The Impossibility of “Writing”: My Left Hand Is the King and My Right Hand Is His Scribe by Han Yujoo

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.16 Summer 2012
  • byJang Sungkyu
My Left Hand Is the King and My Right Hand Is His Scribe

Few Korean literary writers since the turn of the century rival Han Yujoo in her deep awareness of writing. In the 1980s there was great interest in Korean literature that explored reality, and in the 1990s it was people’s interior lives, and since the 2000s, there has been a diversifying interest in literature itself. This is demonstrated in the negotiations between pop culture and literature, experiments in faction (fact + fiction), studies in social conditions and customs, and the political nature of the non-political, among others. Han has a special place in the Korean literary world today for she has been conducting a consistent epistemological study on the reproduction of language itself.

Through her first collection of stories, To the Moon, and her second, The Book of Ice, Han has already displayed a unique awareness of the impossibility of reproduction through language, and the possibility of depiction through writing. Her latest work, My Left Hand Is the King and My Right Hand Is His Scribe, continues to deal with the same issues. Her main interest lies in the question of whether or not language can depict reality, and further, what novels can accomplish. We commonly think that we can understand certain objects and ideas, which comprise reality, through the medium of language. Is that indeed the case? Isn’t the use of language as a medium nothing more than a conventional pattern? And is it not a form of violence to limit the rich possibility of a subject to the narrow frame of language? What, then, can novels accomplish, using language as material?

Such questions are not simply about methods of writing, but fundamental questions about the way we understand and reproduce the world. Han Yujoo is a young writer who has been studying this issue with dogged persistence for the past 10 years. 

Author's Profile

Han Yujoo debuted in 2003 by winning the Literature and Society’s New Writers Award for the short story “To the Moon.” She won the Hankook Ilbo Literary Award in 2009. She has authored the short story collections To the Moon, Book of Ice, and My Left Hand the King and My Right Hand the King’s Scribe, and the novel The Impossible Fairy Tale, which has been translated into English and French. She is also a noted translator, whose works include translations of Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table, and Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful and The Ongoing Moment, among others, into Korean. She is an active member of an experimental group called Rue and also runs Oulipopress, an independent publisher.