A Profound Union of Ethics and Aesthetics
- onMarch 10, 2016
- Vol.31 Spring 2016
- byHwang Sok-yong
In truth, presenting a timeline of Hwang Sokyong’s life would be a sufficient introduction to his literature. Although no one can choose the time period they are born, few live in their given time with such depth. Hwang’s life and literature manifest what pushes forth from the deepest and most painful places in recent Korean history. The latter is explosive and entangled between the division of the peninsula and the compressions of modernity. The violent flow of this history might have altered course due to the great resistance against oppressive regimes and the hardships that accompanied them, but literature has played a continuous role in embracing and meditating upon issues deeper and broader than physical struggles. As literary critic Jin Jeong Seok writes, “Hwang’s novels are the most true, ethical participation with the Korean people’s modern experience, as well as the most fierce artistic investigation into the question of ‘How can a person set themselves free?’ In Hwang Sok-yong, modern Korean literature has found the complete profound union of emotion and awakening, imagination and historical consciousness, ethics and aesthetics.”
It is easy to list the places where Hwang’s novels take an emotional hold over us and evoke admiration. His work shows a piercing authorial insight into the truths and contradictions of an era— deep and strong empathy for those who have been uprooted and have lived through marginalization and deprivation in the shadow cast by modernization. In doing so, Hwang also shows a comprehensive understanding of human psychological predicaments, the various trivialities of humanity, and much, much more. However, we must not forget that these aspects of Hwang’s literature are only possible due to his solid sense of aesthetics along with an experimental style and structure to his stories that have been apparent from the beginning of his career. When looking at what he accomplished with his early works such as “Far from Home,” “Mr. Han’s Chronicle,” “The Road to Sampo,” and “A Dream of Good Fortune,” we behold what is often said to be the height of “mature realism.” Hwang’s short stories make use of his strong and concise writing style to achieve maximum poetic feeling and emotion by capturing the objectivity of the third-person perspective, having vibrant descriptions, strong narrative, and pathos for deprived people. This is the true meaning of “realism.” If you take a closer look, however, from around this point in time, his novels reveal a writer in search of a way to separate from the modern Western model of the novel through the freedom of his words, the pacing of the sentences, and the rhythm that links the narrative.