Sunday, June 06, 2010

Kim Young-ha's 'information' for writers . . .

Kim Young-ha
(Image from Yonhap News)

Yesterday, I happened across an intriguing statement by the young novelist Kim Young-ha, now a youthful 43 but who made his remarkable debut back in 1996, when he was about 31, with the short novel I Have the Right to Destroy Myself, a more-or-less unified collection of stories about various individuals who commit suicide with the assistance of a mysterious figure who writes their stories down for us to read.

I read this work last summer, when I was serving on a Daesan Foundation committee judging the best English translation of a Korean literary work, and his novel was one of the top final few. I quite liked it, but also felt that some of the stories were slightly contrived, for the suicides sometimes seemed to lack sufficient motivation. It seemed like a young man's novel, which it was. What I actually found most interesting about it was that the novel hardly seemed Korean. The stories could almost have taken place anywhere in a modern city. Kim has, in fact, been taken to task for this by some Korean critics, who see him as lacking in Korean sentiment, an issue alluded to in an article that I read in the Saturday edition of the JoongAng Daily, which was titled "Writer rejects the allure of nationalism" (June 5, 2010):
The nationalist subjects that steered South Korea's mainstream literature in the wake of colonial rule [by Japan], the Korean War and the military coups take a backseat in his novels, which instead depict individuals hunting for elusive freedom in contemporary urban life. (p. 7c)
The JoongAng didn't give the reporter's name, but the article was adapted from one by Kim Hyun for Yonhap News, which titled it "Kim Young-ha writes of elusive freedom in Korean urban life" (May 31, 2010), which you can read online.

But since you might still be wondering, the statement that struck me was this one:
"For a writer, too much information can be dangerous." (7d)
This was a remark that he made with reference to a novel that he has recently written on a North Korean spy called in out of the cold and back to North Korea. He had the opportunity "to visit North Korea as a member of a writers' delegation in 2005, but he dropped out at the last minute, thinking a real experience . . . [might] distort his creative reconstruction."

I think that this is a genuine insight. Too much information might stifle one's creativity . . . which doesn't mean that one should opt for ignorance. Kim himself "talked to North Korean defectors, watched films about the country and read books and articles."

He simply knew when to stop and write.

Labels: , ,


At 12:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny,why would some one commit murder in this world ha?

Sir,you are truly a funny guy!Your logic is weird really!

At 12:23 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I see why you prefer anonymity.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 12:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry sir,if you are offended by what I said.

Pardon me for my failure to accept yr very funny logic.

Anyway,I read on and found you probably did change yr mind consequently about crazy Chairamn Kim who over generously threathen to drop his bomb in the neighbourhood.

Nothing to do with me actually but I happen to have relatives who are victims of such crazy murderers!

Sorry again,have a nice day.It is for Chairman Kim and not for you really.

At 12:37 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I have no idea what you are talking about, but it apparently has nothing to do with this post on Kim Young-ha.

Perhaps you got your wires crossed between Singpore and the Korean Peninsula and posted a comment in the wrong place?

If you are implying that I'm a fan of Kim Jong-il, you're sorely mistaken.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I leart something,I sincerely hope that likewise

Have a nice day


At 12:50 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Whatever you may have read here and gotten the idea that I support the North Korean dictator, I'd suggest that you carefully re-read it.

And read around on other posts as well . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 1:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, Jeffery. That was me above. I got really drunk last night, bought a ticket to Singapore, made some crank calls, and got back to California before the sun was up. Man, if you think a hangover is bad, have one while suffering insomnia and jet lag!



At 1:50 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sounds like a really bad trip . . . as we used to say back in the sixties.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For a writer, I think it is a luxury to be able to say something like:

"Too much information might stifle one's creativity."

I came across this cute image on the blog, Korean Modern Literature in Translation:

Here's the original blog post where the image is used:

Being someone who does not have the luxury to claim that "For a writer, too much information can be dangerous," this image carries an additional meaning for me beside its probable intended one of "you can stick to what you know--safe kittens--or take the other road to where there be dragons. My additional meaning is: if you want to tell a tale but don't know much, then you can tell a tale of cute but mundane kittens or make up something interesting because it has dragons in it. Funny thing is, even in tales involving made up dragons, you still have to learn some things if you want to tell a tale well. Drats!



At 3:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That's the dilemma -- time spent learning something is time lost from writing. But one can't write without knowing a bit.

I'll take a look at the two links.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 6:46 PM, Blogger Sperwer said...

I had what I regard as the misfortune to spend the time necessary to read Kim's novel recently. I sympathize with his desire to get beyond the narratives of the nation - whether partition literature, nationalist or otherwise. But this work struck me as self-indulgent, self-absorbed, transparently derivative (to the point of constituting plagiarism, albeit not in the literal sense)of themes and examples of modernist European "benchmarks" and altogether unsatisfying. Although it has some fine moments of observation, it has as many or more of outright observational/factual errors. That it received positive consideration in the Dasan competition is sadly telling.

Buy me a beer, and I'll tell you what I really think.

At 7:18 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, Kim's novel didn't quite make the cut, so don't despair. I found it flawed, too, but my reaction was not so strong as yours.

The Daesan Foundation committee judges translations done recently, so some are pretty bad, and even the top five will include flawed works. Plus, we're judging the translation along with the literary quality, so there are two levels to consider.

The work that won, There a Petal Silently Falls, was a far better literary creation, and well translated.

About that beer, I'll have to sneak out for one now that my wife's controlling my intake (which really wasn't very much).

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 8:49 AM, Blogger Charles Montgomery said...

LOL.. so many things to say…

1) Lollabrats – thank for repping KTLIT here. ;-)

2) Sperwer – I'm going to have to kick your ass! (And, yeah, I know from Marmot you're a super-fit killer^^). I’m a pretty big Kim fan. I get what you are saying about “Destroy Myself,” in some ways. It is clearly the work of a young writer and it is extremely mannered (if that is the right word), in that it is clearly working from a literary checklist. Despite that, I found it refreshing because it was the first complete break from pundan munhak I came across. I think that it will be seen, in retrospect, as a ground-breaking translation. Not least because it actually (gasp!) sold copies internationally and was quite popular in Europe – which, in your argument, could be points against, because most of the international readers were no doubt wearing berets cocked at a jaunty angle and smoking Galouisies in cigarette holders whilst sipping cappuccinos. Not a pretty picture, I admit.

And you kids never invite me out for beers. What's up with that?

3) HJH – I think There a Petal Silently Falls is a great work, but as an English reader I’m not sure I rank it above “Destroy Myself.” This is not for reasons of translation quality, which I think is part of what Daesan is after? I just think it is a more universal story. I like “Petal,” but I know Korean history, which brings a resonance to that story that isn’t there if you are unaware. “The Flower With 13 Fragrances” or even “The Last of Hanako” (which is, along with “Destroy Myself” reasonably international in tone and story) are better stories, in my opinion, FOR translation or to pimp internationally. If you’re gonna push Ch'oe, those are the stories I’d be concentrating on. My dark history as a Marketing Director no doubt reveals itself there.

Also, I blogged about the original Yonhap piece on Kim, but I focused on the (unimaginable 10 years ago) fact that he is pretty straightforward that SK and NK are NOT one nation. Two days later, or so, I posted about Lee Eung-joon’s rather dystopian view of a post-uniting Korea in “Private Life of the Nation”. I find it interesting that this kind of thing is beginning to pop up in other than private conversations

Also, I’m sure you have read “Photo Shop Murder” and “Whatever Happened to the Guy in the Elevator?” They also have fairly flat translations, but in these cases (a kind of nourish crime story, and an absurd fable) that translation works pretty well. If you haven't, they are available from the Jimoondang “Portable Library” collection.

4) HJH and Sperwer – Kim's next book is “Your Republic is Calling” (or Empire of Light 빛의 재국 if my cruddy Korean spelling is to be trusted) and it is both modern and focuses on “traditional” Korean issues (the separation thing). I think it shows his growth as an author as it is far less self-conscious and far less abstracted than “Destroy Myself.” I am lucky enough to have a prepress copy that I will be reviewing for 10 Magazine next month. As a fanboy I may not be the best judge, but I think this novel has sales potential in English.

Sometime this week I am going to set my assistant out to see how it was received by Koreans. I'm guessing it was lauded, if only because it's theme is more closely Korean than the themes of his previous works.

I suppose this post must end before it becomes an autobiographical novel.

At 8:52 AM, Blogger Charles Montgomery said...

LOL.. HTML failure


here, maybe?


WV = saidi

Thus said I

At 1:54 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Charles, we'll have to invite you along next beer outing and hear your doctoral defense of Kim Young-ha.

Thanks for the links, too. Or was that one link three times?

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 2:05 PM, Blogger Charles Montgomery said...


One link that has complete fail..

one link that is text for cutting and pasting in case of subsequent fail

and one link that did not fail...

so.. 2.5 links to the same place?

And I notice I scared Sperwer off. I R might! ;-)

At 3:49 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You must've out-Borked the man.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


Post a Comment

<< Home