Abstract

This article asks what imaginative possibilities and limits may arise from South Korea's place in world literature and the novel of human rights. Looking at two novels by South Korean writer Han Kang, The Vegetarian and The Boy Is Coming (Human Acts in English), I examine how Han interrogates the “human” in human rights and proposes speculative philosophies of history that frame human rights violations, particularly in the context of the South Korean Cold War, within longer natural histories. In Han's imaginary, it is the specifically gendered body that labors to resolve Cold War memory into a natural history of capitalist destruction. If South Korea, as a sub-empire of global capitalism, has seemingly overcome state authoritarianism, Han's novels access the language of human rights in order to invoke “flashbacks” to mass people's movements as reminders of both democratic and labor struggle.

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