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[Foreword] Remember What the Pandemic Showed Us

  • onJune 11, 2020
  • bySo Young-Hyun

A few months ago, when the COVID-19 outbreak was still in its preliminary stages, we believed that things would return to normal and our lives could resume after a brief period. As if mocking our arrogant belief, however, the virus has now morphed into a global pandemic on a scale unprecedented in our history and shows no signs of receding. 

Although still trapped in the eye of the storm, we are attempting to return to a semblance of normalcy. Unfortunately for us, however, experts are cautiously pointing out that we might never be able to declare an end to COVID-19, but rather, that a life with COVID-19 might become the new normal. 

The long history of infectious diseases informs us that they are blind to hierarchies of class, gender, race, region, and sexual preference. They cut across our fixed, routine lives that are largely driven by habit and patterns and not by conscious thinking. They bring forth the faces of people we’ve forgotten, people we don’t even know we’ve forgotten, people we’ve pushed outside the periphery of our thoughts and shoved into dark, hidden recesses. They remind us of the structure of violence that is perpetrated under the guise of forgetting.

The Special Section in this issue explores the theme of rooms or homes, spaces that are considered universal refuges and which guarantee our privacy, and wonders who and what has been left behind in our reflections regarding them. In doing so, it reminds us of faces we’d rather forget and brings to light the places they call “home.” 

In the Featured Writer section, we meet Lim Chulwoo, who often writes about dark periods in contemporary Korean history and explores how state-sponsored violence destroys the lives of individuals and communities; and Chung Serang, who chooses to keep complicated themes complicated rather than simplifying them and who dreams of a better world in the best, most fun way imaginable. With these two authors, we confront the faces as well as the entire worlds we’ve forgotten, or worse, those we don’t even realize we’ve forgotten.

There are numerous incidents of hate speech surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, but these vicious rumors have nothing to do with the virus. It all comes down to people. What the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore are those very same people we’d rather forget, the same people we didn’t even know we’d forgotten. What this crisis has shown is that it has always been literature’s rightful duty to be with the forgotten ones. It took a pandemic to remind us of that.

 

So Young-Hyun
Literary Critic
Translated by Amber Hyun Jung Kim