[OUTLOOK]Literature opens a spiritual world

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[OUTLOOK]Literature opens a spiritual world

I am in Frankfurt, Germany. I am here in a lecture hall at the International Book Fair, where South Korea has been invited as a guest of honor. I am a little excited because it is immediately after the lecture.
I pay attention to a certain aspect in our life where we observe things “mindfully” and put them in order logically. Observing things “mindfully” belongs to the role of consciousness. This role of consciousness or the role of logic seems to be the role of learning. I also pay heed to a certain phenomenon in which a certain truth is “inadvertently” uttered in our life and this is handed down while being varied endlessly in the form of a story. Uttering a certain truth “inadvertently” belongs in the realm of the unconsciousness. This realm of the unconsciousness, or of emotion, I think, belongs to myths or tales.
My long-held belief is that life becomes complete when these two aspects meet. I heed the world of the mind, or the world of consciousness. But I also try not to miss the world of “mindlessness,” or the world of subconsciousness. Paying attention to both worlds together could be my attempt to approach the entire picture of human beings more closely.
Upon a closer look, it seems, there are two aspects in people’s lives. One is the aspect of physical being that leads a daily life, and the other is the aspect of spiritual being that can never be satisfied with physical life alone. I hope you will understand my using this dichotomy a little roughly because I am a little excited in an exhibition hall.
Books are things that belong to the aspect of spiritual being. Therefore, books are objects not related to the extension of our physical life. Why is the world so buoyed by objects unrelated to the extension of life holding a festival? The answer can be found without difficulty. This is because books are objects that support the important aspect of spiritual existence.
The German philosopher Martin Heidegger seems to have been right in his saying that “language is the house of being.” The Korean language is a means and way for Korean people’s lives and the house of being for Koreans. As is known widely, the Nobel Prize in literature was close to being awarded to the South Korean poet Ko Un, who writes in the Korean language. Although it is regrettable that he failed to receive the prize, his being close to the prize means being almost awarded the prize.
Surprisingly, our country’s large companies occupied relatively important positions in the exhibition hall of the International Book Fair in Frankfurt, a major city of Germany, an industrialized country.
Things produced by those companies largely serve the aspect of physical life. I asked a favor of a German friend to buy a small computer memory storage device for me. When I saw the device he had bought, it was made in Korea. He said that there was no other product other than that Korean-made one.
I thought that we have made fast progress indeed, but if so, where is the being called “we?” If the aspect of our spiritual being were relatively poor, I would not be so excited now.
Korean literary figures like the poet Ko Un and novelists Jo Jung-rae, Hwang Seok-young and Lee Moon-youl think in Korean and write in Korean. All of them are here too. In my interpretation, the fact that South Korea is invited as a guest of honor to the Frankfurt Book Fair held in the middle of Europe means that Europeans accepted the Korean language as one of the world’s major languages.
I interpret that they accepted the house of Koreans’ being as one of the places where the minds of people across the world dwell. This is happening now in a country that has had countless number of great men of letters, master poets and great musicians of international renown.
While looking around the exhibition booths of various countries, particularly the booth of Eastern Europe where Roman characters or Cyrillic letters are largely used, I thought of the future of our literature and the future of hangul, the Korean alphabet.
One thing we should not forget is the fact that most European countries have developed their literature through the same letters for hundreds of years.
Another thing we should not forget is that the Korean language and hangul which we use as a tool of literature, are actually not so old. When the aspects of physical life and mental being are combined, our lives will become deeper and wider like a river.
Even the lives of those who are not engaged in literary work will become so. This is why books exist.

* The writer is a novelist and translator. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Yoon-ki
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