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Representations, Politics, Ethics - Rethinking Homo/eroticism in Contemporary Korean Cinema and Criticism

  • Journal of History of Modern Art
  • 2003, (15), pp.383-418
  • Publisher : 현대미술사학회
  • Research Area : Arts and Kinesiology > Art > Arts in general > Art History
  • Received : November 30, 2003
  • Accepted : December 31, 2003
  • Published : December 31, 2003

Jin-Hyung Park 1

1한국성적소수자문화인권센터

ABSTRACT

Introduction This essay doesn't have an aim for textual analysis or criticism of a particular, or more than two, contemporary Korean cinema in terms of homosexual representation. Rather, it aims to rethink queer criticism in cinematic discourse as a way of political, theoretical practice, and to speculate reflectively the matter of how queer theory can be 'placed' in Korea. Like other theories from the west, queer theory arrived at the discursive battlefield in Korea, and very soon, it has been rapidly spread and articulated in various discourses: feminism, which has been desperately seeking for alliance with other theories of the oppressed, and any political discourse of the minority. Queer theory and criticism are the most marginalized and the most potent one among the critical discourses, at least regarding their status in the Korean academic field. Meanwhile, queer theory is now facing new problems when its potential as the marginal is acknowledged without any questions. Not being fully discussed yet, differences in race, class, or socio-economical and geo-political states remain unexamined, while staying under the big umbrella of the queer. However, what really matter is that queer theory's potential as a marginal politics is at the danger of being located and re-registered at the center of academic markets in Korea. More importantly, this risk is resulted from queer theory's own practice to be recaptured at the center of academic discourses, as well as the dynamics of mainstream (heterosexual) intellectuals and academic discourses, which try to capture queer theory and recuperate it as the marginal-in-the-center. When queer subjects assume their own subjectivity and construct it just as mainstream intellectuals do, as Gayatri Spivak asserts in her essay 'Can subaltern can speak?', they will be remained as the Other and eventually adhered to the construction of colonial (and heterosexual) subject that interweaves the developments in knowledge and civilization with epistemic violence. Starting with acknowledging my position as a queer scholar in East Asia, I propose the readers to realize the importance of the risk of queer theory and its practice in Korean academic discourses. Some can think that the issue comes too early to be raised as the problematic, because matters of queer theory or queer subjectivity could not have chance to be fully discussed yet in Korean society in general, in Korean academic fields in particular. However, the problematic of theory - any theory - we can pose is always related to ceaseless questions about what particular practices the theory leads and how the theory becomes re-located by the practices it leads. Relating this question with matters of queer theory and criticism, I dare to assert it can never be overemphasized that one can, however, given the play of power and resistance, resist the continuing practices of (heterosexual) subject formation and attempt to discover ways of being that might thwart and transgress such practices. The Other should represents a location from which it might be possible to work strategically towards a freeing of subject from subjectivity, rather than tries to be freed from its marginalized place. In short, I would like to stress the importance of Foucauldian notion of ethics in considering queer theory and its practice. Given this, I would like to speculate the dynamics of heterosexual dominant discourse that always tries to recuperate queer subjectivity and queer theory as the marginal in its circuit At the very moment when marginality becomes normalized and universalized by western heterosexual discourse, it is soon interpolated as the-Other-for-the-subject. In this dynamics of dominant discourse, any theory of the marginal - cultural, economical, and sexual - loses its potential as transgression or counter-force and becomes serving the rigid structure of center-margin/subject-other binary system. Rethinking of this recuperating process between center-margin/subject-other, I will suggest that queer theory as one of theories of the marginal is at the very risk to be interpolated in dominant heterosexual discourse, in terms of the problems in dominant discourses technique of appropriation and queer discourses politics of identity. Two aspects of representation that Spivak suggests can be the critical concept helping us avoid from this risk. Spivak suggests that representation has two meanings: representation as portrait (as in the aesthetics) and representation as proxy or agency (as in the politics). As one of the intellectual from the margins (or the third world), Spivak stresses that the third world intellectuals should always shift themselves in differences and distinctions between the two meanings of representation. Undoubtedly, it can also be stressed for queer intellectuals in general and queer film theorists in particular because this continual self-shifting in the two meanings of representation can do a critical role in rethinking of non-dominant discourses linked - directly and indirectly - with queer theory such as feminism (that often appropriates queer positions), aesthetic-interested film scholars of artistic representation (that often focuses only on reality of queer representation) or queer film theorists based on politics of identity (that often assert the primacy of queer identity and tokenism). I would like to stress the importance of the concepts from the post-colonial thoughts in my essay for revealing the moments when queer theory and criticism meets epistemic violence of dominant (heterosexual) discourse. My focus is also focused on raising questions of cinematic discourse and film criticism in Korea, regarding its critical attitude toward queer cinema: What do Korean cinema talk about queer desire, queer subjectivity? In this regard, what can be told and what cannot in Korea cinema? I will deploy my thoughts and answers for these questions in the last-half of my essay by analyzing 〈Road Movie〉 (2002, dir. Kim In-sick), a controversial Korean queer film. Through re-reading this film, I will address that the queer as the transgressive marginal is being recuperated in dominant heterosexual discourse and this recuperating process requires the film erase of erotic desire between two guys. My intention is not only analyzing the textual dynamics of 〈Road Movie〉 to activate humanism for interpolation queer subjectivity and queer desire in heterosexual discourse, but also revealing the operation of discursive dynamics in Korean film criticisms to valorize and tolerate threatening homosexuality and homoeroticism in dominant cine-historical and aesthetic discourse by stressing aesthetic category of road movie. In conclusion, the practice of queer theory and criticism cannot be fully productive when it is based on politics of identity: the subjectivity produced as the Other by dominant heterosexual discourse. Rather, it can have true counterforce when it starts from the acknowledging of instability of subject-other/center-margin distinctions, and from elaborate questioning of the dynamics operating on the contact zones of the two. In addition, we need to rethink the queer theory from the west and observing various differences remained even on queer planet. By doing so, we can imagine the politics, ethics, and political practices of queer theory and criticism in Korea.

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