Serk-Bae Suh
Associate Professor, UC Irvine

History PhD, 2006

I am currently writing my second book tentatively entitled Against the Tyranny of Utility: Sacrifice and Literature in 1970s and 80s South Korea. It deals with the problem of sacrifice by examining the critical occasions of literary imagination that envisioned an autonomous space for literature under the pressure of the developmental state in 1970s and 80s South Korea. South Korean society underwent rapid industrialization and urbanization during the period. The state propaganda machine constantly invoked the rhetoric of individual sacrifice for the common good to mobilize the people for state-led economic development and an ideological campaign against North Korea. Strictly speaking, the sacrifice upheld by the developmental state was not a genuinely sacrificial act of one’s giving up the most precious possession for the other but a wager motivated by utilitarian calculation for the maximization of utility. By looking at a diverse range of texts that raised the issues of utility, labor, violence, and democracy with regard to the problem of sacrifice, this study highlights the instances of South Korean literary discourse that imagined literature as the sacrificial site of struggle for freedom from the iron rule of utility.