In the LIST, an interesting article (kind of) measuring the popularity of Gong Ji-young, but also continuing a now century-old argument in Korea on the purpose of fiction, as well as continuing the tradition of nearly impenetrable essays by Korean literary critics.^^
The interviewer begins with an amusing dance revolving around book sales which he first declares unimportant and then declares significant, “the sales of a work is an important factor in estimating the caliber of a writer.” This sort of to-and-froing continues throughout.
The interviewer soon gets to the ‘real’ issue, which is to continue the old fight between “political” and “naturalist” authors that has been in play in Korea since Yi Kwang-su and Park Dong-ni Kim Dong-in began fighting it out in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, the writer is well-versed in the typical Korean essay style.. something like watching a clown-car roll around in circles, disgorging clown after clown, until, one hopes, the last clown has some kind of conclusion in mind.
The reviewer categorizes Gong’s works as a sort of exception to the “introspective aestheticism” of the 1990s – itself a direct reaction to the highly politicised fiction of the 1980s (Probably a bit earlier, including works like Cho Se-hui’s “The Dwarf.” through Ch’oe Yun’s “There a Petal Silently Falls”).
In fact, the reviewer takes a swipe at such politicization: “An experiential truth learned in the 80s of Korea was that when works of art, including novels, are reduced to a political message, the works themselves can be empty. A work of art that’s nothing but a slogan, a rough and thin framework, is meaningless.” Elsewhere he calls it “overly ideological.”
It is hard to guess what to make of this, since it also seems the interviewer is categorizing Gong as this kind of writer while at the same time exempting her by saying she writes about the 90s as concerned with issues of personal like and dislike, and not larger moral issues (like, uh.. patriarchy?).
Looping, finally, to the question of Gong’s popularity, the interviewer essentially proposes that it is Gong’s simplicity, linear narratives, and colloquial speech.
Good enough reasons, I suppose, but I could have been spared the rather labrynthine (particularly for such a short article) theoretical contortions.