Reading North Korean defector memoirs and Korean American “roots” narratives as forms of “second culture” relative to North Korea, namely, an alternative US-oriented culture whose representational authority is held as exceeding that of the socialist state of origin, this essay examines the ongoing Korean War as the backdrop for the neoconservative emergence of human rights critique of North Korea. Examining the transnational funding matrix behind the publication and international circulation of the North Korean defector memoir, specifically the National Endowment for Democracy’s role in sponsoring such “human rights” writings, this essay reads the latter as weaponized forms of expression, defined by their instrumentality within an uneven global landscape of power and rendered lethal by the state of unresolved hostilities between the United States and North Korea. Positing the illegitimacy of North Korea, the defector memoir has been marshaled toward sovereignty-challenging, or regime-change, ends. Widely read as “human rights” literary forms, the defector memoir, alongside the Korean American “roots” narrative of North Korea, this essay argues, have served in the geopolitical arena as vehicles for “dissident” North Korean voices in place of an extant samizdat literature.
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