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Total, Thus Broken: Chuch’e Sasang and North Korea’s Terrain of Subjectivity

From: Journal of Korean Studies
Volume 17, Number 1, Spring 2012
pp. 69-96 | 10.1353/jks.2012.0011



The history of North Korea’s chuch’e sasang is marked by its fixation as an object of construction by the state (early 1960s); the inclusion of the idea of human centrality and its expression as law (early 1970s); and its expansion into a discursive system as well as the emergence of its critique as the product and cause of North Korea’s situations (1970s to the present). The fundamental idea of chuch’e sasang is that the people possess the will to order the world around them. The easiness of the idea lies in its characteristic of totality, as an idea that emerges from real experience, articulated by the omnipresent leader, witnessed in the actual material transformation, and reproduced tautologically as the product and object of revolution. Its mass logic is entrenched in the immediate totality of the autonomous subject. The moment of totality, however, is also the moment of its destructuring. In the representations of totality of chuch’e sasang, a film and two paintings, the subject is ambiguous because any distinction of a disparate subject immediately disappears within the abstract boundary of the nation-state. Ideological hold in North Korea was always incomplete. The impossibility of totality, however, is also the grounds for the affirmation of a genuine subject that emerges from the domain of hegemony.

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