[FOUNTAIN]Contributions of 2 essayists are recalledKim Yong-jun and Lee Tae-jun are two of the most prominent essayists in the history of Korean literature. Especially, Kim’s “Geunwon Essay” and Lee’s “Museorok” display the essence of essay writing.
In “Munjangganghwa,” Lee confessed why he titled his essay collection “Museorok,” or “Incoherent Records.” He said, “For any writer, an essay is a psychological self-portrait in the nude. To write an essay, the writer must explore himself and understand his own beauty.”
Kim, who was also a renowned painter and art critic, had a different theory of essay writing. He said, “A true essay is a spontaneous writing coming from a writer who has experienced both bitterness and sweetness in life.”
No better than “living corpses” under the Japanese occupation, the two writers became best friends and shared frustration under the colonial government’s oppressive rule and attempt to destroy the Korean language.
In the turmoil of independence and the Korean War, the two friends headed for the North together. Despite their literary value, their works were forgotten among South Korean readers until 1988, when the government lifted the ban on the works of writers who had defected to the North in the Cold War confrontation.
Kim Yong-jun used a few different literary names, including Geunwon, Donkey, and the Owner of Nosi Mountain Lodge. In his essay “Geomryeojigi,” or “Stupid Stunt of a Donkey,” he explained why he used so many pen names.
“Koreans like to use various swear words, but the worst of the worst is telling someone, ‘You deserve to change your name.’ I was furious when a foul-mouthed friend jokingly pronounced my pen name, Usanseonbu, in Japanese. I immediately cursed back at him, but the insult remained in me for a long time.”
Usanseonbu, meaning “a man from Mount Seon who loves bullish honesty,” was the first pen name Kim had used. But a friend’s mischief made the writer abandon his pen name. This year, we celebrate the centennial of the births of the two essayists. Lee Si-young, a poet who admires the two writers, inherited their spirit. “The survivors of independence activists return home from the Liberation Day celebration and open the door of their shanties without fail/ the sky is still blue on Liberation Day.”
by Chung Jae-suk
The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.