Friday, February 16, 2007

Under the Loving Care of the Motherly Leader

Maternal-Son Kim Jong-il, Maternal-Father Kim Il-sung,
and Maternal-Mother Kim Jong-suk (1945)
The Wholly Female Family
(Image from Wikipedia)

Two days ago, I posted a Valentine's Day greeting direct from the posthumous heart-throbbing bosom of the DPRK's Great Leader, Kim Il-sung. Okay, it wasn't actually a Valentine's Day greeting, nor was it even a greeting, but the image of a loving Kim Il-sung embracing a lowly soldier fit the holiday's iconography, and I posted the image precisely on Valentine's Day.

I'm therefore sure that you all felt the loving care of the North Korean leader, which despite Bradley K. Martin was not fatherly but motherly, as Brian R. Myers has shown.

Jocular remarks aside, let me assure you all that I found Myers's arguments fascinating, and I'll certainly have to consider them very seriously in any future scholarly work that I do with Kim Myongsob on Northeast Asia. I also look forward to future presentations and articles by Myers.

Meanwhile, Myers has kindly responded to my blog entry on his RAS (Royal Asiatic Society) presentation (and I'm putting the remarks by Myers in red for easier distinction from my own remarks):

I just checked out your blog, and I think you got the main points -- but the significance of those points is that NK is not a society that encourages intellectual discipline. People who assume that it's Stalinist or Confucian therefore tend to be surprised when they see the country behaving rashly and instinctively. Last night I met a South Korean who told me about the Confucian emphasis on the golden mean, on moderation in all things. Then, in the same breath, he told me that North Korea is a Confucian society. It baffles me that people don't see the disconnect between what they are saying and the reality.

I see Myers's point here, but I'd like to note two things:

First, one could make the same observation about South Korea, which strikes me as both very Confucian and very rash.

Second, and really an extension of the first, a social system can encompass contradictory things.

Myers's response, I suspect, would be to acknowledge this but to argue that Confucianism does not guide North Korean actions. What Myers believes actually does guide the North Koreans is less clear to me, but he seemed to imply that racialism does. Perhaps his upcoming book will deal with this point.

On the propaganda issue, Myers noted my two questions, the first of them noted by him here:

One concerns possible Christian iconography lying behind what you've identified as a motherly image for Kim Il-sung (or Kim Jong-il).

Here, Myers was responding to a suggestion of mine:

The image ... [of Kim Il-sung embracing a lowly soldier] could also be seen as a religious icon -- Jesus embracing one of his disciples after the resurrection or the father embracing his son in the parable of the prodigal son -- and we know how significant Christianity was in the northern part of the Korean peninsula before the Kim Il-Sung regime suppressed it. Might the regime have co-opted some of Korean Christianity's religious imagery?

Myers responded:

The Christian aspect has been played up by people because Kim Il Sung as you know came from a Christian family. But the cult was created by intellectuals who did not have that background, and for whom the Japanese influences appear to have played a greater role. Remember, in any case, that images of a benevolent, protecting figure are not the exclusive province of Christianity. (I also think that the Sunday school image of Jesus, which most Christians seem to have in their minds, is much more maternal than the Biblical Jesus, who is a sterner, more patriarchal and rabbinical figure.)

Myers then noted my other question here:

The other concerns what's going on along the periphery of the central image, such as the dynamic horse that Kim Il-sung sits astride in one example.

Here, Myers was responding to my second suggestion:

Another complication arises when one looks away from a propaganda image's central focus. One image (which I haven't located online) shows Kim Il-Sung on horseback. He looks steady, composed, even relaxed and kind -- consistent with his maternal image -- but the horse that he rides reminded me of Napoleon's wild, dynamic warhorse in Jacques-Louis David's famous painting Napoleon Crossing the Alps. The message is a mixed one. Your mother, perhaps, but look at the horse that she's riding!

To this, Myers responded:

As I said, the cult has a problem in that it has to present Kim on the one hand as the embodiment of racial purity, hence the association with symbols like the white horse, and on the other hand as the general who liberated his race, hence you get him Napoleon-like on that horse -- but you don't see him engaged in actual combat, or even standing MacArthur-like at the front. He is usually shown behind the lines, mothering troops or children.
Hence the complications in the imagery produced for the cult-of-Kim propaganda -- he's the racially pure, fussy-mothering general busily infantilizing the children to ensure their instinctively rash but morally superior character. No wonder he's so busy ... despite his being dead!

But the Great Leader Kim Il-sung is not truly dead. He lives on in hearts and minds and heirs like Kim Jong-il.



At 4:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It appears to me that you and Meyers cannot accept the idea that Korea might be the source of its own dominant ideas. That's why you suggest Japan or North America as an alternative.

But your analysis is strained beyond belief. Your method appears to consist of looking at an image and saying it represents the opposite of what that image is. I doubt if you do this with the imagery of your own country or with the work of Milton, for example.

At 5:08 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You mean "Myers," of course.

As "a casual first time observer," you're hardly being fair to either Myers or me in your accusation, for you go far beyond the subject matter of this post to suggest that neither of us can "accept the idea that Korea might be the source of its own dominant ideas," an accusation for which you adduce very little evidence, if any.

You do the same thing in remarking on my putative approach to Milton or to American matters.

Technically, what you're doing is called the ad hominem approach -- attacking the person rather than addressing the topic.

If you want to comment on the substance of my blog entries, then do so, but if you post further ad hominem attacks, I'll delete your comments without response, and you won't be welcome here.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:41 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

Motherly-mother looks really out of place in photo. It almost like Kim Jong-il is the progeny, resulting from a heterogamatic sex change.

At 6:19 AM, Blogger A.H. said...

Is propaganda ever a source? For propaganda to work, it requires a shorthand/a tradition that can be quickly utilised. The "dominant ideas" use cultural ideas to counter ideas that are against those cultural ideas. I don't think that there is anything forced in your reading: the white horse is a pure imperial image of purity. It's stupid of the "casual first time observer" to compare propaganda with Milton/poetry...Milton, after all, uses ambivalent imagery (as we know) to create a world far removed from the propagandist real world so loved by the Cavaliers and Roundheads. I've never seen you do a forced reading of Milton yet!

At 8:05 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, I'll just have to take your word on that -- the abstract went over my head.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:11 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eshuneutics, thanks for the support. I always appreciate your insights.

I don't know what prompted the "Casual First Time Observer" to post such ad hominem innuendos about my motives, but I hope that "Casual" remains a "First Time" visitor -- or at least just 'observes' without making such 'observations.'

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:32 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

I was thinking of eshuneutics' comment on your previous post "Leaning on the everlasting arm." The references to the masculinize motherhood and the homoerotic. I thought this would produce a spontaneous transmutation of gender. Also asexual reproduction.I saw this in the picture. Motherly-mother just a facade to complete the picture. I guess this doesn't have much to do with your post.

At 10:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, whether directly germane to my post or not, your comments are always interesting ... and not without some connection to my ramblings.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:16 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Casual Observer posted the following on the wrong entry, so I'm putting it here:


Casual Observer said:

You asked me for evidence. Here it is.

I said that you think Korean ideas come from the United States or what you prefer to rephrase as North America. So be it. But here is the evidence of this.

You write: "we know how significant Christianity was in the northern part of the Korean peninsula before the Kim Il-Sung regime suppressed it". If this implies anything, it implies that North American Christian ideas were important to Korean images of propaganda.

Myers does the same thing. As you state: "Myers showed North Korea's debt to Imperial Japan's racial propaganda".

In other words, neither you nor Myers can accept that the ultimate source for Korean communist imagery is a native Korean one.

But in my opinion, the source IS Korean: you will find it in the donghak movement, if you care to look.

7:36 PM

Casual Observer, here's what you said in your initial comment:

"It appears to me that you and Meyers cannot accept the idea that Korea might be the source of its own dominant ideas."

Now, you say:

"In other words, neither you nor Myers can accept that the ultimate source for Korean communist imagery is a native Korean one."

At least, you've limited yourself to speaking only of Korean Communism than of Korean ideas generally.

But you're still claiming, without evidence, that I CAN'T accept that "that the ultimate source for Korean communist imagery is a native Korean one."

As I told you previously, if you continue to level such ad hominem charges at me, I'll delete your comments without reply. This is your last chance. Stick to the rules, keep your remarks substantive, not personal, or stay away.

Jeffery Hodges

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