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Untelling the Tales of Empire : : Intimate Epistemologies of the Korean War


"Untelling the Tales of Empire" analyzes literature and excavates alternative archives in order to situate the Korean War as a critical moment in U.S. cultural history and U.S. imperial ventures in Asia. In response to the narrative of the U.S. involvement in the Korean War as a benevolent intervention against communism, my dissertation offers a more complex reading of the Korean War, developed through critical analyses of scholarship and institutional narratives, and through close readings of the literature, visual culture and archival memories produced to commemorate, trouble, and reconsider the transnational flows that defined the war's staging and its geopolitical legacy both within and outside the Korean peninsula. While the dominant historical archive remembers the Korean War as a liberating intervention, I examine cultural texts and uncovered archival materials in order to open up histories of the Korean War beyond an imperial calculus of rescue and salvation. In my chapters, I trace the history of area studies funding during the Korean War era and analyze Susan Choi's The Foreign Student against the legacy of dominant knowledge production about the war. I analyze narratives about the ambivalent and often critical experiences of Chicano soldiers in the Korean War in works by Rolando Hinojosa and Luis Valdez. I examine the virtual adoption of a Korean boy by inmates of United States Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, and in my final chapter I investigate the militarized connections between Korea and East L.A. in Martin Limón's novels. I focus on these trans-Pacific memories in order to argue that alternate histories of the Korean War clarify the stakes of the imperial relationship between Korea and the United States. The Korean War is continually remembered in dominant history as one that prevented the spread of communism and created a democratic nation-state that now serves as a critical site for monitoring the perilous North Korean state. On the other hand, I read literature and excavate archives that illuminate alternate cultural histories that remember things otherwise

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