115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Disrupted Time: Heterotopia as a Destabilizing Foundation in Kang Sang-jung's Omoni

Aviya Amir, University of California, Riverside

The prologue of Kang Sang-jung's 2013 novel Omoni juxtaposes multiple spaces and temporalities in the site of a crematorium. Reading the crematorium as a Foucauldian heterotopia, this paper argues that by grounding his narrative in a fundamentally unstable space, Kang shapes the readers' view of zainichi as a liminal population.


Intellectual, author, and professor at University of Tokyo, Kang Sang-jung is a prominent and prolific zainichi (Korean minority in Japan), and possibly the first to attain this measure of visibility and prestige. During the debates around assimilation into Japanese society vs. viewing Korea as homeland, which took place from the late 1970s onward, Kang believed that the zainichi would be better off maintaining a strong link to the homeland, which would allow them to resist discrimination from a stance of greater power than assimilation would. The focus of this paper is on the way this idea interacts with Kang's fictional writings, specifically the 2013 novel Omoni ("Mother"). The prologue describes his mother's death in a series of temporally destabilized, associative snapshots, which only stabilize in the spatially and temporally grounded description of the crematorium. This description emphasizes the contrast between its gloom and the springtime cherry blossoms floating around it, the beauty of nature contrasted with the modernity of the automated facility, and evokes memories of childhood superimposed on death. This paper reads the crematorium as a Foucauldian heterotopia, a spatially and temporally discontinuous site which juxtaposes within itself multiple spaces. By grounding his narrative in this fundamentally unstable space, Kang primes the reader to view the zainichi as a liminal people who are themselves spatially and temporally discontinuous, and creates the lens through which the reader will view the rest of his novel.

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