“Filming the Queerness of Comfort Women: Byun Young-Joo’s The Murmuring, 1995” opens an underlying theme that suffuses this general issue: how does scholarship take steps into the unknown? positions 5, no.1 initiated debate in 1997 about the “comfort” event, a state-sponsored military policy of organized mass rape. What Jongwoo Jeremy Kim does is remind readers that twenty years ago an inchoate field emerged because Hyunah Yang, Yayoi Mitsui, and others, in particular, created it. Reencountering the event, now that “data collecting and legislative endeavors have reached a certain plateau and the process of disciplinary self-reflection has completed its first cycle,” Kim suggests the analytic double bind of queerness, that is, a queer is one who cannot not disavow the conditions that make normative personhood possible, in order to grasp, analytically, what happened during the event and in 1995 and how it can be revalued now. Kim mediates the thesis that [End Page 1] comfort survivors “de-mirror” or step out of the male imaginary to become queer subjects, drawing on Byun Young-Joo’s 1995 documentary The Murmuring as a limit test. Collaborating with her subjects, Byun had filmed the breaking of silence about sexual survival and captured communication from the raped about what happened to them and how they live. According to Kim, Byun enables us to see queer political subjects as they step out of phallologocentrism.
Carl Cassegard, in his “Let Us Live! Empowerment and the Rhetoric of Life in the Japanese Precarity Movement,” tracks political “freeters—young men and women without regular employment,” who are making common cause with the homeless, immigrants, recently jobless elders, eccentrics, and mentally disabled Japanese people. Cassegard clarifies that freeter unions and freeter groups are disciplined and theoretically alert; they pose, though arguably in a less wrenchingly bare way than Kim’s mediation of the lives of comfort survivors. Adapting a Rancerian lexicon, Cassegard seeks to report about precarity activism’s relation to an originary trauma, the abortive, mid-twentieth-century Left uprising, and an astounding capacity for subjectivization that is feeding a fresh radicality now, in what Cassegard proposes will be a long process of recovery/political invention. His essay tracks successes activists have wrenched out of past failures: such conservation and invention may take decades, but that is, according to Cassegard, the temporality of politics.
Jong Bum Kwon’s “Forging a Modern Democratic Imaginary: Police Sovereignty, Neoliberalism, and the Boundaries of Neo-Korea” returns readers to this issue’s second, implicit thematic question of how past violence saturates the present and future, and to the great fire wall of political amnesia. Kwon’s thesis holds that “neither mass resistance nor violent state oppression has subsided since 1987,” and in fact, the continuing, documented violent repression has to be understood as a structuring element of what he terms contemptuously “Neo-Korea,” which he defines as a social-political fantasy that the present is a radical break from past repression. Marking as did Cassegard the significance of Rancière’s thesis on political theater, Kwon shows in hypervivid prose that in Korea, “neoliberalism and democracy are perceptual regimes and are mutually constituted by a combination of biopolitical [End Page 2] and sovereign power. … They have been articulated with a politics of the new,” by which he means sheer make-believe.
Yoon Sun Yang’s “Enlightened Daughter, Benighted Mother: Yi Injik’s Tears of Blood and Early Twentieth-Century Korean Domestic Fiction” intervenes in the canonization of Korean new fiction to establish a taxonomic shift for Yi Injik’s novel Tears of Blood, and to reinterpret the problematic character of the good wife and wise mother, Ch’unae, a turn-of-the-twentieth-century new female character, the “old-fashioned woman.” The novel resembles turn-of-the-century newspaper serials in many parts of Asia. What is at stake, according to Yang, is the status of post-Chosŏn womanhood, modern female citizenship, and the ambivalence besetting an already ambivalent male author of “women’s fiction,” Yi Injik, who appears to have recognized Japanese civilization’s superiority and adopted its version of pan-Asianism. This, Yang argues, is not Yi’s colonial desire...