Organized Panel Session
Koreans circulated literary texts on American slavery in order to deepen their emancipatory consciousness during the colonial period. For example, the renowned author Yi Kwang-su translated Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, presenting black servitude as a symbolic, if not analogous, form of subjugation that reminded Koreans of their own suffering under Japanese rule. This radical act instrumentalizes sentimentalism, or an aesthetic to elicit sympathy from the reader and encourage her to effect social change. More specifically, Yi mobilizes sympathetic identification for connecting the reader to the character, the colonized to the enslaved, and Japanese colonialism to U.S. slavery. Yi’s work, however, demonstrates a complicated economy of compassion as he adapts Japanese translations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This Korean palimpsest, twice removed from the English original, not only residually contains but also creatively reworks the employment of justice-seeking sympathy in its American and Japanese progenitors. By examining the promises and liabilities of the Korean reception of U.S. sentimentalism through Japan, this paper seeks to define the intricate roles of U.S. racial discourse in the making of colonial modernity in Asia. In doing so, it considers Asia as a globalized space of discursive influence, appropriation, and circulation in an age of imperialisms.