The Politics of Affect and Han in South Korea

Han affect accumulated as a felt, heard and seen intensity during South Korea's the recent social demonstrations, I turn my attention to affect theory. It has been widely acknowledged that the body has become a site, or even a space of possibility when taking into account how politics play out upon the body for that matter, of lived and living experience through for example: the senses, feelings, intensities, perception and captivation (Labanyi, 2010; Csordas 1990; Csordas & Harwood, 1994; Merleau-Ponty, 1962). According to political philosopher and affect theorist Brian Massumi, who dealt with the politicality of affect through a much-quoted sentence: "Affect is the power to affect and be affected" (Massumi, 1995; Massumi, 2007).

Massumi sees through the emergent politics of affect itself, which lies more or less in the lived paradox concerning embodied qualities of life during for example social demonstrations, protests and rallies, they exude a certain potentiality, or a vagueness that has morphed itself through, in between, and onto bodies and their surroundings, interactions, or encounters (Massumi, 2010; 55, Massumi, 2015; 2-5).

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Listening to the statements of my informants and interviewees concerning Han, not only deals with "accumulated, internalized Han, but also in terms with how they sense a certain affective attachment during social demonstrations. Considering the academic oeuvre of Massumi, he does not deny that the politicality of affect can "be felt", although in enigmatic terms that "every transition is accompanied by a feeling of the change in capacity" exactly because "these changes can exude a certain affectivity" (Massumi, 2002; 213, Roelvink, 2010; 111).

In a similar vein, for South Korea Han is indeed such sensible intensity felt at the level of the sensory, but it is also constructed and negotiated as it closely aligned to the flows of senses, feelings and emotionality, always ready to be articulated during times of hardship.

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In particular, Han as an affect deals with known forms of emotions such as sorrow, shame, sadness and regret brought upon an individual or a community (Bleiker & Brigg, 2011). The meaning of Han as such, as I asserted elsewhere too, has become infused with South Korea's modes of cultural and social memory, highly constructed, signified, mediated, negotiated and infused with metaphors through for example: literature, cinema, protest music to name a few (Holsbeek, 2018).

In a similar research about Han and postcolonial subjectivity, Kim asserted in her article that Han for decades has been treated as a social and colonial construct, but quite logically so, states that new attention on Han as an affect is needed for the exact same reason I argue: it encapsulates affective intensities of painful, past or present, experiences (Kim, 2017). Moreover, she asserts that "rather dismissing Han as nothing more than a social construct han is as an affect that encapsulates the grief of historical memory the memory of past collective trauma and that renders itself attached to a nation" (Kim, 2017; 257).

Nevertheless, as many of my interlocutors told me, Han is something that is intrinsically connected to everyone, it latches itself onto those who suffer, who face hardship, it constitutes a certain sense of belonging in the face of upheaval and social anxiety. It's semantic value thus, has become negotiable, relatable and agentive in terms that it moves people to action, yet, due to the fact that it has been interpreted in cinematic discourses, literature and music, the exact same semantic value has become performative, symbolic and corporeal at the same time. In South Korea's recent social movements, protests and street rallies, the forces of affect indeed seemed like an affective cauldron, due to its vital role in felt intensities shared by the participants.

It captivates and magnetizes the encounters and connections, at least for my informants, in a way that it connects existing theories and experiences associated with the politics of belonging, social suffering and forms of intimacy. As such, affect accumulated through Han moves along the line of complex stories personally experiences, yet interwoven with a complex web of political or apolitical, social and cultural identifications between "the individual" and "kwanghwamun square", the geographical center of the months of protest. In reference with Massumi, Han affect indeed has become what could be referred to as something part of "the domain of mere feeling, because it represents the vulnerability of the individual to larger societal forces" (Massumi, 2015; 85).

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The Politics of Affect and Han in South Korea. (2019, Dec 01). Retrieved from

The Politics of Affect and Han in South Korea
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