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Sunyoung Park

Dreams of Dissidence: Science Fictional and Fantastic Imaginations in 1970s...

Sunyoung Park, University of Southern California

Despite its geographical proximity to Japan, a global powerhouse of science fiction and fantasy, Korea does not appear to have produced any significant tradition in the cultural vein until the early 1990s. Korean critics’ recent efforts to reconstruct the earlier local tradition of science fiction have noted but a few isolated literary texts with no instance in the 1970s, an era of intensified dictatorship and censorship. This paper re-examines the early history of Korean science fiction by approaching the genre as an open narrative mode that was often hybridized with other narrative conventions. From Ch’oe Inhun’s alternate history Typhoon (1972), Cho Sehŭi’s dystopian proletarian novel The Dwarf (19751978), to Kim Kiyŏng’s sci-fi horror film Killer Butterfly (1978), the science-fictional mode of imagination actually inspired some of the most radical cultural texts of the decade, enabling their producers—and consumers—to defy the hegemonic discourse of developmentalist nationalism in a way that more traditional realist works could not. Born out of the convergence of contemporary cultural cosmopolitanism and dissident political consciousness, these texts contested, both through their nonconformist themes and through their formal experimentalism, the regime’s attempt to discipline and mobilize national culture in support of its political agenda. By rediscovering the important role that science fictional and fantastic imaginations played in the 1970s, this paper rewrites the history of Korean science fiction as well as the decade’s cultural history.

Sunyoung Park is associate professor of East Asian languages and cultures and gender studies at the University of Southern California. Her research focuses on the literary and cultural history of modern Korea, which she approaches from the varying perspectives of world literature, postcolonial theory, and transnational feminism and Marxism. Her first scholarly monograph, The Proletarian Wave: Leftist Literature in Colonial Korea 1910-1945 (Harvard University Asia Center, December 2014), examines the origins, development, and influence of socialist literature in Korea during the colonial period. She is also the editor and translator of On the Eve of the Uprising and Other Stories from Colonial Korea (Cornell East Asian Series, 2011). Her current research interests center on science-fictional and fantastic imaginations in South Korean literature and visual culture from the 1960s through the 2010s.