When Yi Kwang-su wrote Mujŏng, translated here as The Heartless, he was a young man in his twenties studying at Waseda University in Tokyo. The year was 1917, and Korea had been a formal colony of Japan for seven years. The novel was serialized in the Government General's newspaper, Maeil sinbo, in which recently Yi had also serialized, on the front pages no less, an essay titled “What Is literature?” The prominent location of both works tells us something about the significance granted to literature, and especially the novel, at the time. For Yi, literature was no dilettantish pursuit, but a realm in which the most pressing social and political problems might be sorted through, solutions proposed, and one's readers convinced of their worthiness. Yi was, then, one of those enlightenment intellectuals who emerged throughout the colonial world at the turn of the century to promote liberalism,...

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