112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

The Revelation of the Nomos in Diasporic Literature: The Example of Kim Sok-pom’s Death of a Crow

Andrew Harding, Cornell University

Kim Sok-pom’s novel, Death of a Crow disrupts the category of ‘Zainichi Literature’ by refuting its subsumption into the limiting genre of national allegory. Instead, it portrays a landscape which exposes the roots of oppression in the wider political nomos, thus gesturing towards an alternative subjectivity.


Kim Sǒk-pǒm’s novel Death of a Crow (Karasu no shi) is set on the island of Jeju (now part of the Republic of Korea) between April 1948 and May 1949, a year which witnessed the brutal suppression of the Jeju Uprising.  It is a novel that appears to depict an episode of Korean national history, and yet within the country of its publication and immediate circulation it has been incorporated into a corpus of diasporic literature. In 2006 it was included in the Complete Works of ‘Zainichi’ Literature (‘Zainichi’ bungaku zenshū), and thus foregrounded as a text which represents a peculiarly ‘Zainichi’ subjectivity. As a result, exegeses of the novel have tended to appropriate it as another key to unlocking the ‘Zainichi identity’; as a window that may render visible an otherwise opaque vista of Otherness within Japan. As is so often the case, it appears that the category of enquiry has both preceded and informed its object of analysis. As Foucault and Naoki Sakai among others have argued however, this process often ends up reifying the pre-eminence of the category itself, at the expense of rendering the singular text and the individual writer all but mute. The persistence of the national allegory as the corner stone of ‘Zainichi’ studies means that writers such as Kim are often co-opted into the facilitation of their own oppression; their texts used to naturalize and legitimize the very categories which sustain their minority status.

In fact, Death of a Crow contests the category of ‘Zainichi’ itself. It depicts a landscape that, whilst portrayed as a single location, echoes with the traces of power relations that extend beyond its immediate spatial and temporal boundaries. In this singular event – the Jeju Uprising – the novel manages to superimpose the lingering presence of Japanese colonialism, as well as look forward to the Cold War politics that would later dominate the region. In so doing, the text gestures towards a new kind of ‘identity’ that does not resort to the exclusive categories of nationality, ethnicity or political ideology. Instead it reveals what Carl Schmitt refers to as the nomos; the habitual status quo that reproduces the conditions for hegemonic power relations to be sustained as ‘natural’ and thus legitimate. It acknowledges that nationality, ethnicity and political ideology are categories produced by and within the nomos, not ontologies exterior to it, and that resorting to these identities as recourse to empowerment can only reproduce the same conditions that result in oppression. For the politically marginalised who are cast out of the dominant socio-legal order precisely so that it may continue to exist, narratives such as Kim Sǒk-pǒm’s present an articulation of subjectivity that avoids being unwittingly co-opted into the same framework of sovereignty that oppresses them. In so doing, it destroys the nominal borders that separate otherwise spatially and temporally disparate sites of oppression, and joins them together in a milieu of fragmented memories and experiences bound together by their mutual status as the nomos’ subject of exception.

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