Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

National narrative, traumatic memory and testimony: Reading traces of the Cheju April Third Incident, South Korea, 1948
by Chang, Jieun, Ph.D., New York University, 2009, 255; 3365697
Abstract (Summary)

The dissertation examines an instance of massive state violence and civilian massacre, the Cheju April Third Incident (South Korea, 1948) – a long-obscured chapter in the modern history of Korea which has only just recently become part of its official history. In particular, the study investigates how the occurrence of this political violence is linked to post-liberation Korea's modern nation-building, how not only the violent event but also the systemic suppression of its memory over fifty years served to engender and maintain national belonging through "othering." But challenged by the recognition of the limits of representation in the face of trauma, my work also raises larger questions about the meaning of witnessing in the context of an extreme event and its transmission.

Chapter one establishes the ethical basis and theoretical lenses for the entire project. It explores the notion of the "trace," its testimonial structure, and its relationship to survival and to writing in the works of Jacques Derrida, Maurice Blanchot, and Emmanuel Levinas. Chapter two draws on historical research to unravel the political logic that motivated the Cheju violence and the sustained social silence imposed upon it. The subsequent two chapters address challenges posed by the performance of testimony to the historical and legal appropriations of such a catastrophe. Chapter three reads Kim Tongman's testimonial film, Woman in Cotton Rag, to probe the limits of representational language and trauma. This chapter also traces the way language can nonetheless be used to address narrative breaches of traumatic history. Chapter four is concerned with deformed and denigrated bodies of sexually assaulted female victims of Cheju as literal sites of covert testimony. Careful study of extraordinary patterns of gendered violence sheds light on the particular role female sexuality was made to play in the making of Korean national identity.

Through close analyses not only of conventional "historically legible" materials, but also of the marginal spaces of historical archives, my dissertation identifies a possibility within language itself to bear witness to catastrophic history of the most excessive dimensions, without either obliterating it yet again under a narrative of necessary nation-building or sensationalizing it.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Baer, Ulrich C., Ronell, Avital
Commitee: Lezra, Jacques, Patell, Shireen R. K., Zhang, Xudong
School: New York University
Department: Comparative Literature
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 70/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Comparative literature, Asian literature, History, Philosophy
Keywords: Cheju, Cheju April Third Incident, Korea, Massacre, Memory, Memory trace, Nationalism, Sexual violence, South Korea, Testimony, Trauma
Publication Number: 3365697
ISBN: 978-1-109-25852-3
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