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Research

My current research interests include the history of political thought, democratic ethos and pathos, idealism and realism in democratic theory, citizenship and identities of the marginalized cultural groups. Below are the summaries of my papers, which are currently under review or in progress.

Pathos, Not Hexis: Aristotle's Megalopsychia Revisited

Pathos, Not Hexis: Aristotle's Megalopsychia Revisited

Why are democratic citizens so susceptible to impudence and shamelessness in the face of stark opposition? Why do they too easily hold their opponents in contempt, and let their penchant for victory defy humility, tolerance, and self-criticism? In this paper, I draw heavily on Aristotle, examining his analysis of anaischuntia/anaideia, akrasia, and megalopsychia. Aristotle helps us to better understand impudence or shamelessness (as a pathos) as a curious amalgam of base impertinence and cheerful boldness. It provides people with enlivening and inspiring energies as well as a belittling posture, which could promote mutual anger, hatred, and aggression in the realm of democratic politics. My Aristotelian (albeit perhaps unorthodox) solution is not to impose moral treatments that have opposite effects to the symptom, but to find the way that we can re-channel and re-direct those self-aggrandizing and confidence-inspiring energies to better ends. I offer a novel reading of Aristotle's megalopsychia, a particular comportment with which people can be less flappable, less flammable, and less obstinate in relation to their opponents even while dwelling on their prowess and self-conceit.       

Striving for Superiority: Democracy and the Limits of Mutual Respect

Striving for Superiority: Democracy and the Limits of Mutual Respect

Democratic citizens routinely set foot in a polemical condition where they are confronted with their partisan opponents who are almost always ready to assail them. Are citizens capable of upholding the virtues of mutual respect, reciprocity, and civility in this antagonistic situation? Isn't that true that they are often intellectually and morally presumptuous, provoking their opponents to anger and subjecting them to insult? This paper demonstrates that democratic citizens strive for superiority vis-à-vis their partisan opponents unless they choose to remain politically confused and inactive. The central question, I argue, is how to temper, savor, and, to some extent, pander to, such urges for superiority in a way that keeps citizens empowered and motivated while at once preventing too much destructive aggression and obstinacy.   

“The Sublime People: A Kantian Aesthetics of Democratic Subject”

“The Sublime People: A Kantian Aesthetics of Democratic Subject”

This paper examines the vexing relation of individual democratic citizens to the people. I demonstrate that the existence of the people in democracy is hard to deny, but it is easily obscured as soon as we start to speculate in part because the people never appear in any immediate form. There can only be a claim of the people, but no claim is tantamount to the people themselves. Therefore, the relationship between individual democratic citizens and the people remains in permanent tension. The tension can be characterized by the tense dynamic of the need of individual citizens to invite the people even at the risk of betrayal and suppression by the despair emanating from the inescapably incomplete and possibly false representation of the latter. The people, therefore, is the source of democratic frustration as well as aspirations. Drawing heavily on Kant, among others, this paper views the democratic people as an object of sublime. The sublime people so understood is an object whose formless nature makes itself unable to be identified as any pre-existing sociological category. It can only be indirectly (or negatively) represented in the form of the aesthetic representation of the unrepresentable. This Kantian aesthetic reappraisal of the people helps us to better understand the extent to which individual democratic citizens are deeply intrigued yet at once repelled by the people. The sublime people suggests the way individual citizens invoke and invite the people as an indispensable inspiring idea while holding up against the tendency of endangering themselves to lapse into uncritical passivity and the idolatry of the claimed people.

Before Ozawa and Thind: Asian Race and Naturalization in American Political Thought and Jurisprudence, 1882-1921

Before Ozawa and Thind: Asian Race and Naturalization in American Political Thought and Jurisprudence, 1882-1921

The Naturalization Act of 1870 (16 Stat. 254) extended the naturalization process, which had hitherto been restricted to "white persons," to "aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent." This certainly marked the progressive moment in US history, but not for all of racial minorities. In this paper, I examine how racial discrimination against Asians took shape through a variety of institutional efforts during the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, and chart the strategies through which Asian immigrants strove to achieve American citizenship within an unfavorable legal, political, and ideational context. I combine in-depth analysis of case law with a case study of three Korean immigrants (Pom Kwang Soh, Phil Jaisohn, and Easurk Emsen Charr), and how American institutions helped or hindered their path to American citizenship. Such findings and interpretations highlight the incongruity and complexity of national and state regulations, the evolution of bureaucratic autonomy, and the role of immigrants as transformative agents in immigration and naturalization politics.

Zainichi: A Postcolonial Melancholia

Zainichi: A Postcolonial Melancholia

Zainichi [在日], which means residing in Japan, refers almost entirely to the group of ethnic Koreans living in Japan. By the time Japan was defeated by the Allied Powers in 1945, there were over two million ethnic Koreans in Japan. About two thirds of them were repatriated as the war ended, but one third remained for various reasons. Meanwhile, Japan promptly amended the Election Law, so the formerly colonized subjects of Korean descent were excluded in the first General Election. According to the Alien Registration Ordinance (1947) and finally the San Francisco Peace Treaty (1953), those ethnic Koreans were deprived of the status of Japanese nationals and were recognized as foreigners with Chōsen nationality. The Zainichi are these remaining colonial subjects who stayed in the former metropole under a postcolonial rule. In this paper, I argue that out of this specific mode of relation to the political world does arise a particular form of postcolonial melancholia. Unlike mourning, melancholia can be seen as reaction to a loss of something that is of a more ideal kind. Building upon Freud, Koselleck, Derrida, among others, I claim that Zainichi’s melancholia shows its phantasmatic capacity to keep alive their sense of belonging to Chosen, the bygone political entity, as an lost object. This postcolonial melancholia helps the Zainichi people to negotiate (and, to some extent, refuse to negotiate) the obstacles living in the unfavorable political world. In so doing, they can at least continuously wish what they are not allowed to hope for. Last section of the paper looks into Pachinko, Min Jin Lee’s latest novel, recounting and illustrating the particular spatiotemporality found in the experience of the Zainichi.

Ethical Loneliness, Democratic Frustration, Aesthetic Recovery

Ethical Loneliness, Democratic Frustration, Aesthetic Recovery

On April 16th in 2014, the Sewol (a 6,825-ton car ferry) sank below the waves en route from Incheon to Jeju Island, South Korea. More than 300 passengers died. The whole nation mourned. Many Korean citizens soon demanded a thorough investigation and far-reaching reforms, condemning the long-standing collusive ties between businesses and regulators. The bereaved families took the lead. At first, the tragedy seemed to create a fertile ground for building a unified voice nationwide. That agreeing mood, however, did not last too long. This paper explores ethical, political, and aesthetic challenges in responding to the Sewol disaster. First, I take Jill Stauffer’s recent reflection on ethical loneliness to be a useful theoretical tool with which to understand how those bereaved families have fallen into a particular condition of loneliness. Second, I examine the ways in which those bereaved families within the context of highly polarized democratic politics have been pressured to take sides, making claims that have drawn them further into the vicious spiral of a tense, vitriolic, and frustrating partisan politics. Third, by reflecting upon SaltSoul, a multi-disciplinary dance performance recently staged in Philadelphia (http://saltsouldance.com/), I finally aim to further explain how we can better attend to and embrace our recurring feelings of loss and despair via aesthetic experience of recrudescence and recovery.