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Queer(ing) Language in Yi Kwangsu’s Mujŏng: Sexuality, Nation, and Colonial Modernity

Queer(ing) Language in Yi Kwangsu’s Mujŏng: Sexuality, Nation, and Colonial Modernity This article presents a queer reading of Mujŏng (Heartless, 1917) by Yi Kwangsu (1892–1950). Often touted as Korea’s first modern novel by virtue of its innovative vernacular language and concern with themes of individual subjectivity, this text illuminates the tension between the diverse modes of writing existing in precolonial Korea and the pressure to conform to a hegemonic modern form of written language. At the same time, the novel depicts a variety of romantic relationships—many outside the bounds of compliance with heteronormative notions of acceptable love—and the pressure on subjects engaged in these romances ultimately to comply with modern sexual norms. Thus the novel depicts the simultaneous constriction, in colonial context, of acceptable possibilities in the realms of language and sexuality. Nevertheless, Mujŏng also offers sites of resistance to these imperial reconfigurations. This article explores these sites, viewing the multifarious nature of the novel’s language as a form of queerness that mimics the queer sexualities presented in the course of the story. I argue that even as the politically tenable possibilities available under colonialism are diminished, the queer practices legible in Yi’s text offer the chance to forge new and empowering linguistic and sexual identities. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of Korean Studies Duke University Press

Queer(ing) Language in Yi Kwangsu’s Mujŏng: Sexuality, Nation, and Colonial Modernity

Journal of Korean Studies , Volume 23 (1) – Mar 1, 2018

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Copyright
Copyright © 2018 by the Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York
ISSN
0731-1613
eISSN
2158-1665
DOI
10.1215/21581665-4339062
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

This article presents a queer reading of Mujŏng (Heartless, 1917) by Yi Kwangsu (1892–1950). Often touted as Korea’s first modern novel by virtue of its innovative vernacular language and concern with themes of individual subjectivity, this text illuminates the tension between the diverse modes of writing existing in precolonial Korea and the pressure to conform to a hegemonic modern form of written language. At the same time, the novel depicts a variety of romantic relationships—many outside the bounds of compliance with heteronormative notions of acceptable love—and the pressure on subjects engaged in these romances ultimately to comply with modern sexual norms. Thus the novel depicts the simultaneous constriction, in colonial context, of acceptable possibilities in the realms of language and sexuality. Nevertheless, Mujŏng also offers sites of resistance to these imperial reconfigurations. This article explores these sites, viewing the multifarious nature of the novel’s language as a form of queerness that mimics the queer sexualities presented in the course of the story. I argue that even as the politically tenable possibilities available under colonialism are diminished, the queer practices legible in Yi’s text offer the chance to forge new and empowering linguistic and sexual identities.

Journal

Journal of Korean StudiesDuke University Press

Published: Mar 1, 2018

References