University of Hawai'i Press
  • Editors’ Introduction

Three of the four research articles on colonial Korea that appear in this issue developed out of talks originally presented at the 2013 Cross-Currents Forum at Korea University. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the discussants at the Forum for their critical feedback. Special thanks are due to Jung-Sun Han (Korea University) and Jun Uchida (Stanford University), who helped a number of scholars develop their presentations into full-length research articles.

“Abuse of Modernity: Japanese Biological Determinism and Identity Management in Colonial Korea” by Mark Caprio (Rikkyo University) tells the story of the withdrawal of human anatomy as a scientific tool from the colonial production of ethnic differences between Japanese and Koreans. The article describes the decline and fall of the young and energetic professor Kubo Takeshi, who died in a state of disgrace and derangement for attempting to assert categorical connections between cranial measurements and criminality based on “race.” The Kubo episode tells a story of a failed attempt by a Japanese scientist to introduce a biological argument about Korean moral inferiority to the Japanese.

“Matters of Fact: Language, Science, and the Status of Truth in Late Colonial Korea” by Christopher P. Hanscom (University of California, Los Angeles) addresses the status of the fact in literary and historical discourses in late colonial Korea, focusing on the elaboration of the relationship between scientific and literary truths primarily in the work of philosopher [End Page 95] and critic Sŏ Insik (1906–?). Drawing extensively on literary theory, Hanscom examines Sŏ’s strategy of critical engagement under the condition of Japanese colonialism.

“Stepping into the Newsreel: Melodrama and Mobilization in Colonial Korean Film” by Travis Workman (University of Minnesota) argues that the “fascist aesthetic” in the films he analyzes attempted to obscure all manner of social conflicts and political divisions by aestheticizing the nation-state and culture. Cross-Currents board member Takashi Fujitani (University of Toronto) noted at the 2013 Forum that the aesthetics of military mobilization—replicated or perhaps prefigured in the militarization of school life and aesthetics in prewar Japan, as well as to some extent in Korea—is especially important for Workman. At the same time, Fujitani added, Workman shows how the cinematic conventions carried over from pre-fascist cinema left contradictions in the desire to have what Slavoj Žižek calls “capitalism without capitalism” or “capitalism without excess.”

The fourth article featured here—“Printshops, Pressmen, and the Poetic Page in Colonial Korea” by Wayne de Fremery (Sogang University)—calls attention to a situation in which “the human stories suggested by the physical contours of Korea’s early twentieth-century books have gone unrecognized along with how these stories and the physical presence of a text can affect our hermeneutical activities.” This article is supplemented by an online photo essay titled “Dance of Anguish: Poetic Texts from 1920s Korea,” which illustrates what de Fremery describes as “the anguished state of Korea’s literary artifacts from the early twentieth century and, by extension, textual studies as they pertain to this period of Korean textual history.” Images of a damaged second edition of Kim Ŏk’s translation of mostly French symbolist poetry, Dance of Anguish (Onoe ŭi mudo, 1923) feature prominently. Readers are encouraged to view this photo essay online in the archived December 2013 issue of the Cross-Currents e-journal ( [End Page 96]

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