Thursday, July 15, 2010

David Mitchell: "An Orison of Sonmi-451"

Juche Tower
(Image from Wikipedia)

Not many Korea specialists are reading David Mitchell, I reckon, since so few online sites note that the "Juche" referred to in the dystopian story "An Orison of Sonmi-451" in his novel Cloud Atlas is North Korea's official ideology (and one site that notes this is clearly nonexpert).

Here's a passing mention of "Juche" in Mitchell's "Orison" story, the speaker being "Sonmi-451" (clone number 451, I presume, and an apparent allusion to Fahrenheit 451):
Humor is the ovum of dissent, and the Juche should fear it. (Mitchell, Cloud Atlas: A Novel, Random House, 2004, page 188)
The story, which I've only begun reading, seems to depict a future Korea in which the North and the South have unified into state capitalist version of a corporatist Juche society. Hence the name of the country, "Nea So Copros," meaning something like "New South Korea," I suppose. A certain Martina Hrubes, of the University of Frankfurt, has a master's thesis, "Postmodernist Intertextuality in David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas," that seems to confirm this:
[T]he corporate dictatorship of Nea So Copros is suggested to have developed out of North Korea, the most overtly socialist country today, as the recurring reference to the "Juche" (Mitchell, Cloud Atlas, 203; 341; 347; 360; 364), Kim Jung Il's state doctrine, indicates. The ideological system of capitalism thus seems to have prevailed over the promise of communism, while democracy has failed as a system and is referred to as "abortive" (Mitchell, Cloud Atlas, 243). (Hrubes, "Postmodernist Intertextuality in David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas") [Note that Hrubes uses the Hodder and Stoughton edition, apparently differently paginated than the Random House edition.]
Hrubes is also one of the few to note the point about "Juche" as the North's official doctrine. Mitchell's interest in Korea likely stems from his time in Japan, where his years there teaching English, 1994-2002, would have allowed him to familiarize himself with Japan's peninsular neighbor.

I'll have to look into this much more deeply after I've finished the entire novel, but I thought that I ought to mention Mitchell's story here for others with an interest in South Korea to pick up on.

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At 5:27 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

That's very weird diction: "the Juche should fear it"-- as if Juche referred to a person or people.

The Juche is (are?) displeased.


At 5:31 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yeah, it is weird, but the "Juche" seem to be some sort of privileged class, though I'll have to finish more of the story to know for sure.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:30 AM, Anonymous ken howard said...

well, I would think the "Juche" is a sort of entity .. I get the idea that it's certainly not a person and not necessarily a group of people, but an entity nevertheless of the ruling purebloods. It is, after all, the Juche that has the EyeSats and everything else.

At 9:38 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Ken. I'll have to re-read the story and give it some more thought.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Juche(주체, 主體)' means the major agent who acts. It's similar with 'I', 'self', 'ego', I think...

At 4:00 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, thanks for the definition. I'm aware of that meaning, as is Kevin Kim, but others can benefit from knowing.

The issue here is that "Juche" is used in a different sense, as if a person or persons. That's why Kevin and I were puzzled.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the Juche in this plot is the ruling body of what seems to be the last remaining stable, consuming state or region--so the "self-reliance" aspects of the modern day ideology may be reflected in the name.

As for the sources of Mitchell's future Korea, I think his society is a much more deft combination and critique of South and North Korean societies. You'll notice that the society is not exactly capitalist. Each "consumer" has duties to spend a certain quota to keep the whole thing running. Meanwhile, the domination of public life by corporations and individuals' station within company heirarchies is a clear shot at South Korean chaebol and preoccupation with societal standing as a function of professional status.

At 8:28 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, that sounds plausible to me. Thanks for the comment.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:53 AM, Blogger Jake P said...

I dont know if this these posts are too old to post to but was drawn here trying to find more about cloud atlas and finding a lot of bloggers not familiar with east asian and Korean history. Id like to ask a question and hopefully a bit of feedback. I understand that the events in Nea So Copros take place in Soeul and Pusan, which squares with conceptions that NSC is a futuristic Korea, but I'm wondering if that isn't too sheltered a musing. At first the notion of Juche lends to this, but they mention Hokkaido as being in eastern NSC. I conceptualize Nea So Copros as "New East Asia Co-prosperity" (at least it lets me rationalize the word "copros"), but would have no idea what the So of NSC would stand for. Any thoughts? Thanks.

At 7:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Jake P, for the comment. I've racked my brain on your query, but can only think of "So" as "South" -- as in "South Korea" -- but that doesn't seem entirely satisfactory,though it might imply that South Korea had been the core of the new co-prosperity sphere.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mitchell is playing with words, shifting gradually from "corporate" to "corprocratic" to "Copros" -- the last stemming from the Greek "κόπρος". For a laugh, see if you can figure out which English words come from "κόπρος."

At 8:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the suggestion. My Greek comes in handy for once.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:01 AM, Anonymous Monique RAPHEL High said...

You are all helping me a great deal. I just finished "The Orphan Master's Son," and wonder if the premise of that book's archivist was derived from Sonmi. Also, the words and spellings reminded me of "clockwork Orange."

At 3:59 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I haven't read that book, but maybe I should.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've assumed the 'So' stands for 'Socialist', as in the New (or North) East Asia Co-prosperity (Sphere)- an allusion to Japan's wartime Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere.

At 5:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, you may be right about "Socialist." Thanks.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:37 AM, Blogger Ark!84 said...

I read somewhere that Nea So Copros is derived from Imperial Japan's proposed plan for the occupation of their neighbouring countries; New East Asian Sphere Of Co-Prosperity. Hence, the "So" in Nea So Copros would stand for "Sphere Of".. In my opinion..

At 7:44 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That also sounds plausible. Thanks!

Jeffery Hodges

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