For a long time, Pyun Hye Young worked in an office in the city. Nowadays she works at a university teaching creative writing, but she must still be spending a lot of time in an office. I imagine that her documents and scraps of paper, dappled with her fingerprints, are piled up in a basement storeroom in a secret building, and there a shadow, having lost its body, is reading out the sentences written on the old, soggy paper. The voice of the shadow echoes along an iron staircase which runs up to the office.
Pyun Hye Young likes paper and writing implements, and often her gaze is concentrated on things like teacups, plates, and empty containers. All of those things will be made up of perfect rectangles, triangles, and circles. Like an office worker, Pyun Hye Young knows how to conceal her intentions and how to be considerate of others. She speaks her words clearly as though typing them out. She resolutely erases the language of pain and despair, dealing only with the matter at hand, and at times alters the atmosphere with a dry joke. Her hands, as they lower the blinds, will exude just the right mixture of coolness and warmth.
There is no particular subject matter or type of character that Pyun Hye Young favors. She lives a life without anything you might call a hobby. Once, when asked whether she liked animals she responded, “I’m not able to like an animal that’s covered in fur.” Not able to like. I want to draw emphasis to those words. Born in the Year of the Rat, she hates rats, but she does like their habits. She said that she finds the way that they follow the same fixed path every day interesting. People who follow the same fixed path every day. The characters in her novels come to mind. They are people who walk keeping a fixed gait, but limp when no one is looking. It seems just as if you were to say, “Oh my, you’re limping!” the response would be, “Really? I don’t think so,” accompanied a moment later by an awkward smile.
People who live their everyday lives with their desires regimented and repeated. Moments of ruin and misfortune that spring out of the blue. Faces that are so pale they are placed on the photocopier, seen from behind some crumpled human forms, trembling like paper. Her novels are dominated by an unspeakable horror, anxiety, and coercion. If a writer is someone who, from a certain point, begins playing out their experiences in language, what is it that Pyun Hye Young has perceived? Why does it not stop?
She said that when she becomes fixated on a single problem, although there is no way of knowing what it is, she cannot help but keep writing, even if it is a story that repeats itself. She cannot help but keep writing. Again, I want to draw an emphasis to those words. It’s impossible to know what it is exactly, but I believe that the countless urban spaces, the countess city scenes that she has walked through, pull her writing ever onward.
Pyun Hye Young was born on the outskirts of Seoul, went to school there, got a job in the city, got married, and is still writing novels in the same surroundings. She grew up in a place where farmland and ruin and new buildings coexisted. For her, the most familiar scenery is that of the building sites of an expanding city. Her development was goaded by dust and noise and the coarse talk of construction workers, and the image of demolition and construction has made up her emotional map.
The city continues to change its guises rapidly. There is no spare moment for studying ethics. The darkness of the city. The speed, the sounds of the city. While despising such things, she also loves them. The characters in her novels are either in the city, striving to leave it, or heading towards it. In the end, they all turn in a similar orbit around the city. Just like her characters, Pyun Hye Young will not be able to escape the city. Don’t leave. Don’t stay either. Keep walking your fixed path, so that when we lose our way in your novels and begin to wander, you can ensure that we find a different path, following a faint shaft of light.
by Kim Taeyong