This article examines the reception of European futurism in colonial Korea in the early-to- mid-1930s through the writings of Kim Ki-rim and O Chang-hwan, both of whom composed over the course of 1934 long modernist poems engaging with modern warfare and global imperialism—Kim’s “Weather Map” (Kisangdo, p. 1935) and O’s “War” (Chŏnjaeng, 1934, unpublished). My central proposition, based on close readings of these two poems in comparison with works by Italian and Japanese futurists, is that Korea’s unevenly developed colonial location and its experience with the violence of military occupation and with escalating warfare in China indirectly discouraged the celebratory posture adopted by the European futurists towards technology, speed, and mechanized violence.
“The harbor of New York was somehow the inexplicable scene of a mysterious cruel translation,” wrote modernist art critic Paul Rosenfeld in 1924. With his impressionistic term “cruel translation,” Rosenfeld pointed to interferences in the sea lanes that connected New York to Antwerp and Buenos Aires, and to obstructions where people crossing stateless oceans touched national territories. In his description of Alfred Stieglitz’s epochal photograph The Steerage (1907), cruel translation appears as “the abyss of water” that “divides the folk crowded in the yawning mouth of the ferryboat from the foreground piles” (Rosenfeld, Port of New York, 272). Here, the meaning of translation exceeds strictly linguistic exchange, and its cruelty connotes a multifarious cultural scenography of constricted circulation at the port of entry, where blockages from cultural difference to customs house diffidence destabilize the global flows of people and goods.