Professor Robert M Oppenheim, Oct 18th (Thursday), 4:00-6:00, CWAC 156


Oct 18th (Thursday), 4:00-6:00, CWAC 156

Professor Robert M Oppenheim  (Associate Professor, Director of Center for East Asian Studies, University of Texas at Austin)


“Sokkuram’s Interior Landscapes: Visualizing Korea from Chicago, Circa 1911”

The focus of this paper is on some hidden histories of a single and quite famous Korean monument, the Buddhist cave-temple Sokkuram, centering on a moment between its arrival at wide public notice around 1907 and its first reconstruction beginning in 1913—a moment that also coincides with the beginning of formal colonial rule in Korea.  Using unpublished sources, visualizations produced by or through the University of Chicago anthropologist Frederick Starr, I examine two appropriations of Sokkuram’s materiality that coincide with two enactments of writing in relation to it.  In one, Sokkuram’s painted surfaces (long since bleached away) and their spatial enclosure within the grotto formatted a genealogy of heterogeneous consideration of Korean racial and religious pasts.  In the other, more literal inscriptive practices of writing on the temple—the signatures of school groups and other visitors—can be read as politically significant “words in the world” through close consideration of their timing and placement, notwithstanding the paucity of content of the texts themselves.  Overall, this paper argues for a need to understand the historical process of landscape not merely as the mapping and remapping of meanings onto lieux de memoire and historiographically-significant sites, as such processes are commonly read in Korean studies, but also in terms of stronger forms of heterology.  Sokkuram at the instance of its modern reemergence was more than a site to which meanings were attached; it was a wonder that captivated and gathered a swirl of meanings to itself.  Thus, its post-1913 colonial reappropriation, whatever else may be said about it, also had the local, contingent quality of a production of disenchantment.


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