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Cyborgs and Castaways: "Thoughtful Transgressions" Toward an Ecumenopolitics

Christopher Hanscom (University of California, Los Angeles)

In obsolete usage, "scape" can mean "a small fault, a thoughtless transgression." This paper analyzes two contemporary South Korean films that track the trajectory of such scapes as a meditation on globalized subjectivity. In Chan-Wook Park's 2006 I'm a Cyborg but That's OK and Hae-jun Lee's Castaway on the Moon (2009), minor transgressions (from grammatical errors to credit card debt) are paired with major encroachments—the appearance of an uninhabited island at the center of the city in Castaway and the mechanical at the very heart of the human in Cyborg. Through this pairing, the minor transgressions become major—the main character of Cyborg insists that she is not "psycho" but "cyborg" and is incarcerated in the asylum; while the male lead in Castaway is marooned on the inexplicable island, adopting the identity of a castaway. Both plots thus involve the radical separation of the individual from the social.

The films suggest that the redemptive return to sociality is achieved not through the retraction of transgression but rather through its validation. Transgressions of the body (by the mechanical) and the city-scape (by the primitive) are naturalized as the overcoming of pre-established boundaries becomes a figure for relationality in a global era. "Thoughtless transgression" thus leads the viewer to a thoughtful consideration of an ecumenopolitics, a way of relating to or inhabiting a world containing not only the same/ comprehensible but also the different/ incomprehensible. Beyond an affective "putting oneself in the place of the other," transgression as "stepping across" (transgredi) is presented as an ethical and inter-subjective act adequate to a post-national, global era in which not only films (with Castaway slated for U.S. remake in 2013) but also individual subjects must re-imagine sociality.