Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
My dissertation, entitled, The Origin of Korean Trauerspiel: Gwangju, Stasis, Justice, argues that the vertiginous vicissitudes of contemporary South Korea since 1997 can be best described in terms of what Walter Benjamin calls Trauerspiel, or Mourning Play. This project identifies the 15-year period as the time-space of a series of suspended and thwarted mourning, in which death, be it in the past or present, hardly partakes of the economy of justice or sacrifice as it putatively does in tragedy in view of a new community to come.
Drawing attention to the peculiar interplay between two contemporary catalysts of stasis, or civil war, i.e., the special amnesty granted in 1997 to ex-President Chun Doo-Hwan for his executive role in the Gwangju Massacre in May 1980 and the U.S. War on Terror since 2002, for which 3 Korean civilian hostages were kidnapped and brutally executed in 2004 and 2007, I argue that both serve to render naught the sublime causes (e.g. Democracy, Justice, and Peace) as well as human lives sacrificed in relation to them, generating a genuine crisis of politics and ethics.
By analyzing contemporary Korean cinema (e.g. films by Park Chan-wook, Bong Jun-ho, and Kim Jee-woon) and literature (e.g. Kim Hoon) of this period as allegory of this crisis, I show how attempts at doing justice are complicated and increasingly frustrated by progressive dissolution of a series of traditional distinctions between Victim and Perpetrator, Friend and Enemy, and Justice and Vengeance, leading to universal failures of mourning, only to constitute a vast singular Trauerspiel, or Mourning Play.
Copyright 2012 Yung bin Kwak