Literature and Film in Cold War South Korea

Freedom's Frontier

Theodore Hughes

Columbia University Press

Literature and Film in Cold War South Korea

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Pub Date: May 2014

ISBN: 9780231157490

304 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $30.00£25.00

Pub Date: March 2012

ISBN: 9780231157483

304 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $90.00£75.00

Pub Date: March 2012

ISBN: 9780231500715

304 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $29.99£25.00

Literature and Film in Cold War South Korea

Freedom's Frontier

Theodore Hughes

Columbia University Press

Korean writers and filmmakers crossed literary and visual cultures in multilayered ways under Japanese colonial rule (1910–1945). Taking advantage of new modes and media that emerged in the early twentieth century, these artists sought subtle strategies for representing the realities of colonialism and global modernity. Theodore Hughes begins by unpacking the relations among literature, film, and art in Korea's colonial period, paying particular attention to the emerging proletarian movement, literary modernism, nativism, and wartime mobilization. He then demonstrates how these developments informed the efforts of post-1945 writers and filmmakers as they confronted the aftershocks of colonialism and the formation of separate regimes in North and South Korea.

Hughes puts neglected Korean literary texts, art, and film into conversation with studies on Japanese imperialism and Korea's colonial history. At the same time, he locates post-1945 South Korean cultural production within the transnational circulation of texts, ideas, and images that took place in the first three decades of the Cold War. The incorporation of the Korean Peninsula into the global Cold War order, Hughes argues, must be understood through the politics of the visual. In Literature and Film in Cold War South Korea, he identifies ways of seeing that are central to the organization of a postcolonial culture of division, authoritarianism, and modernization.

Theodore Hughes's ambitious new study shows us how Korea's colonial past persisted beyond its 'liberation.' Taking up literature, film, and art, he traces a modern history of the senses, mapping the production, reproduction, and contestation of a new culture of visibility (and invisibility) in the decades before and after 1945. Sophisticated and engaging, Literature and Film in Cold War South Korea is a milestone in the study of East Asian modernity.

Michael K. Bourdaghs, University of Chicago, author of Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop

Step by step Theodore Hughes will convince you the visual/verbal relationship that developed in the Korean colonial period has everything to do with the very foundations and logics of the postcolonial, Cold War South Korean developmental state, regime, and aesthetic. In so doing, he profoundly disrupts received histories of 'Korean' literature and received approaches to canonical literary and film texts. It is not an exaggeration to say that with Hughes, you will simply 'see' Korea differently. This is a must read for all those interested in the Koreas, the Cold War, and non-Western modernities at large.

Nancy Abelmann, University of Illinois

Theodore Hughes's book breaks new ground in the study of postliberation South Korean literary and visual culture. His insightful and nuanced readings of the inextricable links between 'the colonial modern' and South Korea's Cold War modernity are essential contributions to Korean studies scholarship in any language.

Kyeong-Hee Choi, University of Chicago

Literature and Film in Cold War South Korea deftly navigates various transitional historical moments, such as Korea's liberation, the outbreak of the Korean War, and the rise of a feverish anticommunist campaign in South Korea, while addressing the works of both canonical and often overlooked writers in Korean literature from the 1920s to 1970s. All in all, this is a masterful survey and analysis of twentieth-century Korean literary and visual culture that will bring an exciting new perspective to the field.

Suk-Young Kim, University of California, Santa Barbara

Head and shoulders above its competition.

Kyu Hyun Kim, Cross Currents

Hughes delivers a postcolonial study of Korea's modern literary and cinematic history that no East Asian collection can be without.... Highly recommended.


...this work opens new doors for interpreting the subtle,and often overlooked, ways in which the Cold War was fought within the cultural field in East Asia.

Christopher Grieve, H-War

Riveting... [Hughes's book] is a sophisticated, rich, and tantalizing study that should appeal not only to literature and film scholars, but to historians in general... This book should be compulsory reading not only for those with an interest in Korean culture studies, but also for Korean history majors.

Journal of Asian Studies

A welcome and thoughtful study.

Journal of Cold War Studies

A welcome contribution to the understanding of South Korea's Cold War culture.

Seijin Chang, The Review of Korean Studies
List of Illustrations
1. Visuality and the Colonial Modern: The Technics of Proletarian Culture
2. Visible and Invisible States: Liberation
3. Ambivalent Anticommunism: The Politics of Despair and the Erotics of Language
4. Development as Devolution: Overcoming Communism and the "Land of Excrement" Incident
5. Return to the Colonial Present: Translation
Selected Bibliography

Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2012

2014 James B. Palais Book Prize in Korean Studies, Northeast Asia Council, Association of Asian Studies

About the Author

Theodore Hughes is associate professor of modern Korean literature and film in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University. He earned his Ph.D. in modern Korean literature from the University of California, Los Angeles, and is the translator of Panmunjom and Other Stories by Lee Ho-Chul.