[FOUNTAIN]A cry for diversity in a globalized ageNo discussion of kissing in modern literature is possible without mentioning “The Old Man Who Read Love Stories,” by the Chilean exile writer Luis Sepulveda. The old man of the title takes pleasure in reading love stories and picturing the scenes. But the kissing scenes give him trouble. He asks himself how it is possible to “passionately kiss,” and just what actions one takes in doing so.
Having lived alone in the Amazon jungle since losing his wife long ago, the old man has forgotten the practices of Caucasian society, and the Shuar Indians, who taught the old man how to survive in the jungle, would sooner give up their virginity then kiss another person. The enlightenment the old man finds in his books, which becomes important enough to be called “the anthropology of kissing,” spreads its influence to the point where one character says, “The damn Yankee ruined all of our lives.”
On hand to attend the 2nd Seoul International Forum for Literature, Mr. Sepulveda explained that the characters in his works are neither heroes nor celebrities, but everyday people who “change the world despite being invisible.” Nameless characters who make small changes in history also appear in his 2000 novel “Historias Marginales,” making it not unlike “The Old Man Who Read Love Stories.” These characters rise in fury when power disgraces their land, when guns and swords triumph over justice, when brave people are despised for lack of money and when the beautiful, gentle assets of their ancestors are discarded. In a world where language is globalized and human bodies commercialized, Sepulveda’s use of the term “anthropology of kissing” sounds like a cry to maintain cultural diversity.
In the foreword to his recent book “Hot Line,” Sepulveda openly criticizes the Spanish newspaper that serialized his novel. He writes that newspaper management, these days, is judged by how many advertisements and sports and entertainment articles appear in its pages. In other words, they do not write about things that last. If they did, it might get people thinking, and that would be dangerous. I wonder if “things that last” is another way of saying “cultural diversity.” Cultural Diversity Day is an occasion for questioning where we’re headed.
by Chung Jae-suk
The writer is a deputy culture news editor for the JoongAng Ilbo.