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  • Governing Difference:Reflecting on the Bio-Politics of Cure
  • Xuan Thuy Nguyen (bio)
Curative Violence: Rehabilitating Disability, Gender, and Sexuality in Modern Korea by Eunjung Kim. Duke University Press, 2017. 312 pp. Cloth: $99.95, paperback: $25.95.

In Curative Violence: Rehabilitating Disability, Gender, and Sexuality in Modern Korea, Eunjung Kim critically examines the cultural politics of cure in modern Korean history through an intersectional analysis of disability, gender, and sexuality. Kim offers the reader sharp insight into the ways in which the ideology of cure has been framed within what might be called "modernity's rescue mission."1 The ways in which modernity gestures at curing "vulnerable" bodies through such cultural practices as rehabilitation are embedded within the Western world's and nation-state's ideologies meant to exclude, to dehumanize, and to exercise violence on marginalized bodies under the guise of mercy, benevolence, or the rescue of the Other.

Cure appears in Curative Violence through a genealogical analysis of how disabled, gendered, and assumed asexual bodies are positioned in relation to the body politic of the nation-state and transnational practices. The term 'Ch'iyu' in the Sino-Korean language is made of up two terms: ch'i, "to govern," and yu, "to cure." To cure, Kim explains, is "to properly govern the body and its social relation" (3). Historically, the colonial Chosõn constructed its body politic through its ideologies to normalize, to invest, and to rehabilitate people with non-normative bodies and minds. This curative ideology [End Page 275] is manifested through a range of cultural, historical, and social practices: the lingering impacts of colonialism and eugenic policies on Korean culture, the historical treatment of people with Hansen's disease, the structural conditions of austerity for disabled people and their families, the advancement of science and technologies related to an ableist desire to cure disability, as well as the cultural politics of disability, gender, and sexuality in films and literary discourses. Interestingly, Kim goes beyond the existing medical industrial complex in which cure is situated to re-conceptualize cure as "a crossing of times and categories through metamorphosis" and as "a transaction and negotiation that involves various effects" (10). As she observes, current discourses of cure have constructed disability as a form of death or as unlivable. The state's imperative to cure is governed by its desire to normalize bodies. However, she acutely asks: "What happens when cure promises to take bodies from the category of disability to that of normality, but leaves them in the middle?" (9).

Kim examines cure as the transactions between disabled subjects and institutions. While power works to normalize marginalized bodies, it "ends up destroying the subject in the curative process" (14). Cure operates through an ableist and heteronormative ideology of normalcy which renders the body curable, investable, and otherwise excludable through its invisible and visible acts of violence. Indeed, it is difficult to disentangle the ways ableism, sexism, nationalism, and transnationalism intersect through mechanisms deeply rooted in the production of power that governs the body. The story of Sim Chong, a narrative that appeared in textbooks during the colonial era and continues to be reprinted in schools today, is a classic example of how narratives of cure are deeply rooted within gendered and ableist ideologies that construct female bodies through the discourses of "sacrifice" and "filial piety." This cultural production is central to the body politic of modern Korea.

Critically, Kim argues that "curative power . . . fundamentally relies on the presence of disabled bodies framed with a certain emotional effect" (3). Indeed, each chapter seeks to unpack the framing of normality and difference through the presence of disability and how it is reflected in the public's emotion about curing disability. The Ugly Creature, an oral folklore from 1936, offers an excellent example of how the desire to fix disability, seen as a hereditary fate that runs across generations, is rooted in the public fear of eugenics. The story depicts Õnnyõni, an "ugly," "despised," and "ridiculed" disabled woman who [End Page 276] desires to transform her fate and ends up being sexually assaulted and becoming pregnant. Her "suffering" life is seen as being reproduced through the birth of her...


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pp. 275-279
Launched on MUSE
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