Imagining America and the “Other”
- onNovember 2, 2014
- Vol.18 Winter 2012
- byKim Young-ha
Around the turn of the century, Korean fiction used as fodder the shock and experience of geography and language, the politics of a racially divergent "other," economy, history, and culture, which led to a marked hybridity in literature. To Koreans who had great pride in their "one race, one language" identity, and unwavering desire for a unified nation that could overcome differences, the "other" that crossed geographical, cultural lines, and further, assimilated on this side of the border gave Korean literature the formidable task of representing "otherness." This article follows the experience of Korean immigration and the diaspora in both American continents and investigates the means and routes through which each place has been fictionally reconstructed in Korean literature. This article will trace the Korean perception and imagination of other nations and its components—politics, economy, history, and culture—as geographical places that are distinct from Korea.
As Kim Young-ha shows in his novel Black Flower (2003), the U.S. and Mexico have shaped the lives of Koreans in both direct and indirect ways, considering the cause and effect of Korean's modernization. The U.S. has had an overwhelming influence on Korea and its people in many ways since Japan's colonization of Korea, the country’s liberation and division, to its present. While Mexico's influence over Korea is not as obvious as that of the U.S., the Koreans who fled Korea during the period of Japanese colonization experienced being outsiders as "henequen" in none other than Mexico.
Since the 1960s when Korean students in the U.S. increased in number, the Vietnam War broke out, and American bases in Korea and the camp towns surrounding them began to draw public interest, Korean fiction has been representing the U.S. as a symbol associated with issues of Korean democracy and dictatorship as well as the capitalistic way of life. These depictions, however, were limited in that they were conscious or subconscious images of the U.S. from the perspective of Korea and Koreans. Very few works during this time were based on real life experience in the U.S., not even those based on short visits.
Among these few works was Choi Inho's novella, "Deep Blue Night" (1982). This story is notable as an early impression of the U.S. through the eyes of a Korean writer. "Deep Blue Night" is partly based on Choi's experience traveling to the U.S. as an escape from the shock of Chun Doo-hwan continuing a military dictatorship following the death of dictator Park Chung-hee, and Choi’s personal doubts regarding his life as a writer. A grim portrait of the writer himself, this novella is also a fictional travel story that follows the journey of the protagonist Jeong Jun-hyeok and a Korean singer whose career halted when he was caught smoking marijuana.