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Curative Violence: Rehabilitating Disability, Gender, and Sexuality in Modern Korea, by Eunjung Kim. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017. 312 pages. $25.95 paperback.

Eunjung Kim in Curative Violence lays bare the disavowal of debility, chronic illness, and disability in South Korea from the period of Japanese colonial rule (1910–1945) to the contemporary present. She accomplishes this by tracing the construction of what she calls the "imperative to cure" which requires the erasure of markers of difference and is fueled by heteronormative and nation-building mandates. Examining lived experiences, legislation, public discourse, and representations of disability in literary and cinematic texts situated firmly in the historical moments in which they emerge, Kim reconsiders cure as "a set of political, moral, economic, emotional, and ambivalent transactions," (p. 41) questioning its necessity or even desirability. Cure acts also as a form of "crossing," one of "folded time" where a future without (or a past before) disability is projected onto the present, that produce embodied, social, material, and affective transformations. Enforcing morphological conformity not only denies diverse ways of living but also deploys violence in the name of recovery or rehabilitation.

Chapter one, "Unmothering Disability," analyzes "hereditary dramas," narratives which position reproduction as a site of curative intervention by preventing the birth of potentially disabled children, thereby disqualifying disabled persons, particularly women, from parenthood. Placing the texts featured in a longer history of eugenics since the 1930s through its legal manifestation in the 1973 Motherhood and Child Health Act and into the present in preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) or screening, Kim raises the ethical implications of practices that keep women from reproducing through their sterilization (voluntary or not), abortion, and ineligibility as marriage partners. Hereditary dramas also fail to take into account the risks harbored and agency of choice taken by disabled women who do bear children.

Familial relations take center stage in the next chapter, "Cure by Proxy," where Kim examines Vietnam War-era films and cinematic adaptations since 1937 of premodern tales of Sim Chŏng, Ongnye, and Changhwa and Hongnyŏn that obligate nondisabled bodies to serve as "curative agents" for disabled persons. The moral economy that exhorts duties to parents, husbands, and nation imposes a compulsory normality that denigrates disability and demands the sacrifice of the proxy. This "corporeal bind," moreover, imposes dependence of disabled persons on [End Page 102] their nondisabled family members, which, in some cases, result tragically, serving as a cautionary tale of the burdens placed by state legal codes that grant or deny welfare eligibility.

Popular discussion and adjudication of sexual violence, agency, and sexuality of disabled persons are explored in chapters three and five. "Violence as a Way of Loving" problematizes the logic that justifies sexual assault and rape of disabled women as "compassionate cure," form of communication, or enabler of femininity. Kim rereads the "madwoman" in literary texts and films such as Adada (1987, based on a 1935 novella), A Petal (1996, based on a 1988 novel), and The Song of Songs (2000) not as the vehicle for the "wound and site of the nation's healing" (p. 147) or fantasy of idyllic (and non-existent) past village communities but as instructive to the hostility and cruelty of humans in response to difference. This is poignantly demonstrated by the film Togani (2001, based on a novel inspired by actual events), which refuses to abide to the "social scripts of violence" and instead protests that the alienation and sexual victimization of disabled persons makes life not possible without substantive change.

Heteronormativity and expectations for gendered performance also undergird contemporary presentations of the sexuality of disabled persons as a social problem in chapter five "Curing Virginity." The sex drive of disabled men (presumed natural, invoking pity for their virginal life) and women (understood as excess and to be eradicated) invites curative interventions. Films such as Pink Palace (2005) and Sex Volunteer: Open Secret, the First Story (2009) and the Korean translation of the Japanese book Sex Volunteers (2005) promote the legalization and subsidization of sexual services for disabled persons by "sex volunteers" or "sex surrogates" for humanitarian or therapeutic purposes. The film Papa (2004), on the other hand...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1529
Print ISSN
0145-840X
Pages
pp. 102-104
Launched on MUSE
2018-05-19
Open Access
N
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