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Reinterpreting "Lovesickness" in Late Choson Literature


My dissertation concerns the development of the literary motif of "lovesickness" (sangsa pyong) in late Choson narratives. More specifically, it examines the correlation between the expression of feelings and the corporeal symptoms of lovesickness as represented in Choson romance narratives and medical texts, respectively, of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As the convergence of literary and medical discourse, lovesickness serves as a site to define both the psychological and physical experiences of love, implying the correlation between mind and body in the non-Western tradition.

The analysis itself is re-categorized into the discussions of the feeling and the body. In the discussion of the feeling, it will be argued that the feeling of longing not only occupies an important position in literature, but also is gendered and structured in lyrics and narratives of the seventeenth century. In addressing the rubric of feelings of "longing," this part seeks the theoretical grounds of how the intense experience of longing is converted to language of love and to bodily symptoms to constitute the knowledge of lovesickness.

The second part concerns the representation of lovesick characters in Korean romance, particularly concerning the body politics of the Choson society. So I examine both emotional and physical pains of characters who pursue the romantic goals of love and marriage and illuminate the nature of conflicts, also moved on to the medical sphere beyond the literary imagination. While this study offers readers an introduction to the diversity of conditions included under the banner of lovesickness in the seventeenth century Korea, I argue that this discourse of lovesickness serves as a site for Choson period readers to conceptualize romantic love. Within the confines of a Confucian society that limited relations between men and women, I contend that, rather than perceiving characters involved in romance as mere victims of love within an oppressive culture, these works reveal the complex negotiations between the body and the mind, gender ideals and sexual desire, and romantic love and Confucian ideology.

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