A Map, Unfinished: Shadow of Glass by Lee Yun-gi

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.12 Summer 2011
  • byKang Yu-jung
Shadow of Glass

At the end of Shadow of Glass, the author’s note begins: "I think that through the collective unconscious, on a broad scale the history of humanity, and more narrowly, the history of one clan resides within a single person."

I still have something to say, coming from the depths of my heart. I want to tell it to my friends of the younger generation.

These two quotations show us plainly what we can expect to gain from reading Lee Yun-gi’s novel. As we read, we encounter generalities gleaned from a condensed version of life in the form of maxims. The maxims closely resemble the teachings of any sacred text, but by depicting life in such detailed, concrete terms, they move us as no scripture can. If scriptures are teachings, from this perspective, one can say Lee Yun-gi’s novel can be considered the aesthetics of reflection. Through reading about life in the novel, we come to examine our own lives.

He writes, “An object must have a shadow to be whole,” so pure transparent glass must have some fine residue on it, like pollen, or feather down, or leaves, to be fully whole. This is because, in any case, “something completely transparent is not of this world.” Extending this line of reasoning, he states, “A map is made by taking the wrong path.” To put it another way, wounds, scars, and disgrace make our lives complete. If according to popular wisdom, we must be free of these things to fully exist, he meditates upon the reverse proposition. He says that wounds and scars are the very things that mean life has been lived.

Perhaps while the author was living and writing, he lost his way many times, and each time this left on him a mark or a shadow. In fact, the record of this is precisely what we know as literature. He has left us numerous maps and now he has died. The maps have not been completed for us, the readers, nor will we be able to find the path again using the maps, but rather, using them we can set out on a path and get lost ourselves. I think it is the last time we will see maxims such as these, so they are more precious, more precise and true; these words are Lee Yun-gi’s final legacy to us.