Current Issue Interviews Interviews Issue 4

“Baek Minseok, You Are Right Now and You Were Wrong Then” 6–8

Baek Minseok, You Are Right Now and You Were Wrong Then

Interview with Analrealists.
July 8, 2015 6:00 PM – July 9 4:40 AM

Translated by Mattho Mandersloot & Shyun J. Ahn

 

6. “He’s still alive, that bastard. What do we do?”

Baek Minseok: “A man who punches a woman can’t punch another man.” This appears in Charles Bukowski’s novel. There’s a scene where Charles Bukowski beat his wife so often that his wife told him to go out and hit another man. And he said, “I don’t want to. Why would I hit a man?”
Hong Sanghee: Chinaski?[4]
Baek Minseok: Chinaski. Anyway, you can’t fix that.
Keum Jungyun: That’s funny because it’s a novel. If it was real, he’d be pure trash.
Jeong Jidon: Oh Han Ki (that is, his novel) is also like that.
Baek Minseok: When I returned the year before last year, the statistics were released, showing that five out of ten married women experience domestic violence. But before the IMF Crisis in the 90s, it was three out of ten. I brought that up when I met female editors for the first time in ten years, and they’ve all gotten married for the time being. I asked them why they live with their husbands when they get beaten, and they all had different responses. One editor said, “You’re a novelist, and you still have no idea?” Another said, “That’s how they all live.” And when I said the same thing to someone else, she turned pale as a sheet. She was one of those who’ve been beaten. But people wouldn’t talk about it outwardly, you know. I also spoke to a journalist, and she said that she was hit once and that she’s still living with him. She asked me if it’s true that a woman can’t overcome a man with physical strength. I said, “That’s true.”
Hong Sanghee: If it was the statistics that were released, the number might have been underestimated. It might be more than five out of ten.
Baek Minseok: That’s how they all live, but who are “they all?” That’s what strikes me as odd. I can’t forget it even now.
Jeong Jidon: What do you think of violence as a writer who depicts violence the best in Korea?
Baek Minseok: Violence is impermissible. Whoever does it is horrible.
Keum Jungyun: Some murderer killed a person, and the lawyer was trying to prove that he had a mental disorder. I saw that you were asked to testify as an expert in abnormal psychology. Who was the murderer?
Baek Minseok: Expert? I laugh. It was Yoo Young-chul.[5]
All in unison: Holy crap! You were there for Yoo Young-chul!
Yi SangWoo: Are we recording this?
Baek Minseok: There was no one then. There was no Pyo Chang-won[6] nor Department of Criminal Psychology. Or was there? There wasn’t a criminology book that was adequately translated, either. If I remember it correctly, the word “psychopath” was popularized in the 21st century. So there were no experts per say, which is why I, a mere novelist, got a phone call.
Jeong Jidon: And did you turn it down?
Baek Minseok: I had quit writing, so didn’t want to do anything. Has Yoo Young-chul been executed?
Jeong Jidon: No. We no longer carry out executions.
Baek Minseok: He’s still alive, that bastard. What do we do?
Jeong Jidon: Did you take foreign cases into account when you were writing a novel?
Baek Minseok: I made them up. I don’t think books like that were published back then.
Yi SangWoo: Have you ever been conscious of the contagious nature of violence?
Baek Minseok: Émile Durkheim said this in Suicide: To stop violence or suicide spreading on a societal level, the media should not glamorize them. If they romanticize them, people would pursue them. That’s what Émile Durkheim said when suicide was rampant in the 19th century Europe. Yet, Korean gang movies make these things so captivating. This is a grave problem because, in the case of the United States, the murder rate soared when violent movies like Rambo, The Terminator, and Mad Max went mainstream in Hollywood.
Jeong Jidon: But this is also related to freedom of speech in films. Conservatives try to take away free expression, thinking that murder in your novels might influence readers. But what’s important isn’t the intensity or degree of violence but how it’s portrayed. If violence is illustrated in your way, it wouldn’t be contagious… One of the Korean movies I hate the most is New World. These types of movies glorify murder, and I think they’re trash.
Kim Jun-eon: And they romanticize it as bromance.
Jeong Jidon: And male bonding.
Keum Jungyun: Have you ever been asked whether your books might affect people?
Baek Minseok: I have. And I didn’t know the answer until I read Émile Durkheim. He had written it in Suicide. You know, there was a period in Korea when a lot of TV celebrities committed suicide. Intellectuals said the media shouldn’t write articles about their suicides. The same thing happened when Émile Durkheim was alive. People said the media shouldn’t report suicides, but Durkheim said doing so is muzzling the media. He said the media should write about it but not in a beautiful and splendid way, or else people will follow its lead.
Yi SangWoo:
Hong Sanghee:
Baek Minseok:
Jeong Jidon: That’s what upsets me.
Hong Sanghee:
Jeong Jidon:
Baek Minseok:
Jeong Jidon:
Hong Sanghee: They seriously said women like Kim Hoon[7]?
Jeong Jidon:
Hong Sanghee:
Kim Jun-eon:
Baek Minseok:
Hong Sanghee:
Hwang Yein: (phone connection) Hello?
Baek Minseok:
Hwang Yein:
Hong Sanghee:
Jeong Jidon:
Hwang Yein:
Keum Jungyun:
Jeong Jidon:
Baek Minseok:
Hwang Yein:
Hong Sanghee:
Jeong Jidon:
Hwang Yein:
Baek Minseok:
Yi SangWoo:
Hwang Yein:
Baek Minseok:
Keum Jungyun:
Baek Minseok:
Hwang Yein:
Kim Jun-eon:
Jeong Jidon:
Hong Sanghee:
Keum Jungyun:
Hwang Yein:
Keum Jungyun:
Jeong Jidon:
Baek Minseok:
Hwang Yein:
Yi SangWoo:
Baek Minseok:
Yi SangWoo:
Baek Minseok:
Hwang Yein:
Kim Jun-eon:
Baek Minseok:
Hong Sanghee:
Hwang Yein:
Kim Jun-eon:
Baek Minseok:
Hong Sanghee:
Yi SangWoo:
Kim Jun-eon:
Baek Minseok:
Kim Jun-eon:
Hong Sanghee:
Hwang Yein:
Baek Minseok:
Hwang Yein:
Baek Minseok:
Hwang Yein:
Baek Minseok:
Hwang Yein:
Baek Minseok:
Keum Jungyun:
Hwang Yein:
Keum Jungyun:
Kim Jun-eon:
Hwang Yein:
Hong Sanghee:
Hwang Yein: (end of the call)
Jeong Jidon:
Baek Minseok: Thankfully, we don’t have a macho here. Machos tire me out. Machos make other men exhausted too.
Yi SangWoo: I don’t think you’re the type of person who’d be satisfied with fame.
Baek Minseok: Not satisfied with what?
Yi SangWoo: With fame.
Baek Minseok: But I don’t have one.
Yi SangWoo: So now, you’re being too…

 

7. “I didn’t do it because I didn’t want to.” 

Keum Jungyun: You know, apart from the desire to show your works, there’s the desire to sell your works and make money.
Jeong Jidon: I have the desire to make money, but I’ve never expected to do so with my novels, not even once. And I still don’t. I just write to write.
Baek Minseok: But if you publish a book and it doesn’t sell, you’d feel shitty.
Jeong Jidon: That’s true. If it doesn’t sell after it’s published, it would feel crappy.
Yi SangWoo: Was it hard to recover from depression without a hiatus?
Baek Minseok: I was depressed because I was a novelist, so it got better once I stopped writing novels.
Yi SangWoo: What if you had kept on writing?
Baek Minseok: It would’ve gotten worse.
Keum Jungyun: Are you still in touch with your ex-coworkers?
Baek Minseok: Absolutely not. I stopped connecting with them. Kim Yong-eon asked me this once: “How did you stop writing so readily when you were active, and how did you swiftly got back to writing after a 10-year break?” I told her it’s just like flicking a switch, and she found it odd. That I could do that. But what’s so confusing about it?
Yi SangWoo: I think people are amazed by it. When you were asked, you said your instinct returned as soon as you flipped a switch.
Baek Minseok: And why can’t people do that?
Yi SangWoo: You probably couldn’t do that when you were in your twenties. I don’t think you can talk so easily about it like that.
Baek Minseok: I quit writing on my own, but there are quite a few who stopped writing involuntarily. But I didn’t write simply because I didn’t want to.
Keum Jungyun: What’s really important is that he did stop writing. That’s what’s truly significant. In Hideo Azuma’s Disappearance Diary, a writer who’s facing a deadline is visited by an editor. He steps out, saying he’s going to get a cigarette, and becomes homeless from then on. He said it must’ve been an illness of not wanting to work, but who likes working? Nobody runs away from home like that, nonetheless. It’s the same for everyone. I fucking don’t want to write. It’s not just novelistsI also don’t want to write a lot of the time, and neither do other critics. So simply saying this is just lame. But someone actually stopped writing. Which is admirable. This is something you’d hear from another dimension. The reason wasn’t substantial, yet it was carried outand this is what’s fundamentally different. The difference doesn’t lie in how the reasons piled up or existed after all, but in that someone actually carried it out.
Jeong Jidon: The significance slightly changes depending on how one’s writing career ended. For example, Duchamp was attacked in France for all the absurd reasons, so he basically said he’s not gonna hang out with them and moved to the United States. Some people stop writing that way.
Yi SangWoo: What I’m thinking is abstract, but I thought you might’ve quit writing because you didn’t like things that novels brought about. Life tragedies the novel seemed to bring about while writing.
Jeong Jidon: Life tragedies that novels create?
Yi SangWoo: No.
Keum Jungyun: The past that’s summoned through a novel.
Yi SangWoo: I can only explain it as things “novels brought about…”
Jeong Jidon: Life gets worse as you write a novel…
Yi SangWoo: Not that.
Kim Jun-eon: Horrible things entered your life in the process of writing a novel, and you couldn’t stand it. Or are you talking about something else?
Yi SangWoo: It’s similar, but…
Baek Minseok: Why would you complicate it so much? I stopped writing simply because I didn’t want to write. I’m steadfast, so I quit the moment I decided to quit. I quit smoking when I quit writing too. I heard there’s only one person like that in the history of Korean literature. And that’s me.

 

  1. Keum Jungyun’s Earwax 

Yi SangWoo: They just opened, so there’s gotta be lots of jazz musicians there.
Baek Minseok: So I’m thinking of bringing an instrument with me. A bamboo flute.
Yi SangWoo: They’d absolutely abhor it.
Jeong Jidon: They’d kill you. You’d be shot.
Keum Jungyun: Do you play any instruments? Which ones?
Baek Minseok: Several. The guitar and the clarinet.
Yi SangWoo: I love the clarinet.
Baek Minseok: It has a warm tone because it’s a woodwind instrument.
Jeong Jidon: Do you own a clarinet?
Baek Minseok: Ask me how much it is.
Jeong Jidon: How much is it?
Baek Minseok: 1.2M won. It was 1.2M ten years ago.
Jeong Jidon: So is it 12M now?
Yi SangWoo: You play jazz, right? Not classical.
Baek Minseok: I do this and that.
Keum Jungyun: Woody Allen and the clarinet… He was nominated for an Academy Award, but he was playing the clarinet at a local club instead of attending the event.
Baek Minseok: Isn’t Woody Allen a pervert?
Jeong Jidon: He is.
Yi SangWoo: What else do you do?
Baek Minseok: Play the guitar. An electric guitar.
Jeong Jidon: He also dances when he’s in Cuba.
Yi SangWoo: It seems like Cubans swim a lot.
Jeong Jidon: When you read Reinaldo Arenas’ books, people swim and sleep on a beach… Arenas slept with 450 people per year. By the way, do you read genre fiction often?
Baek Minseok: I’m reading The Snowman by Jo Nesbø these days. His voice is similar to mine.
Jeong Jidon: His actual voice?
Baek Minseok: His tone. It’s very heavy.
Keum Jungyun: When did you see him?
Baek Minseok: I said I’m reading it now. The tone of the novel, I mean.
Keum Jungyun: Doesn’t it start with a man and a woman trying to have sex and a kid watching through the window?
Baek Minseok: Yes.
Jeong Jidon: And then they go out and find a snowman there, something like that.
Baek Minseok: That’s right. His voice is subdued.
Jeong Jidon: I think that’s a little different from yours…
Keum Jungyun: Many of your works are somewhat like Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke. Ever since you returned, I could feel Chuck Palahniuk in your works, like in Century of Fear.
Baek Minseok: I can’t get on par with him. His adrenalin, especially. So Choke was translated as “asphyxia,” right? I read Asphyxia.
Keum Jungyun: Wasn’t it good?
Baek Minseok: It was meh to me.
Keum Jungyun: The protagonist in Asphysia allusively says that he himself is the Christ. Does it appear in the latter part of Century of Fear too?
Baek Minseok: He tries to become Jesus later.
Keum Jungyun: Does it appear explicitly?
Baek Minseok: It appears as a performance.
Keum Jungyun: Did you like Kurt Vonnegut?
Baek Minseok: Yes.
Keum Jungyun: Do you still like him?
Baek Minseok:  Yes.
Jeong Jidon: I wanted to say this some time ago, but couldn’t because it sounded too trivial. When we talked about texting, it reminded me of what Kurt Vonnegut had said as someone living in the contemporary era: Not talking about the internet or TV when writing is equivalent to not including sex in the Victorian novels. So I find it very natural to include mobile texts in a novel. It’s so ordinary, and so are phone calls.
Yi SangWoo: Did someone talk badly about it?
Jeong Jidon: No, not that.
Keum Jungyun: There are many. Actually, many do.
Baek Minseok: So you like Chuck Palahniuk.
Yi SangWoo: But he’s not your favorite, right?
Keum Jungyun: I enjoyed reading him. Asphyxia was really fun to read. I still remember the scene where a character rolls up a paper in his ear and drips candle wax on it. If it’s just a piece of paper, it would burn fast, but since it’s covered with candle wax, it burns slowly. So when he sets it on fire, it burns while sucking air out, and his earwax comes out with it.
Jeong Jidon: I think you’d look great doing it, Jungyun.
Hong Sanghee: So where do you need to drip candle wax, and how much?
Keum Jungyun: On a newspaper…
Baek Minseok: You don’t know if it actually works or not. It might damage your ear.
Keum Jungyun: It works. I know it works because my friend who was a year above me in college told me this. He didn’t mention a candle, though. Anyway, way before I read this novel, I heard about it. In 2000. This book was translated in 2006. So should I try it?
Hong Sanghee: Should we do it to Jungyun next time?
Jeong Jidon: I think he’d look great. It suits him well. Just perfectly. Keum Jungyun the Earwax.
Hong Sanghee: Keum Jungyun the Off-limits.
Jeong Jidon: Keum Jungyun’s Earwax.

Tag Invert

 

 

[4] An alter ego of Charles Bukowski – Translator
[5] One of the best-known serial killers in Korea. He was convicted of 20 murders in mid-2000s. – Translator
[6] A criminal profiler who gained massive fame in the 00s.
[7] A novelist, journalist, and critic born in 1948.

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