- Curative Violence: Rehabilitating Disability, Gender, and Sexuality in Modern Korea by Eunjung Kim
Discourses of cure inspire uncomfortable conversations within the field of disability studies. Eunjung Kim's book Curative Violence: Rehabilitating Disability, Gender, and Sexuality in Modern Korea is situated in this uncomfortable space. Kim makes the polemical claim that cure is a form of violence. "Curative Violence," according to Kim, "is when cure is what actually frames the presence of disability as a problem and ends up destroying the subject in the curative process . . . [becoming] at once remedy and poison" (14). The National Women's Studies Association (NWSA) has awarded Kim the Alison Piepmeier Book Prize that recognizes "a groundbreaking monograph in women, gender, and sexuality studies that makes significant contributions to feminist disability studies scholarship." Piepmeier, a professor of Women's and Gender Studies and associate professor of English at the College of Charleston who lost her life to brain cancer in August 2016, had devoted an area of her research to exposing the politics of eradicating disability from the human population. Kim's book engages the very issues Piepmeier was passionate about by importantly drawing on a transnational feminist disability studies framework.
Curative Violence is specifically situated in modern Korea, located in the Global South. In the book, Kim elaborates shifts in the history of how cure is taken up in Korean culture in ways that do not apologize for cure even while narrating its violent excesses. By maintaining these tensions throughout her analyses, Kim enables disability scholars to imagine possibilities for disabled lives that are free from violence when care is seen "as a negotiation rather than a necessity" (back cover). Examining a wide variety of cultural practices and [End Page 240] locales, Kim explores "cultural representations of eugenics, reproductive control, human sacrifice, suicide, rape, murder, medical isolation, and humanitarian aid" within specific historical and political contexts even while cultural movements of disabled Korean women advocate for "livable lives free of violence" (38). Through her wide-ranging analysis that includes novels, folktales, films, media accounts, historical narratives, social policies, and disability activism, Kim has argued for ways to rethink "cure" as "a set of political, moral, economic, emotional and ambivalent transactions that occur in social relations" (41).
In our techno-rational world, cure has a seemingly straightforward meaning—"to restore 'health' by removing illness and disability through medical treatment" (6). But Kim complicates that simplistic definition. In the introduction to the book, Kim offers several iterations of the discourses of cure that circulate within the social context and that challenge the rather straightforward emphasis on amelioration. Kim sees cure not as an ahistorical objective technology but rather as enmeshed in sociopolitical contexts. In the context of the Korean state, Kim describes how the locus of cure exceeds the (disabled) subject citizen to also participate in rebuilding the postcolonial nation state. Kim writes that "[t]o cure is to properly govern the body and its social relations" (3) such that "the power to physically transform a disabled individual through biomedicine becomes part of the branding effort of the normalized ethno-nation-state" (4). Kim makes this point by a careful textual reading of a special postal stamp issued in 2009 by Korea Post entitled "Stem Cell Cloning Process and Hope." The stamp was dedicated to Hwang Woo Suk, who made claims (that later turned out to be fraudulent) that he had a cure for disability. The imagery on the stamp invokes an evolutionary theme that extends from left to right where a man seated in a wheelchair moves through five different stages to leap from this wheelchair to embrace a female figure in the final stage of his evolution to normativity.
Kim uses this image as the point of departure to explore the textures of meaning encased in the concept of cure. Here, the assumption behind cure is that disability exists as a nonlife outside of the progression of time, which is denied any kind of social meaning in the present because the precondition...