Skip to main content
Harvard University Press - home
The Real Modern

The Real Modern

Literary Modernism and the Crisis of Representation in Colonial Korea

Christopher P. Hanscom

ISBN 9780674073265

Publication date: 08/26/2013

The contentious relationship between modernism and realism has powerfully influenced literary history throughout the twentieth century and into the present. In 1930s Korea, at a formative moment in these debates, a “crisis of representation” stemming from the loss of faith in language as a vehicle of meaningful reference to the world became a central concern of literary modernists as they operated under Japanese colonial rule.

Christopher P. Hanscom examines the critical and literary production of three prose authors central to 1930s literary circles—Pak T’aewon, Kim Yujong, and Yi T’aejun—whose works confront this crisis by critiquing the concept of transparent or “empiricist” language that formed the basis for both a nationalist literary movement and the legitimizing discourse of assimilatory colonization. Bridging literary and colonial studies, this re-reading of modernist fiction within the imperial context illuminates links between literary practice and colonial discourse and questions anew the relationship between aesthetics and politics.

The Real Modern challenges Eurocentric and nativist perspectives on the derivative particularity of non-Western literatures, opens global modernist studies to the similarities and differences of the colonial Korean case, and argues for decolonization of the ways in which non-Western literatures are read in both local and global contexts.


  • The Real Modern will have a profound impact not only on the ways in which we understand global modernisms, but on our understanding of colonial cultural production in general and 1930s colonial Korea in particular. Meticulously researched and developing a series of highly nuanced, original analyses of three major 1930s modernist Korean writers, The Real Modern [is] a most welcome addition to existing studies on Korean, Asian, and Western modernisms. Hanscom’s sophisticated approach to theories of language in 1930s colonial Korea offers, for the first time in English-language scholarship, a much-needed situating of the richness and complexity of colonial Korean modernism within the broader crisis of representation confronted not just by the modernists but, in varying degrees, by all colonial Korean writers and intellectuals in this period. [This is] a path-breaking [book that] completely revises our thinking about modern Korean literary history and the relations among politics, aesthetics, and modernism in colonial Korea.

    —Theodore Hughes, Columbia University


  • Christopher P. Hanscom is Assistant Professor of Korean Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Book Details

  • 248 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center