Chungmoo Choi

Associate Professor, East Asian Languages & Literature
School of Humanities

PH.D., Indiana University

Phone: (949) 824-7572, 2227
Fax: (949) 824-3248

University of California, Irvine
473 Humanities Instructional Building
Mail Code: 6000
Irvine, CA 92697

picture of Chungmoo  Choi

Modern Korean culture, colonialism, popular culture and culture theory, anthropology
My current research project focuses on modernity and gender construction in Korea under Japanese colonial rule. This project examines the problems of the modern Korean subjectivity developed under Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945). To be more specific, I analyze the colonized Koreans' contradictions in this subjectivity between its enchantment with metropolitan visual and material representations of modernity, and its simultaneous repulsion of Japanese colonial rule that we find powerfully articulated in the ideology of Korean nationalism. My purpose is to shed light on the ways in which such ambivalence produces a kind of modernity that simulates visual and material realms of the metropolis without manifesting the necessary ideological and practical accoutrements behind these realms such as rationality, democracy, or modern administration. Illuminating Koreans' multiple subjectivities by tracing the development of this "colonial modernity," which some might define as a kind of pastiche, I hope to find ways to liberate the discourse of decolonization in Korea from repressive and sometimes totalitarian anti-colonial nationalist ideology, which has legitimatized the authoritarian governments of both Koreas.

A problematic of this sort is a key to understanding of the Korean epistemology of Self which has embodied colonial experiences. As in other former colonies, Korean anti-colonial nationalist ideology not only polemically constructs the Korean nation as a victim of colonialism but also denies Koreans the possibility of occupying multiple positions towards colonialism. My preliminary study promises that a careful examination of the impact of the double structure of colonialism can effectively challenge the reign of this totalizing ideology, since colonialism operates analogously to what Marx postulated as commodity fetishism. According to Marx, commodity commands a certain magical aura or enchantment that produces desire while masking the relation of its production. For the colonized Koreans who were excluded from the operations of modernity, whether knowledge production or colonial administration, the visual and material reification of modernity that occupied the colonized space commanded a kind of enchantment and produced desire for the power that is represented. Under the colonial condition, then what mediated between Koreans and metropolitan modernity was the "thingness" of the objects as these objects exerted power over the colonized subjects.

This is an extension of my work, The Discourse of Decolonization and Culture in Korea (Duke Univ. Press, in printing) that examines the post-colonial subjectivity as articulated in cultural products. In conjunction with this project I have edited two volumes.:1) a journal special issue on "comfort women," the two hundred thousand Asian women who were drafted for sexual slavery by Japanese military during the Pacific War, and 2) a book titled Dangerous Women: Gender and Korean Nationalism (Routledge, 1998). As a journal editor I cast this issue of enormously intense international attention against the backdrop of the rise of the modern nation-state, imperialism, and gender construction. My editorial vision brings the discourse of "comfort women" to a much deeper and broader scholarly level than the usual historical inquiries of what happened to these women. The special issue examines not only of the "comfort women" issues but also those of gender and imperialism. The special issue appears in the journal positions: east asia cultures critique 5:1 (Spring 1997).

Dangerous Women was produced with a somewhat different vision than the above special issue. The book examines the construction of gender in Korea under multiple colonialisms and the gendered nationalism under various imperial rules. It also extends the issue to diasporic Koreans in northern China and North America. The editorial focus and its scope make the book the first of its kind that has ever been produced in the field of Korean studies. My essay in this volume charts the problematic relationship between Korea's already gendered nationalism under colonial rule and the construction of national woman. In the essay I employ a writing strategy that connects a Korean woman's personal narrative that narrativizes realities of post-colonial Korea with feminist analysis of literature written by male writers. This is an attempt to intervene in the discourse of nationalism that is often repressive and totalitarian.

My interests also expand into the arena of visual culture. This is not only because the centrality of vision in understanding modernity and cinema's position within it, but also for the pedagogical importance of visual culture. Out of this intellectual and pedagogical concerns I co-directed a landmark Korean film festival: Post-Colonial Classics of Korean Cinema, 1948-1998. The festival presented 22 feature films and 6 short films, and concludes with an international conference on the theme.

Publications Dangerous Women: Gender and Korean Nationalism (Routledge, 1998)
  "The Discourse of Decolonization and Popular Memory: South Korea," Positions Spring, 1993, vol. 1, no. 1
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Last updated 03/29/2002