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