Madness all around us ― at least in book titlesIn a culture that has long been driven by conformist social order, there seems to be a certain degree of modern fascination in Korea with the concept of “madness.”
It’s true that in a society strictly controlled by rigid rules and strict order, we sometimes admire the pure energy in our most savage instincts, which leads us to completely isolate ourselves from the outside world and turn inward.
In literary tradition, that notion of “insanity” has long been a subject of fascination.
Works of great writers and poets have for centuries been profoundly affected by the angst and mental instability that disrupted their lives. Anne Sexton, an American poet and playwright, once said of her work, “Poetry led me by the hand out of madness.”
That partly explains an increasing fad in Korean book titles in the aisles of financial management and self-help guides that begin with “Go Crazy.”
One of the recent books I came across in a local bookstore was “Koreans in your 20s, Go Crazy with Wealth Plans!” written by Jeong Cheol-jin ― a business reporter on a local economic newspaper.
The book, currently on the top of the best-seller list for non-fiction at major online bookstores, is full of investment tips targeted at young Koreans, which touch on everything from real-estate to stock funds ― all with a common goal of saving 200 million won ($215 million) in 5 years.
It tells readers to get into the habit of making investments at an early stage of their careers, giving advice such as, “Marriage comes down to love and a house,” possibly referring to the nation’s soaring real estate prices.
Other books with similar titles also suggest madness as a mandatory condition to survive in competitive modern society. “To Become Rich, Go Crazy on Bonds” is a book that advises readers invest their savings in bonds. “Crazy English,” an eccentric language instruction book, has attracted millions of followers by introducing an aggressive strategy of shouting English phrases for a few years to overcome shyness.
In “Go Crazy for Just One Year,” a life plan guide, the author adamantly states that readers ought to go mad in modern society, because then “you are standing while others are running.”
The reality of making a living has never been easy. Yet it becomes a little frightening when life imitates art.
After all, we live in a society where “madness” is not a simple metaphor; where virtually every incident on the crime pages of the newspapers is somehow intertwined with money and power in a country that treads a fine line between insanity and humanity.
In a society where money drives people mad, is it a coincidence that the titles of some of the best-selling books encourage their readers to go insane?
by Park Soo-mee