This article addresses the conjunction of disease, desire, and language in modernist Korean fiction of the late colonial period, particularly in Pak T'aewŏn's representative novella One Day in the Life of the Author, Mr. Kubo (1934). I bring to bear two central concepts on the work. First, the concept of hysteria is used to describe the thematic use of symptoms in the novella, to theorize the modernist text itself as symptom, and finally to propose the hystericizing force of the text on the reader or critic. The article understands hysteria beyond individual etiology as the product of a certain social discourse, a relational condition linking desire with language in which the hysterical subject attains false satisfaction with the conversion of actual or repressed desire into the symptom and always distrusts the signifier as a medium of truth. Satisfaction is always deferred for the hysteric, including the pleasure of meaning or referentiality. Second, I link Pak's work with its historical context by locating “hysteria” as one possible outcome of the paradoxical demands of discriminatory colonial discourse, which I characterize using Bateson's concept of the double bind. Here I read the novella (at both levels of style and content) in relation to the hystericizing injunctions of forced assimilation. By taking the protagonist Kubo not as a neurasthenic (the text's own diagnosis) but as a hysteric, by insisting on addressing the problematic relationship between signifier and referent in 1930s fiction and literary criticism, and by linking hysteria with the contradictory commands of a differentiating assimilation (“Be like us! But not too much like us”), this article moves toward understanding modernist fiction — and a crisis of representation in Seoul literary circles more generally — as deeply engaged with the difficult questions of subjectivity and language under colonial rule.

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