Looking for Hidden Pictures in the City: Writer Kim Junghyuk
- onOctober 19, 2014
- Vol.17 Autumn 2012
- byYang Yun-eui
In Seoul, there’s a route that will let you get around without using a crosswalk, not even once. Little clues are carved here and there on the route. They are hidden pictures brought to light by Kim Junghyuk. Following the author’s map, you’ll come to encounter new places and people in the city. The author has made this possible through a unique mapping system.
Yang Yun-eui: Your third collection of short stories, 1F/B1 (First Floor, Basement Floor) has been published. Could you tell me a little bit about this collection?
Kim Junghyuk: The last story in The Library of Instruments, my second collection of short stories, was the last story I wrote for that collection, timewise. It was called “Syncopation D.” Having written that, I had an idea as to what my third collection was going be like. The last story I wrote for the third collection is “Kryasha,” the last story included in the collection. The story seems to contain everything in the collection, in a condensed form. I could see the direction my fourth collection would take as I wrote “Kryasha.” The story ends with the sentence, “The city never grows old. Only I do.” This sentence seems to sum up the entire collection.
Yang: As you can see in “Kryasha,” which you just mentioned, I got the feeling that in this collection, you took an interest in spaces, and things that go extinct in those spaces.
Kim: If my first collection of short stories, Penguin News, is about things, my second collection, The Library of Instruments, is about sounds, and my third is about spaces. If I put the focus on things in the past, this time, I started out with spaces and people who live in those spaces. As you said, I came to take an interest in extinction because I was talking about people who grow old or go extinct in spaces, and the lives of those people.
Yang: It seems that your attention is expanding from things to people, from sensation to the world. You could call it an expansion of themes. Would you say that such change in interests led to a change in the point of view? Most of the stories in your first collection are told in the first person point of view, and the stories in your second collection are told in the first and the third person. In your third collection, the stories are told mostly in the third person.
Kim: In the past I looked at things from the characters’ point of view, but this time I wanted to take a look at the world, apart from the characters’ point of view. I was an observer in the past as well, but back then I focused on the sensations I myself felt. But since I began using the third person point of view, I wanted to express an interest in events and the objective world.
Yang: It seems that your various cultural activities had an impact on the change in the point of view. You’ve written two novels, Zombies and Mr. Monorail, and a variety of essays as well. You also worked as a producer of a literary radio program, and you’re a professional illustrator.
Kim: Those activities probably did have an impact. It took two or three years for me to finish “Kryasha,” for example. The story is an outcome of thing that happened to me while I was writing it, as well as my cultural interests, and social issues such as the Yongsan incident.
Yang: You could say that your social and cultural interests became integrated with the various media of expression you’ve taken notice of. I’ve noticed the variety of methods you used, such as signs, drawings, and formulas. Even the title, 1F/B1 (First Floor, Basement Floor), can be read differently by different people.
Kim: I wanted people to read the titles of my novels in different ways. The title of the collection, as well as “C1+y = ::.” Some may read it as “C One Plus Y Equals . . .” and others may read it as “The City is a Skateboard.”
Yang: The word “kryasha” comes from the English word, “crusher,” showing that the same word can be pronounced differently by different people. The actual pronunciation changes according to the speaker, and so do the meaning and the context. I felt that you wanted to protect the individual nature of what’s embodied in different expressions of a word. What kind of a message does the title seek to convey?
Kim: That question makes me think that signs are political in a way, and also a social product. When I first saw the word “kryasha,” I thought it sounded soft. But actually, it has a scary meaning, as the name of heavy equipment that breaks and pulverizes things. It felt strange when I learned the difference. I thought there was a gap between how the word was actually used, and what it meant. You could say that through this collection, I’m showing my interest in such gaps, in my own way.
Yang: You said “gap,” which is one of the key words in the collection. The graffiti on the city walls and the signs that divide a space give you a glimpse into unexpected events and spaces that weren’t detected in everyday life. The graffiti and signs lead you to hidden spaces, such as the “skateboard lot.” The signs seem like a sort of code.
Kim: I wanted them to come off as a code. I also wanted to talk about what signs show, or what signs hide. That’s why I wrote the title “C1+y = :: (The City Is a Skateboard)” in the form of a sign. I think formulas and signs are what best represent cities. They’re regulations that all city dwellers have in common, but at times, those regulations weigh down on us.
Writer Kim Junghyuk and literary critic Yang Yun-eui
Yang: There must have been a lot of readers who didn’t know how to read “C1+y = ::.” (laughs) You came up with a completely new word in the form of a formula, and a symbol representing a skateboarder. I’m curious as to how you came up with it. The signs show that you left the meaning open, so that it wouldn’t be interpreted in a certain way. I also wondered if it wasn’t a sort of an art theory.