This article examines the colonial-era poet and critic Im Hwa’s (林和 1908–1953) maritime literary trope of Hyŏnhaet’an (玄海灘), the strait separating the Korean peninsula from the Japanese archipelago, as it encompasses Korea’s contradictory peripheral location within the Japanese empire. Im Hwa’s repeated invocations of this body of water served as a channel for navigating the escalating pressures of colonial censorship, in which the romanticized, masculinist figure of the valiant “youth” (ch’ŏngnyŏn) substituted for the former working-class protagonist from Im’s esteemed “short narrative poems” (tanp’yŏn sŏsasi) during the heyday of the proletarian literary movement. Further, Im’s fixation on the vicissitudes of the seafaring journey across the strait can be said to articulate the precarious position occupied by Korean colonial subjects of the Japanese emperor, neither permitted full assimilation nor capable of enduring perpetual subjugation as second-class citizens. The article concludes by exploring how the liminality of passage across Hyŏnhaet’an exemplifies both the tensions between nationalism and social class in the revised geopolitical contours of Im’s anti-colonial, oceanic imagination, what he eloquently referred to as a “new map of the peninsula” (pando ŭi sae chido).

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