This article discusses the philosophical works of Sŏ In-sik, who published mainly between 1937 and 1940, following his five-year imprisonment as a member of the M-L (Marxist-Leninist) group and the Korean Communist Party. While it recognizes a major shift in his thinking in 1938, this article questions the assertion that the “preconversion” and “postconversion” works can be strictly separated in terms of their content. Rather than making an immediately political argument, it examines the contemporaneity of Japanese and Korean philosophy of the 1930s and 1940s, through close readings that open up the conceptual and practical problems of imperial nationalism, Marxist historicism, and universality. The first part discusses Sŏ's early work on the contradictory character of the intellect under capitalism and his idealization of the laboring human. The second part addresses Sŏ's so-called “conversion” to supporting the Japanese empire, through textual analysis that highlights the continuities and discontinuities between his earlier Hegelian-Marxist philosophy of history and his later concerns with cultural crisis and Kyoto School dialectics. The third part looks more specifically at Sŏ's “disguising” of his Marxist view of history behind a Hegelian logic of nation-state formation and discusses the problem of mimesis and representation in the inversion of Hegel.

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