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  • P-ISSN0023-3900
  • E-ISSN2733-9343

Building the Post-Traumatic Nation: Mourning and Melancholia in Korean Films about the Gwangju Massacre

Korea Journal, (P)0023-3900; (E)2733-9343
2021, v.61 no.1, pp.219-243


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Abstract

This paper explores the cinematic representations of the Gwangju massacre in three films: A Petal (1996), Peppermint Candy (2000), and May 18 (2007). Drawing on Freud’s distinction between mourning and melancholia, this paper examines and compares the different ways of commemorating the massacre in these films and the kinds of political and ethical implications produced by their different forms of commemoration. Since the mid-1990s, national mourning for the Gwangju massacre has played a pivotal role in reconciling past antagonisms and legitimizing the hegemony of liberal democracy. As the sacred origin of the pro-democracy movement, the memory of Gwangju has been appropriated to construct a linear, teleological narrative of national development that represents the present as the culmination of nationaldemocratic progress. In exploring in detail how the three films depict the massacre, this paper illuminates how the representations of Gwangju in these films reflect and correspond to the post-traumatic nation-building process in post-authoritarian South Korea, which can be encapsulated as a shift from melancholia to mourning for its traumatic past. In so doing, this paper raises the question of what constitutes an ethico-political way of commemorating historical trauma.

keywords
Gwangju massacre mourning melancholia nation-building representation of trauma cinema A Petal Peppermint Candy May 18

Korea Journal