Alex Heeyeon Kil is a writer and independent researcher based in Seoul and Berlin. Her research addresses topics of memory, food, and writing.

CV is available upon request. Collaboration requests received by email.
  • Read her writer's statement here.

This project explores the history-writing and history-rewriting functions embedded in the acts of archiving, specifically regarding the erased memory site of gijichon, otherwise known as US Military camptowns. Archiving gijichon introduces a dilemma that is directly related to the function of an archive. Archiving, or writing history, is in itself already an activity predicated on the acts of exclusion. It has to decide what has to be included and what has to be left out. So, creating an archive regarding this erased memory site proposes a representational problem in which one must continuously be conscious of the responsibilities regarding what and how to represent. 

As a polyphonic account of a polytemporal experience, this project experiments with the ways in which writing can be done to visually reflect the pasts present, and presents past. This project relies on two axes, one personal and the other historical. Each fragment of writing is dated. The personal axis consists of my experience dating an American soldier, the field trips I took outside Seoul to different gijichons, about the time I was offered a job in a gijichon and about the time when I actually did work as a “bartender” at a bar serving drinks to old men and letting them fondle me for tips. The historical axis consists of various representations of gijichon, in literature and in journalism. The biggest component of this axis is old newspaper articles corresponding to the date of my personal experience. Between the personal and the historical, this project thinks of the ways in which the histories that are not immediately mine come into my experience in the present, which not only politicizes the personal but redefines the personal as ultimately palimpsestuous. Lastly, departing from authorized narratives of that past, this intimate rewriting of pasts present navigates between collective amnesia and aphasia: things are perhaps never forgotten but made ungraspable amidst the opacity of palimpsests.

Open for further collaboration.


Pretty dishes neatly arranged, unlike the memories layered over my chest, my head, and my present.

My mom sells her kimchi when she’s bored. She makes a whole variety of them. Cucumber kimchi in the summer, and water kimchi with flowered carrots for festive occasions. When she is open for sale, my mom decorates her Kakaostory with pictures of her at the market picking out vegetables. She posts explaining each ingredient and whose hands were responsible for them to get to her kitchen counter. 

A week or two after she’s made a new batch of scallion kimchi, we put pork belly on the pan. Take a lettuce leaf and start loading; a small spoonful of rice, a piece of pork belly, a slice of raw or roasted garlic, some ssamjang, and a bit of the kimchi. Stuffing ourselves with these wraps of fragile green leaves, all we really talk about is how much pork belly Uly, my dog, should be allowed to eat. All I want to think or say seems to slip away from me, washed down with cold cans of beer. We’re filling our stomachs. And on the table devoid of any meaningful conversation, the sizzling and the crunching fill that peculiar silence. 

I don’t necessarily get along with my mom, but I always do with the things she chose to feed me. Especially her kimchi, because it’s really, too good. But before the taste, what comes into my mind first is always the color. The bright red color. It’s never a devilish red though, its redness does not scream spicy, salty, nor fishy. It’s fiery, but it’s also soft. It’s a red that is transparent and optimistic. It is a red that invites then assures. The gochugaru she uses is quite special: she has this number she hits up when she needs it; the guy shows up in a car with dark windows; and he does not take tikkie. Depending on the kimchi, she will use apples or pears, sometimes both. When she’s in the mood my mom also puts little strands of chopi fruits. In her winter cabbage kimchi, she adds chopped pieces of raw hairtail fish. The fish gets kind of cured in the pot; the kimchi gives some to the fish, and the fish gives some of itself to the kimchi. In the end the fish becomes this nutty thing. For the fish sauce, she prefers the ones made with small sand eels, over those with anchovies. Sand eels are green. And its fermented form, so extremely fermented that the fish is no longer decipherable, definitely smells disgusting. Yet in the kimchi, it disappears; only leaving this unmistakable trace, a subtle freshness. A fermentation layered over another. Layers of time. Again, lay this kimchi on your spoonful of rice. Maybe layer it with a piece of hairtail. On top of a seaweed paper. Stuff yourself. 

I don’t necessarily get along with my mom, in fact, I am disgusted by my parents when I talk about them over my therapist’s desk. I remember that one summer evening we went to an eels barbeque. I don’t like eels. That evening I saw my dad for the first time in 37 hours, and that 37 hours ago he had called me something. Sitting on the jungja outside the apartment, I told my mom to please fuck off. I don’t want anything to do with them. I said I cannot live with the memories of the family. All the layers of time they brought into my life when they brought me into my life. Crying. Begging. Let me go. I hate those layers, just please fuck off from everything. The next morning, I went to therapy, then spent the day staring at a wall in Starbucks chewing on bananas. But when I faced them at that table, I had to eat. Sizzle and crunch. What cute thing did Uly do today? Everything slips away. Really, eels are too slimy. Against my repulsion, against my desperate clinging onto my hatred—like the fish sauce, the disgust becomes something else. I evaporate. What is left in my mouth is something that is unforgettable yet traceless. Traceless like the fish sauce; but absolutely nothing is subtle. Nothing is fresh in my mouth. 

There are a million different types of kimchi and there are about half a million things that can go into it. Salt and sugar for pickling. Aekjeot of all kinds of sea animals, gochugaru, garlic, giner, onion, scallion, chives, radish, apple, pears, rice… But if you asked my mom what the most important ingredient is, I know she will say time. Time. 

It is only after the right amount of time that the pot of kimchi can be opened.

I am never sure what kind of a woman my mom is. I don’t know about her past dreams and her future aspirations. I am utterly ignorant about the ways she deals with her sadness or loneliness. I wonder if she truly enjoys her lunch dates with ajummas with colorful Birkins and stories of their lawyer daughters and in-laws. I wonder how those stories make her feel about her own daughter, who left to … where? Netherlands? New Zealand?, and who keeps dating boys too colorful for her own taste. I don’t know what her fun looks like. Or maybe I do, but simply unable or unwilling to relate. I don’t understand why she never left my dad, although she regularly says she will. I wonder if it is similar to the way she regularly says she will get an eye lift but never does. I wonder if that’s what love is. I wonder if forgiveness is indispensable in the way she loves. 

I wonder what she thinks when she makes kimchi. I wonder where her little smile comes from, each time we eat at her table. I wonder if that coffee she goes to drink after my dad’s manic fit makes her really feel better. Because it doesn’t make me feel any better. Because after each coffee, after each “I am never coming back,” she always comes home. 

Maybe I know all the answers but I don’t want to. How many layers of time will I have to travel through? When will I open?

It has been almost two years since I moved to Amsterdam. I’m going home in May. I already know my mom will put some crazy shit across the table for me the evening of my arrival. Neatly laid out on the table, the rice next to the soup. Banchan around the main dish. Freshly cut kimchi. Cold cans of beer. Pretty dishes neatly arranged, unlike the memories layered over my chest, my head, and my present. We will know just by the appearance, the food on the table is good. We will sit down and sizzle, crunch, chew, swallow. We understand this is good food, this is a good time. But perhaps we will never understand each other. 

Or perhaps, just perhaps, we understand each other too much. Making it impossible to love. But also impossible to not love.

17 March 2022



11 February 1964, US Serviceman Shoots Again

On 18 September 1952, The Chosun Ilbo publishes an article reporting the realities of civilian life in Seoul bulldozered by the Korean War. The article mentions a certain Mr. Kang, a war refugee who ended up in the South with his eight family members. He is described as “unspeakably poor.” Their journey to fight hunger is detailed as the following: “His sister and grandchildren go to the garbage disposal site at the US military base, to pick up potato peels, breadcrumbs, and leftover canned meat. This is not easy; as there are always tens of other women there fighting for better trash. Kang’s family must go there everyday from early in the morning to late in the afternoon, if they want to eat. They must rigorously search through the garbage bins. In Mr. Kang’s neighborhood of Jegi-dong, Dongdaemun-gu, there are 7 families (25 people in total) who entirely depend on American garbage for food.”

On the night of 9 February 1964, a boy named Changgook Huh leaves home around 21:00. He was twelve years old at the time—he would have been born in the same year as when Mr. Kang’s sister was lurking around American garbage bins, when the war was at a deadly stalemate where people were dying of hunger and not of bullets. Changgook does not return home that night. The Dong-A Ilbo reports on the 11th that he is hospitalized at 43rd US Field Hospital after being hit by one of the two shots a nameless private had fired. It is said that he “crossed the fence into the base of First Corporation, B Company, 51th Signal Battalion, located in Uijeongbu” to “scavenge breadcrumbs and ingredients for kkulkkulijuk.” He was shot while running away, after being caught.

In November 1968, Richard Nixon wins his second term of presidency. The Kyunghyang Shinmun publishes an article on the victory of this man who “enjoys listening to Beethoven.” The article ends on a hopeful note, bringing forward Nixon’s apparent pro-South Korea tendencies. It says, “He has always been friendly to Korea, even tasting kkulkkulijuk in Dongdaemun Market.” If he eats American garbage like we do, that must mean he supports us, right?


Sometimes stories have too many entrances that they become impossible to enter. But no matter.

Jungcheon died on the 6th of September, 2021. He lived 94 years. His death meant nothing to my reality: I was in Amsterdam, he died on a hospital bed in Seoul. Jungcheon’s absence only took shape a few weeks ago, when I learned that after his death, Duckwon cries when she has to be alone. They spent 70 years together. Duckwon cries like I cry in Amsterdam, unable to deal with a suffocating loneliness. But I am 28 and she is 90 years old, she can’t exactly go do things. She has become so small. As life is leaving her body, she looks more and more like a dried anchovy. She sits in her huge apartment in her small body. All she does all day is waiting to die. 

I mostly had an immense sense of FOMO that week of Jungcheon’s death. I wanted to see my brother carry Jungcheon’s picture at the front of the march, and my friends carrying the casket to the limousine that took Jungcheon’s body and the family to the crematory. Most of all I wanted to see Duckwon crying over the coffin in her Issey Miyake dress, somehow standing on her tiny tiny ankles. I am not sure why her outfit left such an impression on me. 

Dongchimi is a type of white water kimchi that consists mostly of mu and brine. Mu is a root vegetable, and is similar to what we call daikon radish. It is shorter and fatter. Mu is a very self-protective vegetable. The thickness of the skin on an autumn mu might tell you how cold that year’s winter might be. Dong means winter and chimi is an old word for kimchi. Dongchimi is a winter kimchi served in a small bowl. We drink the brine and eat the pieces of mu. Because it is a winter kimchi, it is characteristic of the colder northern regions of Korea. Food is traditionally milder there. So dongchimi is white—not red—and when it’s on the table, it means it’s winter. 

Jungcheon was a smart man whose life was not so much about living, but more about surviving the circumstances he found himself in. 

There are several naengmyeon restaurants in Seoul, and most of them are very old. By old, I mean they’ve existed since before the war, or came into existence shortly after the war. I don’t really like naengmyeon so I haven’t gone since I was quite young. And my memories of the clientele there were that those men were as old as the restaurants themselves. Naengmyeon is the food of the North Korean diaspora in South Korea. The specific type of naengmyeon I am most familiar with comes from Pyongyang. Naengmyeon is not cheap to make: the form that is established in South Korea is its older version, before the North Korean Famine: because restaurant owners came to the South before the famine. The newer version tastes and looks quite different, I heard. Naeng means cold, and myeon is noodles. They come in thin metal bowls with slices of meat, a half of a boiled egg, and pickled mu and/or cucumbers. Topped with some green onions and a bit of gochugaru. Depending on the restaurant, it might also contain pheasant meatballs. The noodles are grayish brown, made with buckwheats. These noodles are long, they are not cut. The servers would cut them with scissors once it’s served. Everything in the bowl is cold: like ice in the broth or the broth itself would be like a slushy. The broth is a mixture of dongchimi and beef stock, and because it is served cold, every hint of fat has been skimmed. It is so fucking mild, like it does not have taste. But you must, I am told, breathe… I don’t know if I don’t breathe when I eat other types of noodles, but apparently with naengmyeon, you must breathe with your nose gently to feel the scent of the buckwheat and the slightest taste of the broth. 

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed when Jungcheon was 18 years old. He was born in Pyongyang, and there was no such thing as North Korea then. After the bombings, the Japanese, in defeat, left Korea and suddenly that impoverished land was free. The landscape on this peninsula was changing rapidly and it was already divided along the 38th parallel. But his entire family was able to simply walk across and move to the South. Jungcheon was 23 years old when the war broke out. But he never fought. At the beginning of the war, Jungcheon was a student at Seoul National University. Going to that school meant so much at the time, and it still does now. People had no time for school at the time, they were digging US military’s garbage bins. But Jungcheon was digging into engineering books at the most prestigious university, founded by the Japanese Empire. Towards the end of the war, he was a math teacher at a high school. One day, all the teachers were lined up and were to be taken somewhere to be enlisted as soldiers. He ran away from the queue. He later became a professor.

Daddy issues are like a locket, a heirloom, an everlasting inheritance my family carries generation after another. Kyeseon was Jungcheon’s father, and he hated his son. Suk is Jungcheon’s son, and Suk did not particularly love his father either. Kyeseon didn’t like Jungcheon because Jungcheon was born from another woman. And Jungcheon was never satisfied with Suk because Suk never got into Seoul National University. When Jungcheon was young—living through colonial-postcolonial-war-postwar times—he decided that you might as well die if you were stupid. And if you didn’t go to Seoul National University, you were stupid. Maybe he thought only by his smartness can he be acknowledged as a worthwhile son, still worthy to be fed. I am not sure. Jungcheon was anxious that his son would be a failure. But the war was already over more than 20 years ago, and while terrible things were still happening on this land, Jungcheon was rich enough now to not be affected and Suk was reckless enough to not care. Suk did not want to prove much. Times of proving oneself were over. Suk never got into Seoul National University. Their relationship was conflicted until Jungcheon died. 

At Jungcheon’s funeral Suk said two sentences. “My father was a man who loved more than he ever received. Thank you for coming.” 

When Jungcheon was still breathing, he really liked to breathe into naengmyeon. It was his favorite thing to breathe into. Jungcheon was so particular about it. He will order it at room temperature, which is called guhnaeng. No ice. Once it’s on the table, he will never, ever cut the noodles. It will offend him. He will first drink the broth, almost two thirds of it. Then, he adds vinegar and mustard. The noodles will never not be in his mouth; one end of the strand in his throat, the other still in the bowl. Breathing through his nose. 

After Jungcheon died I had this brilliant idea of making naengmyeon. I went with my boyfriend to Shilla, the only Korean grocery store in Amsterdam. I was looking for mu for dongchimi. It was October, and the mus were not fat: the weather wasn’t hostile enough for mu to have to protect itself. We also went to Hema to buy a big plastic box to put dongchimi, I planned to leave it outside while it’s fermenting. Following my mom’s directions, I made the brine and salted the vegetables. I closed the box and put it on my balcony. 

When I opened it after a few weeks, it was moldy. I was very disappointed. I closed it and left it outside where it was sitting. I never opened it, until I threw it out a few weeks ago. It was rotting there for months. All blue and green. Corpse-y.

Last time I talked to Jungcheon, he asked me about the weather in Amsterdam. Then he told me to eat well and stay healthy. The weather in Amsterdam was not cold enough to leave the dongchimi outside. The only cold thing I eat there is ice cream, when I’m high or hung over. 

19 May 2022



[The teacher] said that the marks showed evaporation, which was what happened to water when the sun shined on it. But the sun never touched the jar while it sat on the cabinet. I was sure she just took a sip every day after school, and her story about evaporation was just another American lie. (117)

         A memory is a narrative written as a result of a certain reading of an event, which continuously interacts with other narratives, both internal and external. In this sense, memories are palimpsestuous, as they are always reconstituted individually and collectively. Memories also fluctuate between omissions and exaggerations, mutate as they encounter different contexts, and haunt to shape the present. Memories have the critical and political potential to create ruptures in established historical narratives, through which a different narrative can enter. In examining this potential, Peter Verovšek states that “memory is needed to sustain the constructive power of individuals and unique human beings within self-consciously defined communities” (6). “The constructive power” here refers to the communicative political power that defines an “actor or a group in a social setting” (5), which arises from the sense of being within a certain group, rather than that of doing certain things. By this definition, memories become the bedrock of certain communities, built upon shared experiences. Then, circulating memories within a society reconstructs communities, and through the very circulation, the legitimacy of the communities and their shared pasts is established and actualized.

          Yet what happens to welled-up memories of an eroding landscape where its inhabitants have disappeared into social amnesia, erased if not forgotten? What happens to the memories that are not circulated in social and public discourses, when these memories are all that is left regarding the past existence of a certain landscape and its inhabitants? What power do those memories have, and what defines that community? Heinz Insu Fenkl’s Memories of My Ghost Brother (1996) is a text that arises from these questions. Growing up in a US military camptown, otherwise known as gijichon, the narrator is skeptical of the unquestionably natural phenomenon of evaporation:


My MA thesis (2019, Sogang University, Seoul, South Korea) analyzes Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining in terms of reading and writing. The spatial setting of the novel, the Overlook hotel, is a place where the past and the present are indistinguishable. Focusing on this inseparable timeframes, this thesis pays attention to the process in which the past and the present becomes destructed through writing, and the ways in which reading can lead the hauntings of the past into a different future. Firstly, this thesis redefines the father-son relationship between Jack and Danny Torrance as that of the writer as a reader. Defining Jack’s death in terms of Roland Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” (1967), this thesis locates the source of Jack’s death in his possessive desire to own and represent the past. However, the past is already in the present, making ‘re-presentation,’ an act of bringing the past into the present again, is impossible. Secondly, this thesis anlayzes Danny’s shining ability as a reading ability. The shining ability which renders Danny a vision for the past and the future, is defined as the ability to carefully read the unstable signifiers. Danny does not share his father’s possessive desire for representation and survives from the Overlook hotel as a reader. This survival gives him a chance to continue his life in the future. However, this thesis pays attention to the fact that Tony, Danny’s future self, is already haunted by the past. The name of Tony comes from Danny’s abusive grandfather Anthony, and the undesirable past is repeated in the form of the name-inheritance. Lastly, if the signifier of the future is already haunted by the past, the only way to produce newness for the future is to read the past in different ways. This thesis concludes that Danny can read the past in ways that has not been done before, and that he can open up a future that is different from the past, through such reading. 

The following is an excerpt from the Introduction of the thesis. The full text is available on

        The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology defines “represent” as “bring into one’s presence; bring before the mind; [...] RE + PRESENT” (“represent”). The prefix ‘re-’ indicates something “with the sense ‘again’” (“re-”). “Present” derives from “presence,” which means “make [something] present” (“presence”). Going further, “presence” is constituted by “PRE + sēns,”: ‘pre,’ “before” (“pre-”) and ‘sēns,’ “feel” (“sense”). Therefore, representation, in terms of writing, refers to the act of making a past feeling come into presence again by reconstructing that feeling with words. It is interesting that none of the definitions of the fragments that make up the word ‘represent’ are rooted in palpable reality. It is the “sense” of something present, rather than the ‘fact’ that is being re-presented. Already in its etymology, this word that has been problematized from Plato through Roland Barthes to Jacques Derrida is exuding a sense of hauntedness. The word ‘representation,’ in that it is rooted in senses, can easily be explained as an act of re-presenting a feeling that has passed, but somehow remaining in traces, to present it again in the here and now. The act of representation is shaped by the desire to restore the senses of the past into a text; and what is represented is haunted by such senses that surface in the writing process. Therefore, writing, if it is indeed an act of mimesis, cannot be discussed apart from the haunting of the past, or temporalities in general. 

        This thesis, reading Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining as an allegory of Roland Barthes’ “The Death of an Author,” ##(1)## reconsiders the father-son relationship of Jack and Danny Torrance as that of a writer and a reader. Jack Torrance is an aspiring writer, and Danny is a reader who has just begun to learn how to read. While Jack is destroyed in his obsession to write about the history of the Overlook, Danny survives the haunting powers of that history by reading it in collaboration/cooperation with his mother Wendy, and the head chef of the hotel Dick Hallorann. All three characters who survive have a special ability called ‘shining,’ which I define as fundamentally the ability to read constantly shifting and mutating signifiers that consist of the seemingly unreadable textuality of the hotel. Ultimately, this thesis aims to interrogate how The Shining warns against the possessive writing of the past, and appeal to the responsibility of the reader in rearranging the signifiers of the past in the present so that it opens up the possibility of moving forward into the future. In this sense, the future is a rereading of the past. The past is already haunting the present, as deeply embedded and vividly resuscitated in the haunted present of the Overlook hotel. What is not so apparent is the ways in which The Shining depicts the future as a reflection of the past. Investigating this closely interconnected relationship between the past, the present, and the future, this thesis concludes that the collective and flexible reading of signifiers is a key to reading the past and regenerate its meaning in the present to take us into the future.

        The Shining captures the horrors that derive from the unforgotten past which haunts the present, and with the two central characters being a writer and a reader put in the midst of those horrors, exemplifies a situation where the representational activities cannot be separated from temporalities. Indeed, in any representational experience, it is apparent that the text being read in the present has originally been produced in the past. Going back to the hauntedness of representation itself, the text produced in the past in turn embodies in itself the traces of other pasts. Furthermore, because any reading generates interpretations, reading can be understood as a kind of (re)writing. Then, a text produced in the past is not only just read in the present, but it is simultaneously to be reconstituted and rewritten in the future and for the future, although the moment of original inscription would be irrecoverably lost. As such, every text is palimpsestuous. A palimpsest, which means a manuscript or a piece of writing on which old writings have been covered by new writings, serves as an appropriate metaphor in understanding the peculiar timeframe inherent in any literary text. The process of writing and reading the text creates an arena where layers of signs of the past, present, and the future at once come to be accumulated and eventually lose differences from one another. Signifiers are sedimented, and the future can only be imagined in that same arena where the past has an irrepressible existence. In this sense, literary works are inseparably linked to the concepts of time: they are haunted by what has been written, what is being written, and what will be written by all subjects who encounter a text. This is how a text, like an organic being with an agency of its own, comes to trespass and deconstruct the supposed divisions of the past, present, and the future. 

        Accordingly, this thesis explores the question of presentation revolving around the two axes. One is that of the reading and writing, and the other is that of timeframes. As reading, in its production of interpretations, becomes a form of writing, the binary in the axis of reading-writing can no longer be sustained. They are not dichotomously opposing categories, and activities that happen simultaneously. An evident example is Jack’s writing of the Overlook’s history, which originated in his reading of the haunted hotel’s complex and concealed past. Another is Danny’s reading of signs that are given to him through the shining, such as REDRUM that he eventually reads it as a murder of himself and Wendy by Jack but comes to write it anew as that of his father. The axis of timeframes is revealed to be all haunted by the past. The past persists into the present at the Overlook, as past events, like the masquerade of 1945, reoccur over and over during the Torrances’ stay at the hotel. Also, Jack’s abusive past, such as breaking Danny’s arm in a violent fit of anger, repeat in different forms during their stay. Ultimately, this axis of the past, the present, and the future intersects with the aforementioned axis of reading and writing, because the indistinguishability of reading (the text of the past) and writing (generating new meanings into the future) opens up the possibility that the repetition of the past can be read in different ways by rearranging the signifiers of the past in ways otherwise unknown in the past. In this sense, reading and writing repeat the haunting of the past yet expand it in different directions.

        While defining The Shining as a Gothic text is not the central concern of this thesis, it is necessary to situate the issues of deconstructed reading and writing through timeframes in this novel in terms of ‘horror.’ Perhaps what can define The Shining as a Gothic text is its blatant presence of ghosts. In Literature of Terror (1996), David Punter argues that “the elements which seem most universal in the [Gothic] genre are the apparent presence of a ghost” (12). The ghost, who is a revenant from the past, is a representative embodiment of the haunting of the past in the present. Punter, further trying to define gothic literature, argues that “the Gothic [has] a way of relating to the real, to historical and psychological facts,” which is why “Gothic fiction has, above all, to do with terror” (12). Gothic, then, has to do with the terror in the idea of the unending past, past that is indistinguishable from the present. This comes to attest that what is terrifying in gothic literature is the persistence and the return of the past. However, the fact that the idea of the past should invoke terror fundamentally suppresses ‘the other,’ as the past, what is not in the present myself is also a form of the other. This other, the past, constantly invading my present is terrifying, and should be sublimated. By the definition of ‘representation,’ the suppression of the other that does not belong in the presence is an impossible project in literature: the word already embraces in itself the bombardment of what has passed. In this sense, I argue that the Gothic representation has, above all, to do with deconstruction. It is time to embrace, not terrorize, the deconstructions Gothic fiction has been depicting. 

        Scholars locate the horror in Stephen King as arising from a certain anxiety about how one thing may not be the thing it seems to be. Regarding King and horror fiction, Bernard J. Gallagher argues that “the insight which King offers into the work of horror is based upon a bimodal or dualistic vision which insists upon the necessity of reading between lines” (37). The “dualistic vision” refers to the conventional notion of representation in which a thing is either articulatable or not and it, if the latter, has to be adjusted or compromised according to an acceptable ways of understanding so as to be articulated. However, I do not regard The Shining as a novel that is dictated by such “bimodal” logic. The ghosts in The Shining appear to the characters in the form of their grotesque, terrifying faces, bodies, and voices. As such, they seem to be recognizable in terms of our conventionally Gothic understanding of them as ghosts. Yet, those ghosts are not fully adjusted or compromised in the conventional gothic manner. What they truly signify is much more than how they look on the surface. Furthermore, the relationship between the signifier and the signified at the Overlook is not one to one. It is one to many. Signifiers are unregulated, unpredictable, and explosive at this haunted hotel. This is why I maintain that what lies at the core of The Shining is the deconstruction of the process in writing and reading. Gary Hoppenstand and Ray B. Browne argue that, “in The Shining, the supernatural motif of the novel is the haunted hotel, but the actual horror elements of the story center more with the disintegration of the Torrance family” (6). Yet what causes that “disintegration of the Torrance family” is the already latent yet increasingly intensified conflict between the writer-Jack and the reader-Danny regarding how to comprehend the “horror elements” that are the ghostly signifiers of the hotel. Indeed, as Heidi Strengell argues, “King has been so concerned with ontology that he constantly writes about multidimensional worlds, universes within universes” (19). While the multidimensional world of significances is how the haunting is represented at the Overlook, in the form of mutative timeframes embodied in signifiers, what I read from The Shining is not so much a “concern” about ontological stability of things, but how a deliberate reading of unstable signifiers can be a means of precarious yet ontological survival itself amidst the inescapable powers of the past. 

        Despite its limitation, it is important to reflect upon the deconstructive and reconstructive implication of The Shining in relation with Gothic fiction because the genre has been characterized by doubles and binaries. The issue of this dichotomy is crucial in terms of writing, as the division between the representable and the unrepresentable dictates the logic of representation in Gothic novels. In her decisive work The Coherency of Gothic Conventions (1980), Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick argues that the futile force trying to reunite the split back into its original unified form is the most vital drive in the Gothic novel. She argues,

        The self and whatever it is that is outside have a proper, natural, necessary connection to each other, but one that the self is suddenly incapable of making. The inside life and the outside life have to continue separately, becoming counterparts rather than partners, the relationship between them one of parallels and correspondences rather than communication. This, though it may happen in an instant, is a fundamental reorganization, creating a doubleness where singleness should be. And the lengths there are to go to reintegrate the sundered elements—finally, the impossibility of restoring them to their original oneness—are the most characteristic energies of the Gothic novel. (13)

        The spatial division of the inside and outside cannot be unified in Gothic literature, and Sedgwick identifies the Freudian psychoanalysis as the locus of such dichotomous critical convention of the genre. She says: “[i]n congruence with this [i.e. divided between the inner and the outer] map of the self, critics of the Gothic, and not only those who describe themselves as psychoanalytic, find it easy to group together on the one hand the surface, reason, and repression and on the other the depths, the irrational, and the sexual” (142). However, I stress that, in The Shining, it is not the “repression” that leads to unrepresentability. It is the always-already haunting presence of the past that makes representation impossible: naturally, one cannot bring into presence what is already present. Again, the binary between the representable and the unrepresentable in The Shining is deconstructed by the inherent persistence of the past. 

        Reading and writing through the layers of time, the reader and the writer come to be in“separately” related to one another. Putting Sedgwick’s argument in terms of reading and writing, writing can be equated to the “inside life” which refers to an expression of the inner self, and reading can be equated to the “outside life” as the text to be read lies outside to the self and is heterogenous to the self. Sedgwick articulates that “the most characteristic energies of the Gothic novel” is rooted in the impossibility of reconciling the “counterparts” of “the inside life and the outside life”(13). However, when the axis of reading and writing is placed in the center of discussing The Shining, the two seemingly opposing activities of reading and writing indeed “reorganize” themselves into a “communicative” relationship. Then, understanding The Shining through the axes of reading and writing and time not only deconstructs the division of the two textual activities and of the past-present-future, but it also reconstructs the categories previously thought to be irreconcilable as in fact interdependent and incessantly haunting and influencing one another. Jodey Castricano conceptualizes writing in Cryptomimesis (2001) as follows: “writing [...] is learning to let the plurivocal spirit speak, a task which is the gothic equivalent of pursuing a phantom through labyrinthine vaults, being led onwards by the echoes of footsteps” (120). However, in The Shining, it is the reader who learns to speak in such “plurivocal spirit” while the writer deteriorates in his own obsession with authority. And this reader generates meanings like a writer. Reading and writing become a simultaneous process. 

        In response to various issues of representation as examined above, the thesis presents a discussion of The Shining in the following structure. The first chapter deals with Jack as a writer, exploring the ways in which writing can be understood in terms of playing(1). Despite some apparent resonances between the two activities as pointed out by both Freud and Barthes, writing and playing can potentially be a dangerously combined attempt when the textual material is the past. To do this, I first focus on the fact that Jack wishes to write a play about his personal past, The Little School. The play-writing is significant because Jack is later possessed by the Overlook and reduced to an agent of the autonomy the hotel exerts over him. In other words, he attempts to play with his own past only to be played by the Overlook’s past. Moving onto the concept of writing as representation, I probe into why Jack is inevitably destroyed in his desire to write, yet avoid framing this destruction simply as a writerly failure. Instead, I identify the locus of Jack’s destruction as his obsession with the futile idea of Author-ity. Authority in this sense is the control an author has over his textual material, the power to authoritatively produce a new narrative. Jack is rejected having this power, because the past, his primary inspiration, is essentially ungraspable and inescapably haunting. Then, Jack’s ‘failure’ is not a personal failure but a failure inherent in writing as a representation. Seàn Burke argues that “[w]hat Roland Barthes has been talking of all along is not the death of the author, but the closure of representation” (48). In the case of The Shining, the author literally dies, because representation cannot happen in the haunted hotel.

        The second chapter analyzes Danny as a reader. Danny begins by being a reader who is terrified by the fact that signs can mutate. Due to his shining ability, he witnesses certain signifiers like a perfectly ordinary hotel door can mutate into an unexpected signified that hides a not so ordinary, haunted room inside with a bloated corpse of a lady. He also learns to read in order to please the authoritative writer, who happens to be the authoritative member of his family: his father. However, Danny in the end realizing that the meanings embedded in certain signifiers can indeed shift, and that reading these shifting signifieds is a way to escape the Overlook’s inescapably haunting powers. He becomes capable to read the signifiers and rewrites them according to the meanings required for his survival. In this discussion of Danny, I steer away from understanding him as a child hero. As his middle name repeats the abusive figure of Anthony, who also shares the name with Danny’s future self Tony, Danny inherits a piece of the past in himself regardless of his will. In this sense, he is neither young, nor is he a hero. Yet it is ironic that this seemingly powerless and decentralized character, which embodies a certain undesired past, is telepathic with the future, and has comes to secure a future for himself through his survival. This chapter focuses on how reading-writing and past-present-future are deconstructed. These deconstructions derive from the indistinguishable divisions between the two representational activities and the timeframes. Lastly, this chapter concludes that the future is already haunted by the past, which renders reading-rewriting as a viable means to change the significations of sinister repetition of the past. 

        The ultimate purpose of this thesis is to show how reading is writing, and how the future is already rooted in the past. The repetition of the past is in fact an omnipresent condition and not a horrifying state. The past has inescapable powers, and the dead is always already alive at the Overlook. I propose to think about the future as a rearrangement of textual signs, or signifiers. It is such rearrangement that allows a construction of the future. As Derrida argues in “Signature Event Context” (1988), every sign can be “put between quotation marks; in so doing it can break with every given context, engendering an infinity of new contexts in a manner which is absolutely illimitable” (12) ##(2)##. The future is none other than the illimitably generated new contexts. This construction is, however, essentially a reconstruction: it is not an “absolutely new” that eschatologically breaks off from the past, but it is cyclical, because haunting is a semiotic condition in which signs are inescapably circulated among themselves. Understanding this repetition of time foremost as a textual phenomenon opens up a mode of rearranging, reconstructing, and reimagining the future: and the prefix ‘re-’ already manifests that the future, as much as the present, is related to the past. The harm of repetition of time is not healed but rehabilitated through reading and writing, by the replacement and displacement of signifiers. It could not, and should not, be healed, but still would be liberating. The ever-repeated presence of the past can be undone and redone through textual activities of reading and writing. 

(Winter 2019)


Before talking about whether the subaltern can speak, I ask, can we listen to the subaltern? If we can, then I want to ask, can the subaltern be represented? Lastly, if language indeed has a performative power, can representation performative reshape the social existence of certain memories and beings? Can literature play a critical role in representing memories that have long been silenced?

My research centers around the idea of literature "as a strange institution which allows one to say everything" (Jacques Derrida, 1992), and I read a certain explosive power in the idea that it can say "everything." Literature, to me, is something that stands at the intersection of social urgency and representation. I strive to navigate these axes by which any literary work is constructed, and deconstructed, the most central idea being that there is political power in the act of (un)representation itself. In this, I am always more interested in what the text does, instead of says, and how they operate, there than where they stand

Engaging with memories as a text media, I work to involve literature in historical and sociological sites in order to expand the discipline to render palpable political powers to literature as an act of activism. Literature, as a delicate tool, can narrativize the histories of disappearing communities, archive the stories of underrepresented communities, and circulate these memories to preserve them. Exploring various means and meanings of representation functions as defiance against social erasure, and such exploration not only allows us to access and assess the complex narratives of the forgotten memories, but also to analyze the ways in which these narratives continue to haunt and shape the present. 

- Alex Heeyeon Kil, 2022.


Naming the Unnamed and the Unnamable:

Shamanic Responsibilities of Representation in  Heinz Insu Fenkl’s Memories of My Ghost Brother


         A memory is a narrative written as a result of a certain reading of an event, which continuously interacts with other narratives, both internal and external. In this sense, memories are palimpsestuous, as they are always reconstituted individually and collectively. Memories also fluctuate between omissions and exaggerations, mutate as they encounter different contexts, and haunt to shape the present. Memories have the critical and political potential to create ruptures in established historical narratives, through which a different narrative can enter. In examining this potential, Peter Verovšek states that “memory is needed to sustain the constructive power of individuals and unique human beings within self-consciously defined communities” (6). “The constructive power” here refers to the communicative political power that defines an “actor or a group in a social setting” (5), which arises from the sense of being within a certain group, rather than that of doing certain things. By this definition, memories become the bedrock of certain communities, built upon shared experiences. Then, circulating memories within a society reconstructs communities, and through the very circulation, the legitimacy of the communities and their shared pasts is established and actualized.

          Yet what happens to welled-up memories of an eroding landscape where its inhabitants have disappeared into social amnesia, erased if not forgotten? What happens to the memories that are not circulated in social and public discourses, when these memories are all that is left regarding the past existence of a certain landscape and its inhabitants? What power do those memories have, and what defines that community? Heinz Insu Fenkl’s Memories of My Ghost Brother (1996) is a text that arises from these questions. Growing up in a US military camptown, otherwise known as gijichon, the narrator is skeptical of the unquestionably natural phenomenon of evaporation:

[The teacher] said that the marks showed evaporation, which was what happened to water when the sun shined on it. But the sun never touched the jar while it sat on the cabinet. I was sure she just took a sip every day after school, and her story about evaporation was just another American lie. (117)

In the voice of the 8 year old narrator, the above statement speaks of an important aspect of life in this town. The deluge of memories never circulates outside gijichon, only collecting and flooding within, becoming an unbearable weight and never evaporating. There is the narrator’s young cousin, Gannan, who comes from a rural town to work as a prostitute, only to hang herself when a “yellow-haired GI” (12) impregnates her and refuses to marry her. When she dies, “after the second and the third monsoon seasons had passed, Gannan’s grave had eroded away to nothing. It had become part of the landscape, and no one remembered where it was” (56). With her grave disappeared, her life and death are only left in memories. There is a half-black boy James, who the narrator once swears to be brothers with but never sees again after that, because his mother drowns him to marry a white GI. Learning of James’ death, the narrator says, “[i]f it had been possible, I would have remembered James back to life” (211). The blame, however, has nowhere to go but scatters like the “raindrops in a storm” (232). And there is a well, next to a GI bar with the ironic name of Apollo Club, that swallows a maiden jumping in to find her baby boy she accidentally drops into. The grievances in that well, of course, do not evaporate, but are “paved over” (200). The narrator wells up inside him both the magnitude of oppressive power and the depth of grief that are too immense to grasp. Losses in gijichon are everyday events, and they go unmourned, unrepresented, then forgotten.

         Precisely because the memories of gijichon are in the realm of social amnesia, or erasure, in both American and Korean public discourses, the function of an author as someone who can discursively articulate such unknown memories becomes crucial in representing this town. The narrator of Memories performs this function like a shaman, who not only articulates the memories but conjures the forgotten narratives of the dead and presents to concretize these narratives. I define the shaman according to its hànzì composition: 巫. This signifier comes after the ending of the narrative, and it is what closes the text. A letter constituted by placing 工, “craftsmanship,” between two 人s, “human,” the 巫 quite literally refers to the craftsmanship of connecting two humans, two different entities. The composition of 巫 presents shamanism as a matter of connection. And it is the connection that is enabled by the narrator-shaman’s crafting of representations in Memories. The shaman connects absence and presence by naming the erased deaths and bringing them back into the narrative. His representation altogether encompasses both memories and reflections upon those memories, and the significances of the past are generated in the present. The crafting of these connections through representations is the responsibility of the shaman. He responds to those unnamed and writes them. He responds to what he has written about them and reflects on it. When the object of loss has long been faded into oblivion, Memories explores the responsibilities of a shaman-author, who, through representation, conjures and protects the otherwise irrecoverable yet inescapably haunting past.

         While it is a rarely represented landscape, gijichon demonstrates the ways in which the violent and distant conflicts of Cold War leave its inhabitants bare, vulnerable, and silent. These inhabitants include: American servicemen with the constant fear of deportation to Vietnam or attack from the North; yanggongjus (“western princesses,” a term for sex workers whose customers are exclusively American GIs), trying to escape the poverties of post-War Korea into the illusory glory of the US; and Amerasian children, whose survivals are constantly threatened by sexism and racism—sexism against their mothers and racism against their “mixed”ness—of both Korea and the US. As Kyung-Sook Boo convincingly argues, “Memories of My Ghost Brother is ultimately a novel about America [despite its setting in Korea], interrogating conventional definitions of Americanness as well as the role of race, ethnicity, and choice in the construction and acknowledgement of American identity” (126). The text is deeply American in that the spatial setting is dominated by American ideologies of racial and ethnic identity, but also that of the Cold War. What marginalizes this town from hegemonic Korean society is the very Americanness and the blatant presence of American domination. Yet the micro-tragedies of gijichon make it hard to define the town simply as a manifestation of Cold War politics in which South Korea was instrumentalized by and subjugated to the US military colonialism as a tactically important place, right at the border to Red Eurasia. It is also a place where the daily lives of individuals are shaped by distant powers, and perish like small flies. And like flies, their deaths disappear into oblivion.

         When the lives of gijichon are vulnerable to deaths and deaths vulnerable to erasure, it becomes imperative to look at the sociopolitical landscape through a microscope. While it is important to investigate the macrostructures that shape the gijichon landscape, an investigation that focuses on the lived dimension of gijichon has been more or less absent in the previous body of research. Katharine Moon’s Sex Among Allies is a decisive study that analyzes the political administrations that actually created the military prostitution for the US military in Korea. Naming the prostitution a “permanent fixture of US-Korea relations” (27), she states, “[because] the institutionalizing of military prostitution involves a social, economic, and political process, overseas military prostitution must be examined in the context of interaction between foreign governments and among governments and local groups” (12). Indeed, the governments that communicate across the Pacific also communicate in the yanggongju’s bedroom. Yet in the process of political investigation, the yanggongju disappears into the vague and becomes abstracted into an embodiment of victimization of Korea by the US military colonialism. She is once again pushed to the outside of recognition.

         Grace M. Cho’s Haunting the Korean Diaspora presents a compelling sociological and anthropological approach, centralizing and metaphorically reading the figure of the yanggongju. However, turning the yanggongju, a very real figure with a specific social occupation, again limits our understanding of this subaltern position as a lived one. Cho traces the history of the Korean war to show how that war gave birth to, and became embodied in the yanggongju, who signifies the US domination during and after the war. Cho says, “the yanggongju became enfigured, as a ghost composed of the material remains of 1953 and the residues of the daily practices of war” (20). Such argument is persuasive in delineating how the “traumatic effects of colonization and war” is accumulated in the “diasporic unconscious” (7), yet it is persuasive only when the yanggongjus are distanced and reduced as a metaphor. These women are not just a “spectral agency” (17) of the haunting past, they are an actual presence that is pushed off from visible and audible public discourses. In this respect, the metaphorical reading of these women is problematic: these women live, and engage in significant political struggles to represent who they are and who they used to be. Therefore, instead of concentrating on the agency of the specter, we need to concentrate on the agency to represent, an agency that can potentially give face and voice to the abstracted and silenced micro-tragedies of gijichon.

         The intricacy of gijichon—as a place that simultaneously epitomizes US-Korea relations, Cold War politics, domestic poverty, the past histories and their persistence into the present—necessitates a shamanic engagement with this apparently political, sociological, and historical site. For this task, I redefine what Michel Foucault calls the author-function in “What Is an Author?” (1969) as a shaman-function in the case of Memories. By borrowing the tongue of the dead, this shaman plurivocally conjures the stories of the erased and enunciates the ghostly presence of the powers that create both their tragedies and erasure. In the lecture, Foucault attempts to fill in the space of the dead Author who had been killed by Roland Barthes in 1967. On the one hand, this essay is essentially paradoxical. Foucault limits the function of a literary author as something that merely “put[s] into circulation a certain number of resemblances and analogies” (132), while his entire argument is based on Samuel Beckett’s question, “what matter who’s speaking?” (Beckett 85, Foucault 115). This paradox confesses that the author-function of generating theoretical and social discourses indeed includes, or is even inevitably related to, the function of literary writers: it is Beckett’s utterance, not theoretically articulate yet literarily implicative, that inspires Foucault’s critical conceptualization of the author-function. On the other hand, it is productive in the reading of a text to think of the author as a function rather than a figure who totalizes representations and significations. This function is defined by Foucault as something that “characterize[s] the existence, circulation, and operation of certain discourses within a society” (124), thereby conceiving the author-function as a discursive production of meanings. Based on Foucault’s proposition, I define the shaman-function as something that conjures “the existence, circulation, and operation of memories within a society.” The shaman performatively evokes and reconstitutes lost memories through the act of performative representation, which renders political powers to the acts of reading and writing about those memories. The performative power of representation is the power to generate social discourses that reconstitutes memory, which, as mentioned, shapes the present. When memories of gijichon are not socially circulated, the entire social existence of gijichon is threatened despite its ongoing presence.

         I locate the author’s shamanic function in the narrator, rather than Fenkl. The narrator speaks through the first-person focal point of the “I,” which, in the process of storytelling, embraces much more narratives than those of already specifically named and demarcated authorial Fenkl’s own. Foucault argues that “[i]t would be false to seek the author in relation to the actual author as to the fictional narrator; the ‘author-function’ arises out of their scission—in the division and distance of the two” (129). In Memories, it is the scission of the narrator from Fenkl that makes it possible for the narrator to traverse and navigate between the given present and the reconstructed memories of not just his own, but also of those of other gijichon inhabitants.

Shamanic Inscriptions

         “Let me tell you something important, [...] [i]f you ever count on someone to do the talking for you and you don’t know what they’re really saying, you gotta assume he’s covering his own ass” (256), says the narrator’s father, a white American Sergeant of German descent. This is a man who does not want to be seen with his Korean wife and Amerasian son because it “undermines his authority” (131). What he says about his experience with interpreters in Vietnam is quite telling. He says they are especially untrustworthy among Vietnamese, who “you could never trust” (256) to begin with. According to his statement, the inability to speak a language inevitably leads one to depend on interpretation that is always deceptively self-centered on the interpreter, and anyone can and should claim the autonomy of speech. The narrator of Memories ignores this lesson from his father, and becomes an interpreter for those whose lives are subjected, in unexpected ways, to the institution that his father is part of. The narrator does this for the people in gijichon in particular because the deaths and lives are vulnerable and rendered silent, specifically because the ability to speak is not something that is granted universally. The narrator interprets their stories into his narrative, providing a textual space in which the voices of multiple people can coexist. 

         The shaman inscribes a double layer of narration-reading and narration-writing, which plurivocally and palimpsestuously draws a portrait of the lost landscape. Memories is constituted by two types of chapters, one in which entire texts are italicized and the other not. The italicized chapters connote a temporal distance from the events narrated, whereas the non-italicized ones relate the past events in the present tense. As both layers of narration are immersed in nostalgia and immense sadness, it is hard to name the precise lost object that the narrator yearns for. It is a mixture of nostalgia for his childhood friends, the sight of Mahmi’s yanggongju friends waiting outside the gate to be taken into the post, and the excitement in “creating [their] own tragedies” (138). It is a complex intermingling of overt dangers, precarious excitement, and melancholia. At the same time, the italicized chapters comment and reflect upon the pasts represented in the non-italicized chapters. Therefore, the narrator becomes a reader in the former, and a writer in the latter. It is this double narration that makes representation a re-present-ation, through which the past can be restored onto a palpable text. Confronted with the feelings without “words or pictures for them, only darkness and a noise like the sound of rain” (19), the narrator as the writer looks into the past as if it is a well made of such raindrops. The writer sees the depth of the well, and the reader reflects upon it. This fluctuating, mutating, and overflowing well of memories is read, written, re-read, and re-written by the double narration of the text. It is this palimpsestuous textual activity that inscribes the voice of the dead and the forgotten, mediating its erasure and representation, and reflecting on the incomprehensible complexity of the past in gijichon. This is palimpsestuous because voices are written and read in layers, in a textual space that encompasses and trespasses multiple timeframes. The shamanic inscription, then, is a collaboration of reading and writing in regards to the past.

         However, there is still a distance between the reading narrator and the writing narrator that enables the plurivocality of the narrative. The author-subject disappears into this distance, and the empty signifier “I” is filled by different voices. “I” is a space anyone can enter and inhabit: the first-person perspective of this narrative is not about “covering [the narrator’s] ass,” but about opening up the narrative through which the “I”s of gijichon can speak through. The openness of the “I” is facilitated by the emptiness and the timelessness of the narrator. The reader-narrator says, “My body was hollow. It was empty, although it held my shape, and into the contoured vessel the sky came pouring in like a bright blue liquid, and I felt that I had no outside and no inside” (90-91). And later in the narrative, the writer-narrator says “I was in some timeless state, in the past or caught there, seeing beyond memory” (212). Foucault argues that writing can “create an opening where the writing subject endlessly disappears” (116). The narrating subject disappears into the stories it tells. He becomes an emptiness where the internal and external narratives of gijichon are blended and represented. He becomes timeless, where his representation of “beyond memory” becomes a stage where the significance of the past presently play out. Opening the narrative through the space of the “I,” the shaman becomes a space in which different voices from discontinuous timeframes of gijichon are connected, and speak simultaneously.

         The shaman’s inscription conjures the unnamed tragedies of gijichon and illuminates the unnamable operation of power. Both are represented through the details of daily life. Each chapter of Memories is named 月, 火, 水, 木, 金, 土, 日. They are literally Monday to Sunday in hànzì, but they also signify yin and yang with the five ancient fundamental elements of fire, water, wood, metal, and earth. Although the order of days is jumbled in the narrative, it comes to a full circle on the last page, written in a clockwise order. It is the micro details of the everyday that reflect the macro-powers looming behind the tragedies. The narrator says, “when I heard some distinct word, I would see an image, and when I heard a name I would see a face. If I caught a piece of some anecdote I remembered, I could suddenly see its entirety—the story of each detail, the secret meanings” (208). A word epitomizes an entire story, each name embraces delicate details, and each detail embodies lived narratives: the micro bears the macro. By inscribing the small details, the entire nameless ecosystem of gijichon is conjured out of their reduction into simple figures. 

         The vulnerable deaths bear the weight of the macro-power, and the narrator illuminates the substantial political powers that create trivial violences in gijichon. The narrator specifically mentions the month of January 1968. On a macro level, January 1968 was particularly hostile. On the 21st, thirty-one North Korean agents invaded Seoul on a mission to assassinate Park Junghee, the South Korean president at the time. On the 23rd, the American spy vessel USS Pueblo got captured off the coast of North Korea. A week later on the 30th and “during the Vietnamese New Year celebration of Têt, the NVA and the Vietcong simultaneously attacked over a hundred towns, cities, and military installations all over Vietnam. It was the bloodiest offensive of the war” (131). These macro-historical events were happening on a day-to-day basis, and some trivial violence happens day-to-day parallel to them. The narrator depicts: “The GIs were afraid to stay in Korea, but even more afraid that they might be shipped to Cam Ranh Bay to join some counter-offensive against the North Vietnamese. Houseboys and prostitutes were beaten more frequently; there were more fights in the clubs” (132). This depiction plainly illustrates these workers at the bottom of the Cold War politics. Indeed, the inhabitants of gijichon are indelibly marked and shaped by the tension of the superpowers, of the decisions made in Seoul, Pyongyang, and South Vietnam, by the unexpected tragedies that these distant powers create. The violence against the nameless is filled by stories about them in Memories, without reducing these figures into a “representation of over a million Korean women who [...] worked in prostitution for the US military” (Cho 4). In the stories of the narrator, these people are no longer a metaphor. Each detail of the story breathes life into what was once a nameless ghost. They are the ghosts of the Cold War hovering over the daily lives and creating tragedies. The memories are all the more fleeting because the triviality of these tragedies removes them from public discourse that much faster. Macro-powers bombard the every day of gijichon like they do in Nha Trang. Here, each detail flutters in their vulnerability. 

         If the narrator can represent both the micro-tragedies and macro-powers in his depiction of the every day, the shamanic inscription of the narrator has two functions. First, the shaman performatively re-presents the forgotten lives that were nonetheless a part of, and sacrificed in, the Cold War ecosystem within gijichon. This connects the absent stories with the present narrative. Second, by not only naming the unnamed deaths but also illuminating the powers that created these deaths, the narrator engages himself in the shamanic activity of exorcism. Then, it is also the case that ghostly presence in Memories is not necessarily just the marginalized lives, but also the macro-powers that dictate the rules of the survival during the Cold War. These powers are indeed ghostly because they function in an invisible place, and in unknowable, unpredictable ways. It is precisely for this reason that the “powers” cannot be articulated by a more specific word, and for this reason that they cannot be explicitly represented in this narrative. There is nothing to be re-present-ed in forms of ‘memories,’ as they are never straightforwardly experienced. Here, the shaman connects the power with the powerless, and his role does not stop at rewriting the stories of the unmourned deaths, but extends to protecting the tragedies against being reduced into figures of macrohistory and against being read as metaphors. The double layer of narration represents the tragedies absent from social and public discourses, and goes on to enunciate the powers that created the tragedies and erasure. The shamanic inscription functions to re-present those erased, and illuminates the powers that erase those forgotten. Compared to the ghostly powers, the people of gijichon are irreducibly human in the shaman’s narrative. With tangible bodies and flesh, they eat, smoke, and drink PX liquor. They sing, they dance, and they tell stories. Through the stories told in the open space of the “I,” human voices speak through the ghostly powers. 

The Indefinite Remnants

         Pupyong ASCOM (Army Support Command), the spatial setting of Memories, is long gone, as most of the complex handed over to the Republic of Korea Ministry of National Defense in 1973 (“Camp Market”). US Army Garrison Humphreys, located in Pyeongtaek forty miles south of Seoul, includes the US Army’s busiest airfield in the Pacific and is the center of the most expansive construction and relocation project in the history of US Department of Defense. It is also the largest overseas US Army post in the world. Under the agreement of both Korean and American governments to move the headquarters of US Forces Korea and United Nations Command to Camp Humphreys, it is estimated that it will become home to 36,000 soldiers (USAG Camp Humphreys). As the USFK prepares its relocation to Camp Humphreys, the clubs and bar girls, most of them from the Philippines now, are also preparing to relocate. The public discourse of this relocation project is either absent, or concentrated on Pyeongtaek’s real estate prices. Pyeongtaek is one of the most popular cities to make real estate investments in 2019 (Financial News). Newspaper articles including the keyword “gijichon” is the highest in 1971, with ninety-two articles total in three major platforms: Kyunghyang, Dong-a, Maeil Business. In 1999, it decreases to thirty-nine (Naver News Library). During Park’s regime (1963-1979), it becomes a political and social taboo to represent gijichon in media platforms (Kim). Recently, it is close to impossible to see the word gijichon in any public platforms. Yet the US Military maintains and flouts its presence on the Korean peninsula, with occasional news on crimes committed by the GIs, or on President Trump’s demand that South Korea increase their share of the cost of American troops (“Trump’s Lose-Lose Proposition in Korea”).

         The ongoing hostilities on the divided peninsula perhaps assure the legitimacy of the presence of the US troops in the peninsula’s southern half. What matters to the literary engagement with the site of gijichon, however, is not whether the military’s presence is legitimate or not. What matters is how one can archive and restore the stories precariously drowning in the well of memories, and how one can represent those unnamed and the unnameable. The narrator says, “[the dead] must be so lonely down there in the cold, dark water” (191): stories and representation solicidates remembrance, and in remembrance, a community. The shamanic powers of representing memory are indeed performatively palpable and socially discursive. The palimpsestuous reading and writing of the past opens the narrative space to reframe the past as re-readable and re-writable. The plurivocally speaking “I,” and the multitude of stories illuminate the powers that create and erase the past. This representation cannot resuscitate the dead back into life, but it marks our memorial recognition, and expands the agency of writing.

         Ultimately, the insulating layers of both Korean and American ghostly operation of powers silence the voices of gijichon. The shaman functions to enable four things. First, the shaman allows a literary engagement of readers with this site. Focusing on the details of the tragedies in the landscape, the dead speaks through the open space of the “I.” Second, by focusing on the details, the inhabitants of gijichon are not reduced to a metaphor nor are they enfigured: they are conjured as palpable beings with lived human experiences. Third, by depicting the lived experiences at gijichon, the shaman illuminates the ghostly presence of powers. The powers are identified as a complex interlaced network of both international and domestic political and economic hostilities. The engagement to gijichon through a narrative articulates the stories of the landscape and articulates more than simple victimization and subjugation. Conclusively, the shaman tells the stories, because they are destined to be told. At the intersection of reading and writing, the narrator represents the stories he remembers because they are “meant to be told” (228). They are meant to be told not just because they are silenced, but because these stories are what render a voice to the silenced, what breathes a life into a person reduced to a figure, and what creates a rupture to the established history of US-Korea relations. The shaman, through storytelling, dismantles the macro-narrative. 

(Winter 2021)

Works Cited

  • Appellate court ruling on the compensation lawsuit by U.S. military “comfort women” against the Republic of Korea.Durebang, 26 January 2017, Accessed 21 December 2021.

  • Beckett, Samuel. Stories and Texts for Nothing. Grove Press, 1967.

  • Boo, Kyung-Sook. “Interstitial Negotiations of Identity in Heinz Insu Fenkl’s Memories of My Ghost Brother.” American Fiction Studies, vol. 20, no. 3, 2013, pp. 125-145.

  • Cho, Grace M.. Haunting the Korean Diaspora. U of Minnesota P, 2008.

  • Foucault, Michel. Language, Counter-memory, Practice. Translated and edited by Donald F. Bouchard, Cornell UP, 1977.

  • Fenkl, Heinz Insu. Memories of My Ghost Brother. Bo-Leaf, 2005.

  • Moon, Katharine H.S.. Sex Among Allies. Columbia UP, 1997.

  • Park, Jung-mi. “Social History of Korean Gijichon Prostitution Policy, 1953-1995: Cold War Biopolitics, State of Exception, and the Paradox of Sovereignty.” Translated by Heeyeon Kil, Korean Journal of Sociology. vol. 49, no. 2, 2015, pp. 1-33.

  • Verovšek, Peter. “Memory, narrative, and rupture: The power of the past as a resource for political change.” Memory Studies OnlineFirst, August 2017, Accessed 21 December 2021.