Point of Departure: The Sphinx Does Not Know Either by Song Ha-choon

  • onOctober 26, 2014
  • Vol.18 Winter 2012
  • bySong Jong-won
The Sphinx Does Not Know Either

Song Ha-choon is a novelist who is accomplished in the formal aesthetics of short story composition. His work characteristically reveals, through compressed subject matter, an aspect of life in a refreshing and succinct way. The narratives in The Sphinx Does Not Know Either are based on travels and each one of the 10 short stories is influenced by a specific literary work. For example, three works that were incorporated into Song’s fictional travels include Lee Kwang-soo’s Heartlessness, which has been characterized as the first modern novel in Korean literature, Yun Dong-ju’s “Easily Written Poem” that delineated the inner landscape of an intellectual during the Japanese colonial period, and Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex.

Travel, as Kim Dongshik, the literary critic, noted, comes close to the act of reading and writing by way of having readers encounter works of literature on the trip that has triggered the travel, through overlapping them in this collection of short stories. In other words, the writer recounts his present reality by way of encoding a specific work of literature into his short story, thereby presenting his unique interpretation of it, and in the process the work of fiction, which the novelist created, obtains an extra layer of depth.

Another characteristic of Song’s stories is the absence of exaggeration. Take his sentences, for example. He restrains from employing any superfluous modifiers and his narrative is delivered in the tersest way possible. Even in the construction of his narrative, Song’s writing does not display any kind of dramatic exaggeration. That is to say, he does not offer any kind of plot twist that would significantly change the ambience of a story, nor does he resort to a tactic of heightening conflict among the characters. The representation of daily life, free from exaggeration, actually makes the nature of the ordinary more powerful. Song Ha-choon’s stories offer readers a chance to glimpse the essence of the ordinary without. 

Author's Profile

Song Ha-choon is a writer. He made his literary debut with a short story that won the Chosun Ilbo New Writer’s Contest in 1972. He is the author of the short story collections The Fall That Just Passed ByThe Daughters of Habaek, and The Sphinx Does Not Know Either, and the novels Against the Wind and Climbing the Pacific.