Yen Noh: Run to the Lowest Paradise


Advisor/tutor: Hypatia Vourloumis 

Arnhem, November 2020


This thesis attempts to revalue the life and work of Yi Sang (1910-1937), a Korean poet, artist, and architect born in the year of Japanese annexation of Korea, and his partner Geumhong who was a kisaeng—a sex worker. It looks into the ways in which Yi Sang’s work troubles the colonial projects by two “fathers” residing respectively in the Confucian patriarchy construction of a former Korean empire and the colonial subjugation of Korea by Imperial Japan. Yi Sang’s anti-colonial critique and creativity is entangled with and prompted by his everyday life with Geumhong whose subversive feminist gaze resists and disrupts the imposed laws of colonial kinship. Geumhong’s and Yi Sang’s refusal to be governed by two “patriarchs” deviates from the forms of modern “civilization,” challenging the categories of belonging sanctioned and legitimated by the colonial nation-state.

To arrive at this narrative, I focus on the ways in which Geumhong and Yi Sang break down the forms of normative identity and identification by way of embodying a “lack-in-being.” In particular, I draw upon the figure of the lame couple Yi Sang names “boiteux∙boiteuse,” a motif that recurs throughout his work, to theorize what I argue is the “paralinguistic performance” of Geumhong and Yi Sang. In the work of Yi Sang, the creative and poetic performance of boiteux∙boiteuse runs away from the colonial forms of belonging and enables a critical theory and kinship outside modern grammars. Emerging from outlaw desires and illegitimate creativity, the lame couple’s mutually nonexclusive and radically incomplete cohabitation affirms deviant life forces through the ongoing experiments of self-activation. My thesis engages with their collective assemblage and Yi Sang’s larger oeuvre both theoretically and performatively in a commonly shared refusal of the constructive forces of Western knowledge production by way of a creeping into, walking, limping, and breaking away together. YN.