This article examines the ways in which contemporary South Korean literature negotiates new forms of transnational identity by way of post-Cold War representations of “North Korea” and “North Koreans.” Focusing on recent bestselling works by the contemporary writers Kim Yeong-ha, Hwang Seokyeong, and Kim Hyeon-jeong’s 2003 film Double Agent, this article shows how the figure of the “North Korean” no longer points to communist threat or anticapitalist, revolutionary potential, but to a generalized separating out of people from place. If the ethnonational/developmental coincidence performed daily in 1970s/1980s South Korea has been replaced by a certain cynicism/critical distance that informs the position of the neoliberal subject of globalization, the seamless movement of the “North Korean” into this regime in Kim Yeongha’s Empire of Lights (2006) demonstrates its powers of assimilation. In Hwang Seok-yeong’s Princess Bari (2007) and Kim Hyeon-jeong’s Double Agent, it is the very impoverishment of “North Korea” and its failure as a state that enables a reworking of a minjung subject in the form of a linkage with a transnational working class, an alliance that the text cannot locate in the now prosperous, technologized South. The adaptable, mobile figure of the “North Korean” thus becomes a contemporary site for the postnational, posthuman rearticulation of the grand recits of the 1970s and 1980s, developmentalism and anti-authoritarian resistance.
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