Constructing the Colonial Past in South Korea
Chapter 1: Roots Constructed 23
23 Chapter 1: Roots Constructed In one of the discussions on his theory of nationalism, Ernest Gellner observed the following in regard to the connection between roots, nationalism, and identity: The dominance of the idea of ‘roots’ was underwritten by Romanticism, and fully satisfied the requirements of nationalism. It reflected the prevalence of culturally homogeneous, internally undifferentiated, cultural polities, known as ‘nation- states.’ A political unit was to be defined as the voluntary, indeed the emotionally compulsive, association of men of the same ‘roots.’ This freed the polity from being a system of statuses and, by allowing a ‘return to the roots,’ did not insist that the identity of culture be there from the start: it was enough if there was a recollection of origins and a deep desire to return to the sources of one’s vitality and true identity. It mattered little that the recollection might be a little suspect, that what was remembered was not too scrupulously checked for historical accuracy (1997, 14) (emphasis mine). The present chapter introduces the ways Korea’s roots are recollected and presented at several popular memorial sites. 1 Understanding the narrative of this past history is crucial since the narrative attempts to establish a comprehensible time frame in which South Koreans – by identifying with and relating to specific shared notions that link their (or perhaps sometimes “their”) past history to colonial history and therefrom to the present – are supposed to become unified in face of current and future predicaments. In South Korea’s...
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