May 14, 2016

The weight of words

I don't think I've ever read a novel by a Korean writer - but may have to fix that since this is the second time I am reading about The Vegetarian by Han Kang in the last month or two. (It was on the long-list for the Man Booker International Prize earlier this year but I think I only noticed it when it made the short-list in April.)

Anyways, I ran across an interview with the author Han Kang just now in World Literature Today (read the full interview here) and here's an interesting excerpt.

KL: A well-known critic, and your fan, once said that one has to prepare oneself and be in a different mind-set before reading your work. How do you interpret this?   
HK: I believe it’s because my novels directly explore human suffering. Instead of shying away, I try to delve deeper. That’s my tendency, as I’m always trying to discover the truth behind a person. So when I wrote about the Gwangju massacre, a tragedy with so much suffering, I think he meant that such material in my hands meant that the readers would have to prepare themselves to experience—feel—this suffering.   
KL: I sense in your work a way of looking at words—regarding them as if they were visual images. In your book Huirapeo Shigan (Greek lessons, 2011) it is evident that there is a meticulous sensitivity to word choice throughout your novel. I’m curious about your precise relationship to language, in terms of your work.  
HK: I’ve written a book of poems that I wrote over a period of twenty years that scrutinize words—images—in this manner. Personally, I think of language as an extremely difficult tool to handle. Sometimes it seems impossible. Other times it succeeds in conveying what I’m trying to say, but to call it successful isn’t accurate; moreover, it’s as if I keep writing even though I know it’s going to fail, but it’s the only tool I have. It’s a relentless dilemma, and I think it’s something that a lot of poets experience. Especially in Greek Lessons, the protagonist cannot speak and writes poems instead. Each sentence in a language has beauty and baseness, purity and filth, truth and lies, and my novel explores that even more directly. When the weight of words takes over, it is challenging to even speak sometimes. Despite this, we have to continue to speak and write and read.  

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