[Web Exclusive] Interview with Ahn Sanghak: Love as the Basis of Pain and Sorrow

  • onSeptember 4, 2019
  • Vol.45 Autumn 2019
  • byAhn Sanghak


KLN: What are you going to talk about at the Göteborg Book Fair 2019?

Ahn: I’ve been asked to talk about refugees and humanism, and so I’ve chosen a few poems accordingly. For example, ‘A Volcanic Island’ is about the April 3 Jeju Uprising, while ‘Underfoot’ deals with personal dignity. My essay is about a Korean poet in Japan named Kim Si-jong. After the Jeju Uprising, he fled the country and has lived in Japan ever since—as a kind of refugee. He continues to write poetry in Japanese, focusing on key moments in Korean modern history such as the April 3 Jeju Uprising and the Gwangju Democratic Movement. A couple of years ago, I had a chance to meet him in Jeju. He said he was deeply touched by my poetry. Apparently, he’d regarded the act of writing in a foreign tongue on foreign soil as a kind of revenge. His poetry is completely devoid of personal emotions, but the poem that I recited that day, ‘When That Person Came Back I Was Not There’, expresses deep feelings. My poem stuck a chord with him and prompted him to re-consider his own literary practice. I believe his poetry reflects both the voices of the displaced and humanism. If we do not take into account the social circumstances and violence that have pushed refugees into their current situations, they will only remain a burden on us. It’s about time we got to the root of refugee problems.


KLN: What makes humans human? What’s your take on humanism, and how do you convey that through poetry?

Ahn: People around the world must embrace pain and sorrow, and if you look closely, it soon becomes clear what the cause is. Pain and sorrow arise from none other than love. We feel pain and sorrow when our pristine and peaceful state of love is destroyed by physical or emotional violence. The deconstruction of love is measured by the amount of pain and sorrow we feel. The essence of humanism is in trying to undo that pain and sorrow. That’s the basis of humanism.


English subtitles translated by Helen Cho