I have just finished reading a new book on Korean cinema (New Korean Cinema, New York: NYU Press, 2005, edited by Chi-Yun Shin and Julian Springer). It was a satisfactory read, most of the essays in it are good, some excellent. It has left me with some questions, though, and I am curious how other academics working on Korea think about these questions. Reading this book (and others as well), I have come across repeated statements on nationalism with which I find it hard to agree. The first one is the generally shared assumption that South Korea is an intensely nationalist country and that art (cinema) has to overcome nationalism (and nationalism alone) to become ‘real’ art. While superficially this may seem to be the case (especially from the outside), I have often found that, with the exception of the radical nationalists, nationalism is often a matter of rhetorics, not entirely perhaps, but to a significant extent at the least. Cultural studies in particular seem to take the all-pervasive influence of nationalism as a given, without problematizing what kind of nationalism is being discussed, in what context and from whom it emerges and for whom it is intended. The rhetorics of nationalism, as those of any influential ideology, must perhaps not be taken at face value, but be seen as a distinctive and for its users familiar way of communication.
Related to this is the also popular notion (present in several essays in this book) that due to the disappearance of the oppressively propagated nationalism of the 70′s and ’80s South Korea now is more fragmented, more anxiety-ridden and more diverse than it was during the 70′s and 80′s. (more…)