[Foreword] Neo-Decameron in the Pandemic

  • onSeptember 25, 2020
  • byKim Mi Jung

Recently, I have observed that the core message in bestselling self-help books has shifted to “how to preserve your authenticity and survive as your true self” or “how to stop yourself from measuring life’s worth in the eyes of others.” The need to protect the self, to guard it from pain, may be an oblique indicator of the vague anxiety and fear that plague people today.

The desire to protect the self naturally changes our perception of others. Humans constantly yearn for contact with others. At the same time, we have always been aware that it is others who hurt us. But it appears that people of our time are much more vulnerable to the anxiety induced by the possibility of this hurt. The irony of craving and simultaneously fearing others is what enhances the desire to protect our self.

Moreover, in the pandemic era, we are becoming even more accustomed to keeping distance from others, symbolized in mask wearing and social distancing. As direct and indirect relationships become inverted, our concept of distance has changed radically. The pandemic brings to light an already ongoing phenomenon.

The fall issue’s Special Section has been prepared with this “distance with others” in mind. The change in the perception of distance does not make exceptions for family, the closest “other” there is. The mother-daughter narrative, the proto-narrative of one of the closest human relationships, is being explored in various new ways, re-centered under the feminist lens.

In the Featured Writer section, writer Bora Chung meets Kim Choyeop, a writer who is defining the horizon of Korean science fiction. A scientist as well as a writer, Kim Choyeop shows in her interview how she is in touch not only with a universal knowledge of science, but also with many of the talents in science fiction from all over the world. Literature grows as such: communicating and cross-influencing, unbound by time and place, renewing itself while keeping pace with new readers.

In the Middle Ages in a small town near Firenze, ten people took refuge from the Black Death. Quarantined from the rest of the world, they endured their days by sharing stories. As much as keeping distance has become normalized, humans still crave nearness, to being connected. Boccaccio’s Decameron is being written in different corners of the world even now, including this issue of KLN. What we are truly in need of experiencing may be beyond keeping distance with others, beyond the anxiety and the fear; it may be the strength of solidarity that comes from connection, as feeble as it may seem. Solidarity has strength. Literature has strength.


Kim Mi Jung
Literary Critic
Translated by Dasom Yang