Beyond Deviation: Pretending to Exist, Not to Exist by Park Keom-san

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.16 Summer 2012
  • byJang Sungkyu
Pretending to Exist, Not to Exist

One of the most basic motifs of literature is the desire to escape from reality. This motif, which has existed since the beginning of literature, has been expressed more clearly and with greater power in today’s post-industrial society, in which even the territory of daily life is regulated. In a post-industrial society where individuals are considered labor machines, a way to break free from the cycle of daily life seems far too distant. Strictly speaking, any leisure or break in daily life is nothing but a tool to be used for the reproduction of labor power. Thus the acts we often mistake for escape from daily life are, in the end, nothing but a one-time deviation.

Park Keum-san’s Pretending to Exist, Not to Exist, deals with an ordinary city dweller’s desire for escape. One day, the protagonist impulsively leaves for another city. He suddenly becomes aware that his routine work life, as well as family, the structure that drives him to work, is dominating his life. And so the protagonist arrives at a seaside town and meets a woman there. After a week with her, the protagonist decides to live as a homeless man.

The encounter between the protagonist and the woman, which accounts for most of the story, doesn’t take on much meaning in itself. What stands out in this book is the fact that the protagonist chooses to become homeless rather than return to a regimented daily life. Many literary texts deal with a one-time deviation, only to end on a return to a stable home, and a return to the workplace, which guarantees economic security. The protagonist of Park’s novel, however, refuses to go back this way. He goes on a permanent escape, even when it means that he has to give up the tranquil life guaranteed by home and work.

Everyone desires escape, but escape in the true sense requires renunciation of a tranquil daily life. So we, in most cases, are satisfied with one-time deviations. Park, however, questions the cycle of life itself through a more fundamental escape. Can such escapes make a new life possible outside of an abject reality? The answer remains to be found by readers.  

Author's Profile

Park Keum-san is a novelist. Park made his literary debut with “Accomplice” for the literary journal Munye Joongang in 2001. Kim’s novels include Island Table and Pretending to Exist, Not to Exist. He has also published a serialized novel Body Painting and the short story collections A Birthday Present and Did She See My Toes?