LIM Yeon-kyoung / Independent Publishing in South Korea in the 2010s (1): The Cultural Movement Reinventing Feminist and Queer Intimacies 南韓的獨立出版運動(2010以來):重整戰友的親密

LIM Yeon-kyoung / Independent Publishing in South Korea in the 2010s (1): The Cultural Movement Reinventing Feminist and Queer Intimacies 南韓的獨立出版運動(2010以來):重整戰友的親密

Yeon-kyoung Lim 林妍卿

發表於: 09 Jun 2020

PhD candidate and researcher Yeon Kyoung Lim seeks to claim the relevance of her activist pursuit in Feminist/Queer self-publishing to serious academic publishing. Her activism addresses the battle for social-cultural survival for the Feminist/Queer movement specific to Seoul on the one hand, and tactical appropriation of digital technology to sustain discursive spaces on the other. Post-consumerism could be understood differently in the light of activism, whereby a specific form of agential potential emerges. Doings and actions are more important than representational practices. 出生及成長於南韓的博士研究者妍卿在後消費主義的藍圖裡重新理解「獨立出版」的政治性、創作上的實驗性,以至對南韓本土的女性主義、同志及酷兒運動的推進所作出的貢獻。獨立出版似乎注定被拒於嚴肅的學術出版的門外,林卻用新唯物主義和演述理論的高度去討論獨立出版的追求,並以個人「實戰」去說明。

/… part 1 of 2

**feature image: the 3rd issue of The Journal of Queer and Humanities Vvira | Book Design – Sung Kim | Photo – Yeonsook Lee


Independent Publishing, a Cultural Phenomenon 獨立出版, 一個文化現象

In the first year of my Ph.D. studies, a scholar advised me, “Please do not submit your paper to a strange journal because it won’t help your academic career.” It was friendly advice with regards to my academic advancement, and it is probably true. I could not help thinking of my commitment to a small press project for publishing a journal as a part of the new wave of the Independent Publishing Cultural Movement.

Independent publishing (interchangeably known as self-, small publishing) has been booming in Seoul since the late 2000s (and likely even earlier). It has been a crucial medium for a socially-engaged cultural movement. On the socio-cultural level, the rise of young feminism and LGBT/queer discourses plays into the independent publishing boom. On the techno-cultural level, the impact of digital media culture is far-reaching in the independent publishing boom. I, with my friends, have worked on producing a journal, The Journal of Queer and Humanities Vvira, based in Seoul. I am going to share my personal experience with an independent publishing movement related to this journal and the technical conditions.

the 1st issue of The Journal of Queer and Humanities Vvira (Book Design – Sukji Jeon)

Independent publishing is to publish an independent publishing project, led by small publishing houses running with little capital and low circulation, but with a large scale of autonomy. It deals with various themes in print forms, such as books, zines, records, and other design products.

The independent publishing boom emerged under the imbricate influence between indie/subculture, DIY (do-it-yourself) culture, and hipster culture in the late-2000s in Seoul. The cultural platform of art spaces-cum-bookstores empowers the boom. The opening of art/independent bookstores around 2010, such as The Book Society and YOUR-MIND, prepared the boom of the 2010s. In such bookstores, the role of distributors, particularly for independent publishing, intensifies because they function as the key agent to “move” books to the potential readers in the niche market of small press. [1] Individual groups and creative collectives also emerged discursively. Among them, feminists and LGBT/queer artists, designers, writers, and editors came to be critical contributors for independent publishing. There are two different strands: in one strand, feminists and queer subjects took haste to publish their writings rather than merely wait for acceptance by an accredited journal or a publishing house. Within the other strand, feminists and queer subjects make their artistic products in the form of printed and recorded publications, rather than merely wait for acceptance by formal art institutions and production venues. With these activities on-going, independent publishing often blurs the boundary between traditional books and other commodities, between artistic practices and making products. Independent publishing, therefore, entails cultural processes of consuming, from programming and participating in fairs and exhibitions, to selling and exhibiting their books and goods. [2]

In the current economic situation of Seoul, independent feminists and LGBT/queer artists, designers, writers, and editors often find themselves in an ambivalent position. First, they are suffering from material impoverishment. The gentrification phenomenon in Seoul has expelled them continuously to the edge of the city. For example, Hong-Dae district was once a heterogeneous hub for creative activities in Seoul. But with an expanding floating population, the subcultural zone has turned into a commercial zone. At the same time, the rental fees within the district skyrocketed. Many tenants – including young feminists and LGBT/queer creators of independent publishing – could no longer afford to pay the rent. They often found themselves unemployed, unmarried, living in the capital in the low-income bracket, or their rights outside the provisions of the legal system. There are yet other material difficulties marring among content contributors’ input to subcultural activities, such as the lack of money for the rent for studio spaces or storage areas. Very often, they maintain their contribution to independent publishing by working in temporary spaces. On top of the flexibility they manifest for mobile offices, sizable stocks of books remain tough challenges as they frequently occupy their residential dwellings.

Second, they position themselves as post-consumerist and embrace the above conditions often for the sake of poiesis and praxis. What I call post-consumerism here refers to a contemporary cultural phenomenon in which creators and contributors produce their books and goods in alignment with their politics and aesthetics; at the same time, they do not rule out selling and buying these things as commodities. Post-consumerism changes the role of conventional customers and the mode of their practices. They become participants, not mere customers, with the slogan: “We are tied therefore we buy.” Young feminists and LGBT/queer subjects take great satisfaction in visiting fairs for buying books and other goods, and sharing their transactional behaviors with others through social media, thereby producing their cultural memes as by-products. Indeed, many times the priority is reversed: they buy not only to enjoy the contents of books and goods themselves, but also to share their cultural experiences of the whole process on social media.

Materialist, Performative, Agential Power of Independent Publishing 唯物的、演述式的主體行使權

Independent publishing in Korea in the 2010s reminds us of a new kind of materialist agency. In Posthumanist Performativity, [3] Karen Barad tackles the issue of the paradigm. Barad shifts the focus from matters of “correspondence between the description and reality” – that is, representational practices – to that of doings and actions. Barad links the concept of performativity to the “production of the matter of bodies,” and “discursive practices to the materiality of the body” (808). Indebted to this definition, I argue that the independent publishing cultural movement also tackles the ever-changing relationships between materiality, agential bodies, and discursive practices: independent publishing deploys a complex set of natural resources, media infrastructure, and social funding; it affects the collaborative shapes between comrades through the form of participation; it is a continuous attempt for modeling the sustainable structure of cultural movement and knowledge production.

For feminists and LGBT/queer culture, independent publishing resonates between a consumerist activity and a cultural resistance to the power domination of social relationships dictated by consumerism. Independent publishing resting on post-consumerism invites an anonymous subject to a broader community of feminist and LGBT/queer culture. There is a conjoined aspiration toward self-expression as cultural intervention to improve the visibility of the minorities. The mode of participation in independent publication encourages an audience or a reader to take up a role in the cultural production of gender and sexuality, self, and collectivity. In the meanwhile, contributors or participants of independent publishing can traverse multiple agents as a reader, a producer, a collector, a supporter, an aficionado, and even an archivist. Thus, the agential performance and the process of independent publishing takes a performative role of feminist and queer subjectivity. It consists of a critical set of relations of the independent publishing boom, which I propose to call the independent publishing cultural performativity.

Independent Publishing in the Technical Milieu 科技紀元的獨立出版

The procedures of producing small press seems no different from mainstream practices according to technical standardization in publishing. In making prints and recordings in our technical milieu, digital functionality affords us to manipulate and transform texts, images, and sounds. Data, once digitized as immaterial forms available only on a computer screen, could live on in paper forms. Publishing in print in this way is making the transition back and forth between the digital and the analog possible. Technical environments allow creators and contributors to deal with enormous amounts of texts and images with ease collectively. Cloud platforms, mobile messengers, and social media have helped our meetings, public relations to be actualized online. These tele-technologies give us a chance to escape from the tyranny of time and space with only the minimum resources to deploy.

Independent publishing led by feminist/queer collectives is indebted to the online subculture, its survival and flourish integral to the digital milieu, in which agential relations are intensified by the simultaneous use of multiple technological things.

My personal experience with Note in-Between (2011~present), a small press, illustrates this. Note in-Between aims to contextualize LGBT/queer discourses in South Korea and, subsequently, to re-contextualize against the concept of “queer” in East Asia. On the one hand, the collective adopts cultural politics that overturns the power relationship and knowledge base in discourses on gender and sexualities. On the other hand, their practices rely on online social networking to gather potential authors and readers’ attention to our small press projects. Another prominent case is Baume à l’âme (meaning “News of Spring” by its Korean title). Baume à lâme is a feminist publishing house launched in 2016, led by four young women, as of this writing. They tackle real issues of feminism in the context of South Korea and beyond, such as abortion rights, surrogacy and sexual crimes. [4] One of their publishing projects, which concerns sexual violence in the literary world, was a critical response to the #MeToo movement of 2017, spawned by Korean feminists on social media, alongside a hashtag, #SexualViolenceInTheLiteraryWorld (#mundan-ne-sūngpokryeok in Korean pronunciation). These publishing projects are to generate critical readership and participant-ship to tackle feminist/queer politics and aesthetics with critical literacy. In this sense, social media and their technical support offset a viral machine that calls scattered potential comrades to come together around independent publishing projects.

As a queer bookshop and a small publishing house, SunnyBooks has published a series of queer zines and products since 2015. To celebrate its launch and the Queer cultural festival of Seoul of that year, SunnyBooks gave festival-goers a “fan” as a gift. The metaphoric design of the fan aroused a controversy on Twitter as it reminded people of anal sex among gays. On Twitter, some expressed disgust toward its design, and others enjoyed it as a subcultural internet meme. The vernacular hashtag of the meme showed the participants of the discourse a kaleidoscopic view of queer politics. It reveals a certain aspect of the independent publishing subcultural meme, such as how it produces a point of view on a cultural practice at hand in real-time. Tele-technologies provoke our imagination of sexual politics and practices up-front. Technical things act as viral machines to spread the issue, dissent feelings and sensations, and rearrange our common sense toward beauty, familiarity and fun via subcultural memes.

Online critical literacy and internet subcultural memes are not merely derivative enjoyment of independent publishing, but they manifest performative agency: feminist and queer identities are performed, not just represented. Independent publishing foregrounds the mediational role of digital things in sustaining the processes for feminist/queer subjectivities to play out, repeatedly, dialectically and engaging endless dialogues and critical exchange alongside publishing.

/… part 1 of 2, to be continued…



[1] Lim, Kyung Yong. “The Production and Distribution of Europe Artbook Market.” The Artro. 20 Jan. 2015. https://www.theartro.kr:440/kor/features/features_view.asp?idx=1052&b_code=10e. Accessed 27 May 2020.

[2] UNLIMITED EDITION (2009-present), programmed by YOUR-MIND, is one of the famous art book festivals in Seoul, showcasing small-scale and independent publications. Unlike other mainstream art book fairs or markets, this kind of art book festival allows creators/participants themselves to visualize practices, discuss their publications, as well as sell these publications. Many young feminists and LGBT/queer creators have also participated in or held those types of annual art book festivals.

[3] Barad, Karen. 2003. “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28 (3): 801–31. doi:10.1086/345321.

[4] Baume à l’âme http://baumealame.com/. Accessed 27 May 2020.


About the author

Yeon-kyoung Lim 妍卿 is a writer, moving image maker, and co-editor of the Journal of Queer and Humanities Vvira based in Seoul. She is a PhD candidate at the School of Creative Media, the City University of Hong Kong, currently working on human-machine Intimacy at the crossroads of Media Art and Cultural Studies, Gender Studies, and Critical Theory.

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