Using and Abusing the Body: Welcome by Kim E-seol

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.13 Autumn 2011
  • byShim Jinkyung

Writer Kim E-seol is certainly a writer who has a body; or, perhaps I should say “bodies.” This is because Kim’s novel, Welcome, is an exhibition for the body. Her novel is a veritable smorgasbord of horrible tribulations that bodies suffer and from which they break—the beatings and rapes that take place throughout a life of arduous labor.

The protagonist of Welcome is both the narrator and the broken body. At first, the main character attempts to become the breadwinner of the family in place of her husband, a man unemployed but pretending to be in the midst of qualifying exam preparations. The protagonist takes up work in a chicken soup restaurant and, while working there, her family becomes the cause of a series of accidents. The protagonist, unable to handle the expenses, decides to sell herself. As she toils away in the restaurant she also spreads her legs for male patrons so frequently that her thighs bruise. Her labor, including prostitution, is work that wears out the body. Within the novel this severe degeneration of the body goes on and on with no end.

In Welcome the protagonist is someone who can only revive herself through her body, someone only able to assure herself through the physical. This is a body that cannot be veiled even by fantasy, thus can provide no sexual fantasy, and one that is literally completely stripped of everything. At this point the body represents not the locus of the self, nor the inner world of the self externalized through social interaction, nor an extension of reality that moves beyond the individual, but rather a mere consumer good that is worn down to the point of non-existence as it is used and abused. As such, the tale of degeneration of the protagonist’s body in Welcome attempts to map out such a process. Welcome serves as a documentation of the process through which the protagonist’s body is exhausted as a medium of exchange between energy and the physical, as well as the process of normalization in the everyday life of prostitution.