Shuddering Century: Modernist Poetry in Colonial Korea and the Poetics of Belatedness

December 2, 2022 | 2:00PM - 4:00PM
Asian Institute, Centre for the Study of Korea, East Asia
Location: Room 108N, Munk School, University of Toronto, 1 Devonshire Place, Toronto.
This presentation will explore how a distinctive temporal consciousness - mainly a sense of belatedness, but of non-synchronousness or non-identity with the present regardless - characterizes Korean modernist poetry of the 1920s and ‘30s in such a way as to substantiate on the literary-cultural plane its latecomer advantage, what Leon Trotsky had called “the privilege of historical backwardness,” through the non-linear, non-sequential appearance of the various European avant-gardes “all at once, en masse,” as art historian Youngna Kim puts it. I suggest that the amalgamation of various forerunner movements constitutes the formal imprint of Korean modernist poetry’s belatedness, registered not merely as subjective feeling of falling behind by Korean poets themselves but as the literal coming after, in the wake of the European avant-garde’s heyday such that it became retroactively possible for the poem to magnetically attract and synthesize these cumulative exploits into a formal singularity otherwise unthinkable in Eurocentric literary-historical time. I will therefore locate in select works by poets such as O Chang-hwan, Kim Ki-rim, Yi Sang, and Im Hwa a multifaceted temporal metabolism distinguished by an oscillation between belatedness and a highly technical quality outpacing the present, too advanced for the mainstream reading public and, given the forward directionality and innovative ethos of modernist practice broadly, rendering the social acceleration of modernity’s “shuddering” 20th century in new poetic forms.
Dr. Kevin Michael Smith is Assistant Professor of Korean in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at UC Berkeley. He received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from UC Davis in 2019. His research and teaching focuses on modern Korean literature and culture with emphasis on poetry and poetics, concerned broadly with aesthetics and politics in colonial Korea and its aftermath, pursuing questions of uneven development, literary form, and periodization comparatively across East Asia and Euro-America. His articles and translations have appeared in positions: east asia cultures critique; Modernism/modernity; Trans-Asia Photography Review; Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review; and Azalea: Journal of Korean Literature & Culture. He is currently completing his first book manuscript, Shuddering Century: Modernist Poetry in Colonial Korea and the Poetics of Belatedness which examines the uneven and accelerated reception of the European and Japanese avant-gardes by Korean poets in the 1920s and ‘30s.
Organized by the Centre for the Study of Korea and co-sponsored by the Department of East Asian Studies and the Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Toronto.
Asian Institute, Centre for the Study of Korea, East Asia


Headshot of Kevin Michael Smith
Kevin Michael Smith

Assistant Professor of Korean, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Berkeley

Headshot of Janet Poole
Janet Poole

Chair and Associate Professor of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto