- La Baignoire (The Bathtub)
Tr. Choi Mikyung and Jean-Noël Juttet 2016144pp.
A man kisses a woman by the sea in an exotic country: this is the pretext in Lee Seung-U’s The Bathtub for an act of memory that goes far beyond simply recalling a point in time. When the central character returns to collect his things from the woman’s apartment a few months later, he remembers these moments of his existence. Staring at a bathtub that has always intrigued him, he recalls the ocean, inextricably linked to the kiss, and re-examines his feelings. Lee Seung-U is creating a body of work—weaving, book after book, a world which we find each time to be “the same, but different.” His themes cut across his oeuvre, illuminating identical emotions from varying angles, so that we may call him not just a novelist, but a writer.
The movement of life—the kiss by the sea—is replaced by the immobility of death, the stagnating water in the bathtub, where the narrator sits and remembers, seeking to lose himself entirely in memory. The bathtub is a continuation of those enclosed spaces which all Lee Seung-U’s narrators attempt to flee, a coffin from which the time of memory emerges. This memory, neither joyful nor painful, is akin rather to anamnesis: it is the place from which our consciousness is constructed, the way we each reconstruct the origins of our malaise. When did the road fork in two? When did we become the “other”? When did language gain primacy over the body? The Bathtub contains numerous pivotal moments, used by Lee Seung-U to structure his work, like the pressing questions: How can we love if we do not wish to be loved ourselves? How can we allow love the power to place the ego in a position of dependency from which it will never escape?