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The Irrational Math of the Heart: Korean Adoption, Diaspora, and Incommensurability

ANU Korea Institute Seminar


Ryan Gustafsson, University of Melbourne


Hedley Bull Theatre 2, Hedley Bull Centre (130), Garran Road, ANU


Friday, 23 September, 2022 - 17:00 to 18:30

In her memoir Fugitive Visions, Jane Jeong Trenka writes: “In my heart’s irrational math one Korea plus one America equals nothing – equals motherless, languageless, countryless” (2009: 186).

In this powerful and rather condensed formulation, Trenka critiques an additive notion of belonging (both/and) by invoking a subtractive sense (neither/nothing) that disrupts it. Taking this critique as a starting point and provocation for thinking, this paper explores incommensurability as a useful prism through which to understand Korean adoptee subjectivity. Drawing on interviews with adult adoptees in Korea and Australia, I consider how the theme of incommensurability offers a way to think adoptee temporality and sense of place beyond ‘in betweenness.’ This is, I argue, useful for understanding adoptees as part of the Korean diaspora more broadly.


Ryan Gustafsson is a researcher and writer living on Wurundjeri country. Their essays have appeared in the International Journal of Cultural Studies, Australian Feminist Law Journal, Liminal, Island Magazine, and others. Currently based in the Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne, their research focuses on histories and experiences of Korean adoption and diaspora. They are co-founder of the Korean Adoptee Adoption Research Network (KAARN) and the Philosophies of Difference group.

For more info, visit: ryangustafsson.com



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