On February 8, 2017, the Munk School of Global Affairs hosted a book release for “Curative Violence,” written by Eujeung Kim, Assistant Professor of Syracuse University’s Department of Women and Gender Studies and Disability Studies. The event was sponsored by the Asian Institute. Professor Kim highlighted key themes in her book for the audience and the event was moderated by Jeesok Song, professor of the University of Toronto’s Department of Anthropology and acting director for the Centre for Study of Korea.
Professor Kim defined her novel’s central term, “curative violence.” This event was her first novel release and therefore warranted some celebration. To illustrate the definition of curative violence, Professor Kim first outlined the problem with the term “cure.” She displayed a picture of a Korean man before and after he was cured from his disability. She stated that the cure rhetoric values the past and future over the present, in a concept of “folded time.” By only comparing the injured to their past, or a hope for the future, folded time enables the injured to mentally leave the present time of disability. She states that the injured should not be treated this way, taunted by the past and the future, to forget the present.
The form of curative violence that concerned Professor Eujung was the use of past and future cures as rhetorical tools to justify everyday violence against disabled people, whether it be welfare reduction, sterilization, sexual violence, forced abortions or police brutality. Professor Kim used the film “The Litany of Hope” to provide an example of curative violence. In the film, American aid development constructs their idea of “cure” through the American perspective. She played a movie scene in which a deformed Korean man, Han, is cured by an American doctor, Doctor Topple. Due to the social construct of being “cured” Han was told he would not amount to anything without being cured of his injuries. Listening to this advice, Han asked Topple to cure his condition. However, after the procedure, Han realized that his normalized appearance was not correct nor effective, and underwent another medical procedure to undo the changes. Topple confided in an interview after the movie was released that he was dismayed with the movie’s perception of a “complete” cure, and stated that no surgeon can fully cure any disease to bring normalcy to the victim and back into society. The social constructs surrounding the idea of a “cure” caused Han to suffer more than just his own disability. His “cure,” however, brought him more pain, leaving a message to viewers to consider the implications of cures before proceeding with any form of recovery.
Jerry Zhu is a 2nd Year student studying Political Science and Contemporary Asian Studies at the University of Toronto, Trinity College.