Abstract

During the Cold War, when South Korea was under a military dictatorship, the term “collaborator” (ch'inilp'a) often functioned as a kind of prohibition, indicating that a person or certain texts were not worthy of serious scholarly attention. Collaboration was also a politically taboo topic since many of the South Korean political and military elites, including President Park Chung Hee, were former collaborators. Criticism of collaborators could be seen as questioning the legitimacy of the regime. Though some important studies were published during this period, such as Im Chongguk's courageous Ch'inil munhaknon [On literature by collaborator writers] in 1966, it was not until after the victory of the democracy movement and the end of the Cold War that research on collaboration became active. During the past two decades, a variety of approaches to the issue have emerged. There have been, as one would expect, nationalist denunciations, but also attempts, influenced by cultural studies, to reconceptualize collaboration in ways that can produce new readings of their times. John Treat's article is an effort to contribute to this growing literature, and it offers an approach that has some similarities and important differences with recent studies on the topic. Similar to some of the work of younger South Korean scholars, he conceives of collaboration as “a structural feature of modernity” and situates the issue in a broader, more international context through his examination of texts by Jean-Paul Sartre and Henry James. Significantly, he also focuses on understanding the basic morality of collaboration. It is an attempt to return scholarly discussion to the basic question, one that has proven to be difficult and painful to face—why did Korean intellectuals collaborate with the Japanese empire?

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