Concerning Unconsciously Committed Sin: Journals from Days Past by Lee Seung-U

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.3 Spring 2009
  • byLee Seungwon
Journals from Days Past

Two Sides of Life by Lee Seung-U has been published to great acclaim in France. This is probably because the novel depicts a Kafkaesque world familiar to Europeans. The absurd world rendered by Kafka brings us ethical discomfort; so does the world of Lee.

For those used to seeing reality through a dichotomous perspective, Lee’s novel still feels uncomfortable for it deals with the sense of guilt lying at the root of the human heart. We can sin against someone without realizing it; even when we do realize it, however, we feign ignorance. And when we do realize, too late, that we have unconsciously committed a sin, the time for atonement has past. Lee delves sharply into such human psychology.

The collection of short stories, titled Journals from Days Past, is similar in that respect. Most of the stories compiled in the collection are records of sins committed unconsciously, and the struggles regarding the ethics of those people trying to write off their debts. Lee, exposing the fatal substance hidden in the layers of accumulated memories, speaks to us of inconvenient truths. Institutional violence is not the only form of violence. We must come face to face with the violence we have or may have unconsciously inflicted upon others. We must, however, become oblivious to, or ignore, such sin, for our own survival. Journals from Days Past is the confession by the author of a reality that makes one incapable of realizing that what is absurd, is, in fact, just absurd. 

Author's Profile

Lee Seung-U, a former student of theology, made his literary debut in 1981 with the novella A Portrait of Erysichthon. Throughout his career, Lee has maintained an interest in theological and metaphysical issues, which is reflected in his writing style that meticulously depicts the inner workings of the human soul. His works deal with questions about morals arising in quotidian life as well as more universal issues concerning God, salvation, and guilt. In particular, Lee’s novels since 2000 have inquired into the meaning of reality and the everyday, thereby bringing together the sacred and the secular, and the mind and the body. Published translations of his books include The Reverse Side of Life (Peter Owen, 2005), La vie rêvée des plantes (Gallimard, 2009), Ici comme ailleurs (Gallimard, 2013), and The Private Life of Plants (Dalkey Archive, 2015).