City of Sediments
A History of Seoul in the Age of Colonialism
Se-Mi Oh


Contents and Abstracts
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The chapter shows how the city can become a method of historical study and explains this method is needed for a study of Seoul during Japanese colonial rule. It locates the operation of Japanese colonialism in the universalizing logic of modernity that naturalized colonial rule as a historical change from premodern to modern. To explore the possibilities of a different history that could recuperate the marginalized voice of the colonial subject, the chapter proposes a speculative model called sedimentary history, which layers the surfaces of nonliterary and nontextual sources to best exemplify the lived experience of the city.

1 Figuring History through Architecture: An Urban Synesthesia
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The chapter discusses how architectural practices in Seoul produced colonial discourse through two guiding principles: erasure and ornamentality. Through erasure, the monumental architecture of Japanese colonialism was superimposed onto the existing palace structures of the old Korean dynasty and made colonial difference visible—Japan as advanced and Korea as lagging. Ornamentality, on the other hand, turned the architectural surface into a textual space in which emotive subjective processes took place. A closer reading of travel literature—maps and postcards—shows how this textualization was done through kinetic vision that produced a panoramic view of the city and turned it into a moving image.

2 Ritual, History, Memory: Photographing Kojong's Funeral of 1919
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The chapter focuses on photographic representations of the funeral of the last monarch of the Chosŏn dynasty and the Taehan Empire, Kojong (r. 1863–1897, 1897–1907), on March 3, 1919. Because the funeral became the backdrop of a landmark event called the March First Movement—a mass protest demanding Korea's sovereignty—this chapter asks how the colonial government grappled with the legacy of the Korean monarchy and used the funeral to form a narrative about historical transition. It discusses photography in journalism and collectibles and compares their portrayal of the funeral as historical event and memory to the traditional court documents that recorded royal rites, called ŭigwe.

3 Signage and Language: Reading Hanja/Kanji
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The chapter explores how the historical narrative produced by architectural ornament was negotiated on another visual and oral layer, that of commercial signage. Commercial signage in Seoul featured "Asian" script atop the cosmopolitan surface of architecture, and the varied reading of the Chinese characters, known as hanja in Korean and kanji in Japanese, created a cacophony that challenged the discursive production of Japanese colonialism. The chapter shows how this practice privileged orality over visuality and discusses, in the urban context, how the indexicality of the word-image produced a different kind of haptic encounter.

4 Oral/Aural Community: Sin Pul-ch'ul's Language Play and Deception
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The chapter further explores the language in flux and varied sound production in a genre of language play called mandam found on gramophone recordings. It focuses on an artist named Sin Pul-ch'ul, whose 1933 recording The Funny Bald Man became the single most popular recording in this genre. Language play hinged on pairing homonyms and celebrating carnivalesque laughter and bodies. This produced a subject of misrecognition as well as a community bound by an argot recognizable only to its members. It was through the play on signifiers that Sin countered the myth of Japanese colonialism through its own art of deception.

5 The City on the Move: The Ordinary and the Infraordinary
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The chapter explores a genre of urban reportage in leisure magazines that detailed a mode of walking in the city. Through the lens of the surrealist game of exquisite corpse and the Situationist procedure of dérive (drifting), the chapter analyzes this reportage as an experimental mode of experiencing the city that prioritized chance encounters and deviated from the routes emplotted by the colonial authority. The remapping of the city was also done by challenging the disciplinary power of clock time and producing temporalities of simultaneity, waiting, and being late. All the minute details of everyday life amounted to a critical practice that revealed the undercurrent of the city.

6 Nightly Reports: Playing under Surveillance
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Epilogue: A Time of Rehearsal
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The epilogue revisits the strategy of deconstruction discussed in the book and fleshes out how it countered the myth of the colonizer with another deception from the position of the weak. Because colonial discourse relied on the false objectivity of optical senses, colonial subjects employed tactics of misrecognition and blindness, as well as speech acts, to destabilize the supremacy of sight. The chapter also revisits the concept of accumulation in sediment and defines it in terms of the accumulation of time through repeated experience, recast as a time of rehearsal.