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  • Literature and Film in Cold War South Korea: Freedom's Frontier by Theodore Hughes
  • Kelly Y. Jeong (bio)
Literature and Film in Cold War South Korea: Freedom's Frontier, by Theodore Hughes. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. 304 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $55.00 cloth.

Theodore Hughes's Literature and Film in Cold War South Korea: Freedom's Frontier begins with an original concept that literature is a part of South Korea's "visual modernity" and that they are "instances of visual culture; they are verbal-visual texts" (p. 205). Using textual examples from the 1910s-1970s period, both canonical and otherwise, Hughes illustrates the connections between Korean cultures before and after 1945 that have been ignored, obscured, deliberately hidden, or continue, disguised through a Cold War "code-switching," addressing "the ways in which the formation of post-1945 'South Korean' culture is part of a transnational, global, Cold War discourse," aiming to "unpack what has been elided in discussions of modern Asia and the Cold War" (p. 17). In this way, Hughes writes the cultural history of the layers of purposeful forgetting, elision, and epistemic violence, one that leads to certain invisibilities (of the left and of the North, for instance), which enables the rise of the "ethnonation" and "ethnodevelopmentalist" state in South Korea. He writes, "the formation of Han'guk munhak . . . is closely tied to the increasing excision of texts—as well as cultural producers located north of the thirty-eighth parallel" (p. 11), buttressing his argument (which may be controversial) that "'North' and 'South' Korean literature is not a divided national literature but an array of texts forming themselves in relation to the colonial past, competing statisms, and global Cold War cultural production" (p. 90).

Chapter 1 discusses the spatialization according to the ideological division of the Korean cultural field and explains the creation of "South Korean" literature and culture that results through the erasures of KAPF and all other leftist writers and their works in the 1945-1948 period, a formation that lasts until 1988, when the ban was finally lifted. The chapter's thesis connects the culture of the late-colonial-era mobilization and Cold War developmentalism, arguing that from 1948 to 1988, cultural producers "negotiated the visual order, one first deployed under U.S. military occupation" (p. 12). [End Page 153]

Chapter 2 analyzes works from Selected Stories of Liberation Literature (1948) and in doing so, questions the canon formation of South Korean literature by making visible the workings of the literary establishment, major publishing houses, censorship, and the politics of the intellectuals' (non)response to this collection. This is a valuable input, alerting us to the meanings that lie outside of the texts themselves but nevertheless matter just as much when we consider Korean literature. The chapter does this partly by providing summaries of critical debates between different camps that begin and continue from the 1930s-1940s, the left and the right, and amongst the members of each camp, between pivotal figures such as Yi Tae-jun, Im Hwa, Yŏm Sang-sŏp, Kim Ki-jin, and others. Such discourses are rarely presented today, especially in languages other than Korean.

In Chapters 3 and 4, Hughes adds his voice against the old formula of the "East" providing raw material/text and the "West" culture/theory, to disrupt the traffic pattern of knowledge production and consumption that used to flow mostly in one direction. Hughes fluently cites from the works of writers, artists, filmmakers, and theorists working in Korean and English, suggesting a good model for a new kind of "area studies." Also the book's main focus, the relationship between materiality, visuality, literature, and culture, comes through most successfully in these chapters dealing with films as immediate examples.

Chapter 5 is devoted to the major writer Ch'oe In-hun's works. One criticism of this chapter (and of the book, for that matter, since there are opportunities for considerations of gender in each chapter) is that it doesn't address the utterly masculinist character of Ch'oe's works and its serious implications for the modern Korean literary canon. Some discussions of gender ideology would have made...