fields, the myopic, facile tendencies of self-reflection and externalisation generated by much of the output of North Korean studies is truly a disappointment. Choi is undoubtedly one of these number and essentially calls the entire edifice and industry of academic and intellectual procrastination surrounding North Korea, out demanding which she terms an ‘interruption’ to the entire enterprise. Choi’s interruption is in terms which Debord would recognise from his own agitated time, if not a radical, total and in some ways violent, collapse of the empirical and epistemic status quo then at least a pause in self-reverential, circular speculations and assertions from which something else, perhaps something more authentic, grounded and embodied in a reality of sorts might emerge. Choi’s interruption demands that the ‘discipline’ of North Korean studies and its attendant sub-narratives perhaps rather seeing its subject through the distorting lenses of politics, security and desire or wish fulfilment, should do so through the production generated by Debord’s ‘spectacle.’ In this way as viewers, engagers and interactors we might see, hear and think North Korea, as a culturally produced lived space of temporal reality, rather than something from an imagined a-historical zone of de-temporalization.

Choi’s analysis of this produced reality fascinatingly alights on the necessity of seeing and encountering North Korea differently through the moment of this interruption. She identifies the utility and validity of using the work of seemingly disparate authors as Trinh Minh-ha, Rey Chow,  James Church and Guy Delisle (among many), as exemplary eyes through which alternatives to seeing, imagining and considering North Korea might be achieved. Through the act of seeing and through the translation and mediation of that seeing and its production of alternatives to contemporary analytical status quo, Choi asserts that power is bestowed upon the process, not just to the methodological element to physical beings within it, claiming that “Drawing specifically on Rey Chow’s work, I argue that all intercultural contacts require explicit negotiations with this process of mediation and with the questions of how alterations of the process and the bodies involved can occur…” (Choi 2014, 38 – Referencing Chow 1995, 177-179).

Choi’s further seeks to interrogate and disrupt the methodologies and epistemic presumptions of the previously “seeing” community of North Korean scholars utilising the work of Trinh Minh-ha (described as a feminist film maker and political theorist). Trinh it seems seeks to break what sounds like a tyranny of objectivity, taking issue “with science as culture that encompasses all of the practices and processes that use, keep alive and fortify prevailing ideas of facticity and realism.” (Choi 2014, 47) Indeed Choi insists that a reading of Trinh suggests that rather than bringing the scholar closer to the process and temporal realities of a subject’s lives “Facticity and realism are predicated on a desire to bypass inter-subjectivities or relational encounters…” (Choi 2014, 47),

Perhaps similar to Debord’s conception that the key process of breaking or disempowering the spectacle is to both actually see it at all and having done so to see it differently, Choi brings Trinh’s conceptions to bear on the landscapes and visible terrains of science and scientific output (which includes that addressing North Korea). Given that Trinh in language any ‘derevisté’ would be familiar with, claims that the impact of new comprehensions brought on by this would be “…Re-assemblage. From silences to silences, the fragile essence of each fragment speaks…” (Choi 2015, 48 quoting Trinh 1989, 118), Choi through her work is calling for a new framework of enquiry with regards to North Korea, truths and seeing’s surrounding it, one which disrupts the subject-object binary and instead of speaking for or about something, focus on what Trinh calls speaking “nearby or together with” (Choi 2015, 47 quoting Trinh 1986, 33). Essentially Choi is, in the style of Paul Klee ‘taking our subjectivity/objectivity relations and truth for a walk’, a journey to new places and spaces, new vistas and observational positions from which perhaps other things can be seen.

The reader of course by now might be willing to suggest that Choi is suggesting or demanding a collapse into diffusion and the relativist, an artistic escapade in the face of utter tyranny and human degradation. Given Choi’s expert encounters with the productive eyes of James Church and Guy Delisle, authors of a unique series of fiction and a graphic novel (respectively), focused on North Korea, whose work she suggests is representative of just new or different ways of seeing, manifestations of ‘taking the object-subject for a walk’ such criticism itself could be grounded in its own objective truth. However this would be to entirely discount and neglect Choi’s assertive demand that rather than developing these new creative, juxtaposed, to one side (just round the corner), ways of seeing or engaging with this new un-securitised, de-objectified,‘re-subjectified’ reality as entertainment or pure spectacular, the audience is in no way released from the rigours of moral demand or conscience, but instead must encounter them even more greatly, run and fall head long towards them. Similar it seems, though radically different in notions (or otherwise) of the spectacular to Sandra Fahy’s magnificent co-option of the field of the desperate, dark emotional world of North Korean’s who have left its territory and sovereignty (and who are most commonly referred to as ‘North Korean defectors’ or ‘North Korean escapees’) as a functional, if complicated  tool for empirical analysis in her recent book ‘Marching Through Suffering’, Choi utilises this reframing and reconfiguration of the potential and process of our seeing and our viewing to move the spectacular and its production elsewhere.

Instead of the rather quizzical, abstruse, obtuse methodological and theoretical myopia of the academically captured seeing and considering of before, what Choi invites the reader having broken the boundaries and territories of the object/subject, to encounter instead is pure, unadulterated suffering and torment which in a most direct and certainly not diffuse manner, makes definite and determined demands of us and certainly requires an answer. It would be unlikely if the answer after all this was a continuation of separated, objectified present. Intriguingly Choi’s suggestion as to the formation of any answers or assertions is to remove the field of play, seeing and experience entirely from ‘tempo-reality’ and to delve deeper into this realm of the spectacle, following our breaking of boundaries and new ways of seeing and relating. Again Choi connects to the terrains of the spectacle the realm of overt cultural production in order to relocate an empathetic grounded reality, perceivable and encounterable in our new framework of open eyed existence. This necessary grounding, is real experience thrust upon us in our seeing and our encounters, but upon which we can grab in what might be potentially ephemeral waters.

Of course Choi means for these encounters and this seeing to be central, core, rather than ephemeral or peripheral, the heart of the spectacle and the journey rather than the edge or corona. Utilising a further and final very careful and considered set of literary and filmic readings, Choi in the later chapters of the work encounters new possibilities for empathic, real, undivided love for North Korea, love which will ultimately break and fracture division in filmic disruption present in recent Korean productions such as ‘Over the Border’, ‘Typhoon’ and ‘Our Homeland’. This is the radical love of Sonia Ryang’s conception, space for the conceptual threesome between an uncomfortably imagined couple and an attendant member of the Kim dynasty, space for us to love North Korea now that we have embraced and been re-defined the breaking, collapse or disintegration  of the object/subject binary and our rebirth of subjectivity as Choi puts it when referring to Yang, a key character in on ‘Our Homeland’; “…This intimate relationship with her subject gains articulation in all her productions, which crucially mediates how North Korea as an object of love is encountered and imagined” (Choi 2015, 160).

Of course both objectivity and subjectivity in this place of encounter, seeing and engagement through spectacle are themselves reconfigured and productive in their regeneration. In this new world of seeing, empathising and encountering a ‘love-space’ of empathic ‘spectacular’ production, Choi engages Gayatri Spivak’s rather radical writing on re-centered or de-centered selves, understanding them to open up “…the possibility for exploring a greater diversity of in-between spaces and translative transactions…” (Choi 2015, 219). We arrive with Choi at this space of acute hyphenation, barriers broken, defences down, at the Omega of the Spectacle. In Spivak’s ‘simultaenity’ a world with ‘both ends’, subordination and disruption, it is as if our heterogeneous production and encounter themselves become pure mobilization as much as they become actualization. In this spectacular, yet empathetic, grounded re-production, the division of North and South Korea is mobilised by its reproduction into and beyond spectacle, becoming rather than object of stasis, division or rupture, instead part, object and subject of a critical, vital act of detournément.


Choi, Shine. 2015. Re-Imagining North Korea in International Politics: Problems and Alternatives. London, Routledge.

Chow, Rey. 1995. Primitive Passions: Visuality, Sexuality, Ethnography and Contemporary Chinese Cinema. New York, Columbia University Press.

Debord, Guy.1983. The Society of the Spectacle. Detroit, Michigan. Black and Red.

Fahy, Sandra. 2015. Marching Through Suffering. New York, Columbia University Press.

Ryang, Sonia. 1997. North Koreans in Japan: Language, Ideology and Identity. Oxford, Westview Press

Spivak. Gayatri. 200. “Translation as Culture.” Parallax, 6 (1):13-24

Trinh, T. Minh-ha. 1986. “Difference: A Special Third World Women Issue.” Discourse, 8:10-35

Trinh, T. Minh-ha. 1989. Women, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism. Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana University Press.