The Inescapable Gaze of the Father: Mid-Afternoon Gaze by Lee Seung-U

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.8 Summer 2010
  • byJang Sungkyu
Mid-Afternoon Gaze

Once a seminary student, Lee Seung-U has an unusual background for a Korean writer. Unlike most writers in Korea, his work focuses on the philosophical study of human existence itself. His Mid-afternoon Gaze is a philosophical study of the Oedipus complex, of the inescapable gaze of the father.

Freud’s discovery made it clear that the Oedipus complex is a universal mechanism of protest. This discovery led to the realization that the novel is an expression of the desire to escape from the gaze of the father. Lee Seung-u paints a remarkably clear picture of this discovery in Mid-afternoon Gaze. He confronts the gaze of the father that has no existence for the son in reality, but is still the omniscient ruler of his life. Pointing out how the son cannot break away from the gaze of the father, he shows that this struggle is what gives shape to the novel.

Lee Seung-U’s literary achievement lies here. He does not advocate an immediate escape from the father. On the contrary, his achievement lies in the literary depiction of the impossibility of breaking away from the father because the omniscient gaze of the father is truly that of the other.

One thing left to be desired, however, is that while it may be impossible, Lee Seung-u does not experiment with the concept of escape from the father. Of course, as one aware of the impossibility of this task, he may have considered it an unnecessary attempt. However, if the gaze of the father is a mechanism that reproduces fixation on a subject, would not the attempt of escape itself be meaningful? Are not the characters of this work ever so slightly lacking in this spirit? This disappointment weighs all the more considering that literature should always attempt the meaningful, no matter how impossible. 

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).