Korean Fiction After the Mid-90s
Korean literature underwent significant change in the mid-1990s. With the cessation of the Cold War, which had sharply polarized the world after the Second World War, South Korean society was freed from the anxiety of being stuck in a quasi-state of war. Moreover, the South was formally released from a “state of exception,” as postulated by Giorgio Agamben, in which a state power can arbitrarily suspend the rule of law. With the transition from analog to digital, Korean society also underwent a great upheaval. In sum, post mid-1990s, Korean literature moved on from the issue of national division that had preoccupied it for such a long time and started confronting the problems of being a post-industrial society.
Yet, the epistemic topography of literature does not change simply due to changes in the times. Someone has to bring about that change. Kim Young-ha was this agent of change in post mid-90s literature. In his debut novel, I Have the Right to Destroy Myself, Kim presents a so-called “suicide advisor” as his narrator. The narrator contends that in this (post)modern age in which only a life controlled by the big Other is possible, the only autonomous action that humans can take is voluntary death. Kim’s narrator assists in the suicide of those who lack the courage to take their own lives. His shocking, contradictory protagonist signals the passing of Korean society into a new dimension.