Im Hwa, Hybridity, and the Anti-Colonial Politics of Modern Korean Literature

Jinhyoung Lee


This paper deals with the hybridity of modern Korean literature as it tries to explain its anticolonial politics by focusing on the exposition of Joseon literary history and the discourse of the “serious novel” in the late colonial era by Im Hwa, who is considered as one of the foremost critics of modern Korean literature. Im Hwa characterized modern Joseon literature as the result of the hybridization of pre-modern Joseon literature and modern Western literature, thereby devaluing the perceived influence of Japanese literature on modern Joseon literature. This idea was premised on his assumption that the tradition of modern Joseon literature focused on the pursuit of “immaculate individuality.” As such, he imagined the “serious novel” as consistent with the form of the Western novel of the 19th century and as a realization of “immaculate individuality.” However, due to the political and ideological context of the late colonial era, the apparent modern trait of the “serious novel” was deemed to have broken loose from the ideology embodied in the notion of “East Asia” or the “New Order.” As a result, the “serious novel” was believed to have resisted the formal realization of such ideology in what was at that time considered “national literature.” In line with Im Hwa’s argument, the ideology of “national literature” (in contrast to “immaculate individuality” which was marked by modernity), represented pre-modernity, and hence embodied ideas like collectivity and totalitarianism. Modern Joseon literature, in fact, might be viewed as the result of colonization, having developed as it did under the influence of Japanese literature. Nonetheless, Im Hwa’s argument posited the possibility of a combined inscription of literary form and anti-colonial politics in the hybrid formation of modern Joseon literature as shaped by Western modernity.


anti-coloniality; hybridity; Im Hwa; immaculate individuality; modernity; “national literature”; pre-modernity; “serious novel”

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