What is baseball? Breaking free. Focusing on that one line reaching out across the field. Finishing when you arrive. Shouts that confirm what happened. Kim Kyung-uk’s novel What Is Baseball? asks this question.
Poetic. I have been a fan of Kim Kyung-uk’s novels for a long time. Since he has been writing for twenty-two years, I have been a fan for all those twenty-two years (and it has been seven years since we became friends). When a poet becomes a novelist’s fan, it means that their novels are highly poetic. At least that’s how it is in my case. To me, being poetic means that something hidden is there. Something that often slips. Something is there that does not finish when ended. What poetics might be found in his grandly structured novels and precise language? For a long time that elusive allure has made me seek his novels out.
Evolving mechanical fiction. This is a term coined by a literary critic some years ago. Many people have said that this term fits the work of Kim Kyung-uk perfectly. I have thought so as well. Little by little, he tries to become more mechanical. Continually writing. Little by little, he writes with ever more precision. Trying to show the center of the center. That place, however, is unknown. While thinking that it must be there, it remains unknown. After reading his works you are left with the feeling “he has yet to show the true center.” Instead, there’s a feeling that, “while precise, the precision does not reveal the target it has hit.” But my cheek burns; I have been struck by what I have read.
An artisan. He writes ever more precisely. His stories are conveyed in terribly interesting ways. However, the reader does not determine the pace of the story and this is the fault of the author’s exquisite craftsmanship. No matter into what language his works get translated, his stories will not give way. Kim has minutely planned everything from the initial diamond-in-the-rough stage. Since he has changed the very nature of the narrative’s path from the beginning, the detailed direction he takes is new, fun, and reaches the story’s true essence. But how far can he push his refinement? It is clear that, as an artisan, Kim will continue to refine as much as his eyes and hands will allow, and as he does so, his target will grow ever smaller. For the reader, Kim Kyung-uk is a meticulous player in a never-ending game, but he himself thinks only of his focus on exactitude.
Hybrid creator. Kim Kyung-uk is level-headed from start to finish. He has discovered a new way of capturing the unbalanced with balance, the large through the small, and our true nature through modernity. He is an ethicist who with the eye of a dispassionate inventor, discovers and employs marginalized and unjust places. When you read one of his works it’s as if there’s a scene that’s been frozen and slowly, exactingly, a single bullet is coming straight towards you. In order to continue writing fiction that is being “written somewhere in one’s body,” he needs a room for himself where the blinds are lowered with only a minimum of light. And empty hands.
“Steam rising from a heart made of ice.” He replied in an email to me after I wrote him about cognitive chill I felt when reading his works. He replied thus: “Focus on the internal, not the external.” It was then that I realized my friend Kim Kyung-uk was standing there in the center of the target.
by Yi Won