In this essay, I formulate newly revised notions of subjectivity and the body, especially in what I define as “moribund masculinity.” The term refers to masculine subjectivity that refuses to fulfill the economic and ideological demand made on the male body by global capitalism and the nation-state and remains outside the symbolic order that constructs the masculine national body. Moribund masculinity counters what I call expenditure with reserve, as a symbolic structure in which masculine death always yields social and cultural meaning. I consider death that leaves the symbolic reserve in the case of a Korean patriarch, Chŏng Chu-yŏng, whose death generates the myth of national genius. The preservation of the symbolic value that becomes possible through death as a meaning-making event is translated into the economy of the virtual that sustains the capitalist material relation through recourse to the virtual male body that avoids symbolic and material exhaustion. I find a point of resistance to this political economy of virtual masculinity in the history of Korean cinema. Specifically, I read the historical project of contemporary Korean cinema in light of the aesthetic and ideological engagement in the noneconomy of masculinity as expenditure without reserve, or a death without myth, and find its most compelling manifestation in a han-lyu star, Chang Tong-gôn.

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