Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Peter Raposo on Jang Jung-il's When Adam Opens His Eyes

Mechanical Typewriter
Peter Raposo

Peter Raposo, writing "When Adam opens his eyes," a blogpost on December 16, 2013 (though I only discovered it yesterday), offers some positive words on this novella (translated by Sun-Ae and me):
My favourite novel of this year has to be When Adam Opens His Eyes by South Korean writer Jang Jung-il. The Adam of this novel is a South-Korean literary guy, specialising in literary competitions, a loner, at times a bit loony too, and a young man who isn't afraid to experiment when it comes to sex.
Yes, and the author, Jang Jung-il, wasn't leery of explicit description, which made translating many passages rather harrowing! The genre is not, however, pornography. The story uses sex as a means of critiquing South Korea's harshly competitive society, a critique resulting in some rather disturbing consequences:
The novel spans the year between Adam's initial failure to gain admission to university in Seoul and his successful second exam, during which time he has two coming-of-age affairs. The first is with Hyun-jae, a melancholy and sexually promiscuous high school student who mediates her intimacies through the music she continuously listens to on her Walkman; the second with a mature artist who takes him for a model and lectures him about the accelerated state of contemporary media. The conspicuous problem which emerges through this narrative concerns character formation: what happens when the phoniness Adam detects in others' tastes extends to the tastes of people he values? His identification with Hyun-jae's love for 'the classics' -- 'the three Js': Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin -- is crushingly predictable, for instance, while his artist-lover's Bohemia can only be described by a list of glamorous locations such as Paris, Munich and New York, an image of an artist's loft, and a morning-after scene deliberately reminiscent of a pantyhose advertisement.
The protagonist actually has three lovers -- the two noted by Mr. Raposo, and a third one, Eun-Sun (responsible for the "list of glamorous locations"). Anyway, such a book depicting Korean life in the latter 1980s would naturally raise controversy:
Controversial at his time of release in South Korea in 1990 this novel still has the power to shock, and also to make you go back in time and remember your own teenage years. These are the first lines of the novel: I was nineteen years old, and the things that I most wanted to have were a typewriter, prints of Munch’s paintings (Edvard Munch famous painting Puberty is mentioned a lot throughout the book) and a turntable for playing records. For a moment I thought I was reading a biography. I always liked Edvard Munch paintings but was never a big fan of Van Gogh, but art is like literature and we all have our favourite artists in both arts.
Thanks to Peter Raposo, who blogs in London, England at The Great Cosmopolitan Attraction. He also does other things, but he doesn't tell us what they are in his profile. A search on Amazon determines that he's a writer.

From looking there, I see that he's written more than I have! I'd better get to work . . .

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