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Paradox of Return - The Sense of Impossibility in “Wandering with no Return” as Represented in Choecheok jeon

Keysook Choe 1

1연세대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This research reexamines Korean societal perspectives on migration/dispersion as a cover for the concept of Korean social imagination, and newly interprets the mythologized process of the “family narrative” (à la Roland Barthes), including restructuring the identity of the subjects (e.g., gender identity). In approaching this research, I analyzed the narrative and characters of Choecheok jeon, which is assumed to be a fictional story written in the vernacular hangeul that circulated in the 17th century and focuses on the conditions of a “wandering/migrating/drifting” life and the concept positive outcomes to the migrational experience. I suggest an analytic methodology for understanding traditional Korean thought, imagination, and viewpoints on the “object/subject/phenomenon” surrounding migration/dispersion and also a reflective take on Korean classical studies. By emphasizing the “non-script-affective” elements, I shed new light on the oppressed emotions of the migrating/wandering subjects: how their unspoken emotions affect their inner mind, and how they are regarded as “non-existent things.” Through analyzing the relationships, attitudes, and behaviors of the Other vis-à-vis the migration-subject, I argue that problematic issues involving social prejudice and suppression reposition “those who cannot return” as people relegated to incomplete existences. For this research I analyze the various and multi-layered motivations behind the wandering life as presented in Choecheon jeon, including opportunities and conditions, social status and position of the subject, and the relationship with Others and, using Judith Butler’s concept of “identity competence,” I reinterpret the way the subject is shaped in/voluntarily by his/her sociocultural environment and the self-transformation and restructuring implied in the problem of identity transformation, disguise, concealment, and regulation the wanderer experiences. If the migration-subjects disguise their identities consciously, ironically it means that they already understand “authenticity”and “value.” They mistakenly believe they can hide their identity and therefore try to disguise themselves; the resulting emotional anguish becomes thoroughly concealed, like a transparent object. From a gendered perspective, the female protagonist Ogyeong repositions her identity as “a man unable to reach the measure of a man” in order to survive and maintain a peaceful relationship with the surveillance-prisoner, control-obedience society in a male-centric foreign land. This attempt at self-concealment and substitute-performance is represented as an effective way to assimilate, hinting at the migration-subject’s social positionality already in 17th-century Joseon fiction. In this research I also analyze the structure of fictional imagination in the text: in the process of migration, the subjects must build a self-philosophy in order to exist ethically as human beings regardless of nationality, ethnicity, locality, or language barriers.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.

This paper was written with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea.