Chris Hanscom - Assistant Professor of Korean, Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Literatures, Dartmouth College
The contentious relationship between modernism and realism has arguably defined Korean literary history throughout the twentieth century and into the present. In this paper I argue that the literary modernism that rose to prominence in 1930s colonial Korea was neither an escapist aesthetic practice severed from the socio-political context of its production nor a derivative and partial “alternative” to a purportedly original European modernism. Instead, I advance the thesis that Korean modernism, particularly in its linguistic relationship with the “real,” engaged in complex ways with the colonial context and that it also took part in a more generalized “crisis of representation,” a modern loss of faith in the capacity of language to represent reality as such. Focusing on the creative and critical works of two prominent writers of the 1930s, Pak T’aewŏn and Kim Yujŏng, the paper addresses both the specificity of Korean modernism under Japanese empire and at the same time raises questions about cultural production in relation to its political context.