The Raconteur Returns: Commanding by Song Sokze

  • onOctober 26, 2014
  • Vol.17 Autumn 2012
  • byJang Sungkyu

Before the modern novel came into being with the advent of print media, the novel in the form of community storytelling had existed for a long time. Although at present the novel is entrapped within the printing mechanism of publication and distribution, at the core of the whole process, there remains the age old tradition of storytelling. These stories are still told by a storyteller from a community, who is different from a modern novelist writing in seclusion.

In this context, Song Sokze is viewed as an important asset to Korean literature. He is a writer who has carried on the tradition of storyteller that has been carried down from agrarian communities to modern times. The motif that runs through his novels is that of a storyteller who has to convey the ethics and history of a community while being alienated in modern society. The work Song has published in the last 20 years show how he has delved into this community storytelling, most of which has been overlooked in contemporary literature.

His novel, Commanding, can be seen in the same light. The basic plot of this book is the confrontation between a gang and a small number of people from an agrarian society. On the flip side of the story however, there’s soul-searching and criticism against the rapid industrialization that has destroyed the tradition of storytelling, which used to serve as a cornerstone for community. Rapid industrialization has led to a demise of stories that made order and prosperity possible for a community.

As a result, we can no longer experience the bliss of a storytelling culture. What has replaced it is the standardization of mass media. That is why Song’s book, Commanding, is so valuable for he shows us the power of storytelling and the memories of community that was lost as a result of industrialization. By doing this, he provides us with a powerful impetus for soul-searching vis-à-vis the paradox of what industrialization has done.  

Author's Profile

Song Sokze is a poet and novelist. His short story collection The Amusing Life is set to be published by Dalkey Archive Press at the end of 2016. His works have been translated into English, Chinese, French, and German. He has received the Hyundae Literary Award, Dongin Literary Award, and Lee Hyo-seok Literary Award. His short story “The Man Who Writes Stories” was adapted into a Korean movie titled Dance with the Wind.