Wit(h)nessing trauma in Han Kang’s the white book (2016)
This dissertation presents a literary analysis of The White Book (2016) by the South Korean writer, Han Kang. In a series of semi-autobiographical prose passages, The White Book (2016) explores the socio-political and spiritual need to process trauma in a cross-cultural, globalised landscape. My aim is to examine how the text offers an alternative, feminine paradigm for representing, reading and bearing the burden of another’s pain. The narrative voice identifies herself as a Korean woman living in Poland. She foregrounds her role as a writer in poetically recounting and rewriting her sister’s life and death. Her metafictional thoughts are reflected through a series of short vignettes or prose passages that meditate on the colour white. Whiteness is closely aligned with the womb, feminine symbols, corporeality, transformation, spirituality, mourning rituals, and transitional and shifting landscapes. I argue that the narrator shares a common zeitgeist with the revisionist thinking of Bracha Ettinger, an Israeli artist, and academic of French psychoanalytic feminism. Going beyond the archetypes of motherhood and creativity, both artists use the pregnant-maternal body as an entry point for expanding our understanding of the aesthetic representation of trauma. For Ettinger, pregnancy forms the basis for a new connection-based, embodied mode of remembering through art she terms wit(h)nessing. Similarly, the narrator of The White Book’s (2016) concern with the colour white as a symbol of border-crossing, instability and maternity, creates a poetry that seems to mediate trauma via visceral connections. Through the lens of Ettinger’s theory, I interrogate how womb imagery and whiteness in the text—both the symbolic representation of the colour as a poetic motif as well as the vast white spaces and photographs which form part of the layout of the text—come to represent a distinctive mode of wit(h)nessing and mourning the death of another through poetry/art.