Christopher P. Hanscom
The Real Modern
Literary Modernism and the Crisis of Representation in Colonial Korea
Harvard University Asia Center 2013
In The Real Modern: Literary Modernism and the Crisis of Representation in Colonial Korea (Harvard University Asia Center, 2013), Christopher P. Hanscom explores literary modernism in the work of three writers who were central to literary production in 1930s Korea. After introducing a useful critique of the standard approach to literary history and realism therein, the book unfolds in three pairs of chapters that each introduce a major figure in the study and offer a close reading of their work as a way to open up a larger theme and aspect of the book’s argument. Hanscom thus expertly guides us through the literary criticism and fictional work of three members of a modernist collective known as the Group of Nine: Pak T’aewon, Kim Yujong, and Yi T’aejun. Each of them was struggling with a larger “crisis of representation” and taking a skeptical stance toward the capacity of language to correspond to the world beyond. In Pak’s work we were a concern with a colonial “double-bind;” in Kim’s work we see an ironic discourse and a critique of empiricism in science, love, and aesthetics; and in Yi’s work we see the emergence of a hybrid form of prose lyric that experiments with what it means to “write speech.” In conclusion, Hanscom uses the example of Korean modernism to open up the way we think of comparative literature and literary history more broadly. It is a fascinating study.