Mobility Necropolitics and Harmless Islanders

Jinhyoung Lee: Konkuk University

Published Date: Apr 22, 2024 | Accepted Date: Apr 22, 2024 | Submitted Date: Apr 22, 2024


This article critically discusses the wartime mobilization policies implemented by the Japanese Empire on the Korean peninsula during the Pacific War (1941-1945) in terms of mobility necropolitics, a framework that combines mobility studies and Achile Mbembe’s notion of necropolitics. In particular, by examining the lives of the Korean islanders on the imaginary Julan island in Kim Sa-ryang’s novel Bada-ui Norae [Songs of the Sea] (1943-1944) through Giorgio Agamben’s concepts of “harmless” and “desubjectivation,” this paper seeks to excavate a postcolonial moment in colonial Korea. In the “death worlds” of the dead and those who will die on the battlefields, “harmless islands” are seen as figures that cannot be reduced to or exhausted by mobility necropolitics as they embody an ambiguous sense of belonging not only to the Japanese Empire but also to Julan Island, practising mobility for the destruction of life (i.e., death) by meekly obeying the empire’s death command while expecting their deaths on the battlefields (i.e., Japanese subjectivation) and, at the same time, mobility for the reproduction of life by enjoying their traditional convention on the island (i.e., desubjectivation). This ambiguous identity can thus be argued as potentially nullifying the imperialist necropolitics. This paper is thus committed to the current discussion of Japanese military mobilization during the Pacific War by critically elucidating the nature of Japanese imperialism in the 1940s and, more importantly, its dead end.


Bada-ui Norae (Songs of the Sea), Harmless Islanders, Kim Sa-ryang, Mobility Necropolitics, Pacific War

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