Translated by Sharon Cho and Shyun J. Ahn
1. I’d like to hear what motivated you to write this story because I could see you are grappling not only with feminism, but also psychoanalytic theory and postmodernism. How did you come to consider these in a shared context and reconcile them into a final product?
Park Min Jung: This work consists of autobiographical stories that span several plots. One of them reflects the real-life process by which I wrote my thesis. I think it all started as I reflected upon the problems I ran into while doing literacy studies on the Twittersphere, which is alluded to in the scene where Yumi tries to work with “new language” through the lens of media theory. I think that, similarly to how Yumi’s childhood and graduate research years reflect all of my experiences, the interest I have in these academic fields are also reflected in the plot.
2. With the digitization of big data, we are having a hard time finding perpetrators and defining the essence of perpetrators. Moreover, because the digital world is still a part of modern society, it is not free from systems of hegemony and power. Minorities, therefore, continue to face violence. As such, I would like to hear more on your take of how minorities can survive in this new, media-centric environment and what “new literacy” might be.
As discussed in the novel, I think it would be difficult to interpret the relationship between media and people from a human-centered perspective like has been done in the past. It is hard to consider a digitized identity as being a proper copy of a real-life person, since there have been cases of ordinary, everyday people who cultivate intensely hateful personas online. Therefore, Yumi would’ve meant the following when she adopted “new literacy” as the main topic of her thesis: when we interpret digital identities and their speech, we must consider how the media environment has changed and is changing. And we must also develop the ability to prepare for such change.
3. The boundaries between humans and clones are fading. In your story, “Barbie” is a doll made in the likeness of humans while humans appear to be replicas of one another. For example, Yumi’s brother is one of the ‘shadowy men’ who stalks women with their ghostly presence. Moreover, her brother thinks that “she” is no different from a cyborg, due to her having a face that has been remodeled by plastic surgery. Even so, the “shadowy men” hold power over women as they created Barbie and consume women who’ve had plastic surgery. Considering this, what significance does “cloning” have for oppressors and the oppressed?
The agents of hatred see their target as something contagious and featureless, like zombieism. This is actually a pretty good analogy for what I consider to be “cloning.” For instance, some men may dismiss women who have had plastic surgery as “cyborgs” and detest them. The protagonist is generalizing all such men as “shadowy” ones because in both cases, the agents of hatred are choosing replication as the essence of hatred.
4. Violence in society is also often reflected in the story, like in the scene where Yumi’s uncle physically threatens her brother. Another thing I noticed is the tendency for education to be used as a tool in cultivating a culture of conformity, which can also be an act of violence. This shows itself in the notion that one must attend a regular high school and then a good university, or the idea that one must conduct research using only certain specified methods supported by older professors. I think it is this kind of violent society that exacerbates the cousin’s abnormal behavior, as demonstrated in the quote: “He…was now thrown into the real world, a world called ‘university,’ and ended up becoming nothing but one of those shadowy men.” With this in mind, I would like to ask, how is violence in society linked to the subject of women’s rights?
In times of political and economic crisis or general unrest, women’s rights decline as violence increases. I think that the subjugation of women is characterized by them having to face violence whenever the country’s state of affairs comes to a dead-end, with no possibility of recovery. As such, a violent, patriarchal society that perpetuates misogyny is not an excuse as to why this hate is justified, but rather, the system itself is the reason women’s rights are the first to be subjugated.
5. What are your plans for the future?
I will be writing more of personal stories that mirror what I think and experience. I’m planning to explore this story further through multiple full-length novels.
Read Park Min Jung’s
“Barbie Vibes” here