Friday, September 20th, 2019 Literature, the Human, and Governmentality: Between Ideas and Experience

Friday, September 20, 20191:00PM - 3:00PM208N, North House, 1 Devonshire Place


This talk is interested in how Korean literary and cultural critics have defined the idea of literature and what roles the idea serves in their larger arguments about the human being and history. It focuses in particular on mid-century Korea, from the late Japanese colonial period until the 1950s. The intention behind this periodization is to recognize both continuity and discontinuity between “before and after liberation,” particularly in relation to concepts of the human and their intersection with imperial, colonial, and national politics. Through texts by Paek Ch’ŏl, Ch’oe Chaesŏ, Sŏ Insik, and An Hamgwang, published in the Japanese empire, South Korea, and North Korea, I will discuss how and why these critics conceived of literature as the most important mediation between transcendental concepts, including moral and political ideas, and the everyday experiences of modernity. This situating of literature between ideas and experience was connected to the figure of the human, the “empirico-transcendental doublet” of modernity (Foucault), and thereby to modes of governmentality between Japanese empire, US and Soviet occupation, and the Korean national population. This talk comes out of a current book project, a collection of translations titled Humanism, Empire, and Nation: Korean Literary and Cultural Criticism.

Travis Workman is Associate Professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He is the author of Imperial Genus: The Formation and Limits of the Human in Modern Korea and Japan (Oakland: University of California Press, 2016). He has published articles in journals such as PMLA and positions and book chapters in volumes such as The Korean Popular Culture Reader and Rediscovering Korean Cinema. He is currently working on a collection of translations, Humanism, Empire, and Nation: Korean Literary and Cultural Criticism and a book manuscript, Political Moods: Melodrama and the Cold War in Korean Film.


Travis Workman
Associate Professor, Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

Michelle Cho
Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto

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