Combined and Uneven Modernism: Futurist Poetry in Colonial Korea and the Global Avant-Garde

Kevin Smith
Comparative Literature and Critical Theory
UC Davis

This dissertation examines the relationship between avant-garde poetry and uneven capitalist development in 1930s-era colonial Korea, with special attention to the dynamics of accelerated industrialization and Japanese total war mobilization. Following Fredric Jameson’s observation that modernism is the aesthetic corollary of capitalism’s “coexistence of realities from radically different moments of history,” the project proposes that the colonial location of avant-garde Korean poetry from this era renders such juxtapositions and contradictory forms of socio-historical development more clearly visible than is possible in modernism’s other metropolitan centers like Tokyo or Paris. In accordance with the “new modernist studies,” by comparatively placing Korean modernist poetry in conversation with Japanese, Russian and Italian Futurism, the work examines how modernism’s nonlinear diffusion, refracting that of capitalist development, forged a tentative coevalness between metropole and colony, or between core and periphery, on the level of culture. Conversely, it seeks to retain a certain purchase for diachronic temporal categories, suggesting that forfeiting “lateness” as a periodizing tool for the sake of challenging Eurocentric teleologies may inadvertently become a hegemonic discourse of its own, downplaying or disavowing the really existing colonial or economic differences between the various societies in which modernisms appear.