Saturday, October 26, 2013

Opening lines to Jang Jung-il's story When Adam Opens His Eyes

I've mentioned that my wife and I translated Jang Jung-il's story When Adam Opens His Eyes, and since I have nothing to blog about this morning, I'll simply post the opening lines:
I was nineteen years old, and the things that I most wanted to have were a typewriter, prints of Munch's paintings and a turntable for playing records. Those things alone were all that I wanted from this world when I was nineteen. But so humble were my desires that, compared to them, my mother's wish for me to enter Seoul National University or my younger cousin's dream of joining the Samsung Lions baseball team when he grew up, seemed even more out of reach.

If my desires hadn't been for such trivial things, but for something larger like becoming the president, I could easily have fulfilled that desire by driving a tank or randomly firing an M16. Or I could have fulfilled it deep in the night by ejaculating in a wet dream. Or by giving up completely. I mean, I could have fulfilled my dream simply by throwing it away. In the sense of being freed from the desire, completely giving up might be nothing but my desire's fulfillment. So whoever discovers how to empty himself of all desire will become a free person, one who controls himself so perfectly that he becomes his own master.

That year, I failed to gain admittance to the university my mother wished for me in the major that I wanted to study, and I began cramming for the next year's entrance exam. Sending a child to university was hard for a poor family, and supporting him for an extra year of cramming was even harder. Not only was the cost of repeated tutoring hard to bear, but even worse was the gossip of close relatives who sometimes dropped in or neighbors who lived in the same one-story building paying monthly rent for cramped quarters. At that time, my mother was working downtown as a cleaning lady in an underground shopping area.

After I failed by only seven or eight points to gain admission to the English department at the university, I briefly considered going to any of the provincial universities in my hometown that would offer a scholarship, but I decided to accept my older brother's advice. The reason that I found his advice persuasive was that an extra year cramming for the entrance exam had gotten him admitted to business school in the university that I had applied to. Besides, I was hardheaded enough to insist on meeting my own stubborn goal. Even if that aim was first expected of me by my mother, why shouldn't we do a favor for our parents, who gave us life? (Jang Jung-il, When Adam Opens His Eyes, translated by Sun-Ae Hwang and Horace Jeffery Hodges, Dalkey Archive Press, 2013, 5-6)
In re-reading this now, a few years after translating it, I can see many things I'd change to make the lines flow better, but if this opening passage should happen to strike your fancy, you can get the book through Amazon, but recall from a previous post my forewarning that Jang Jung-il is not for the faint of heart . . .



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