This article makes a case, in the study of Korea's colonial modern transition, for supplementing the examination of writings with attention to historical modalities of writing itself considered as a material inscriptive practice, and thus also for the interdisciplinary engagement of Korean history or art history with material culture studies, science studies, and the phenomenological anthropology of landscape. My focus is Sǒkkuram, surely among the most extensively discussed of all Korean historic sites. Initially, I unveil a record of the temple in the unpublished papers of the anthropologist Frederick Starr stemming from his 1911 visit, in the window between Sǒkkuram's 1907 “rediscovery” and its first rebuilding of 1913. This record illuminates long-forgotten aspects of Sǒkkuram's materiality — such as how it was painted. Yet my purpose is not antiquarian; rather, it is to examine two historically significant non-representational orderings of words and things. In the first, what I call “writing in,” a form given phenomenologically by the relation of the figures on Sǒkkuram's walls contained multiple shifts in its meaningful content. Sǒkkuram became a privileged locus for considering Korea's “multiracial” pasts for a generation of Western authors, a commitment that superseded the overall assignment of meaning to the temple within histories of race, religion, or nation. Meanwhile, Starr's 1911 photographs show the practice of some Korean visitors to the temple of literally “writing on” its surfaces using ink or charcoal. I read “writing on” as a spatio-material practice of placing words, in which significance was not mainly an effect of content.

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