- Excerpts from "Author's Note" in From the Crossroads to the Racetrack (Kyŏngmajang ŭn negŏri esŏ), 1991
Here you have my second novel, From the Crossroads to the Racetrack. Six months earlier, with the publication of my first novel, To the Racetrack, I entered the so-called literary world. No sooner had I set foot on those grounds than I drew fierce attacks from certain critics. One individual, having attacked the novel, didn't hesitate to follow up with a downright personal attack . . . .
Listening to those who attacked To the Racetrack, I came to realize that they were criticizing this work because they felt I wasn't being truthful about my feelings toward others, but also because I wasn't sensitive enough to conventional, customary values. Their argument, in a word, was that I was guilty. Characters in a novel, especially intellectuals, are supposed to act in a certain way. But my characters didn't. Therefore my novel and I were found guilty. At first I was perplexed by these arguments. Only later did I realize that it was unavoidable, psychologically and situationally, that the critics would develop such arguments.
The first thing these critics talked about was morals, but the morals they preached were beyond my grasp. According to the critics, an intellectual should not have sexual desires; should not be employed, no matter how poverty-stricken or starving; should not complain about having to put up at seedy inns; should not [End Page 65] express anger openly; should never seek a divorce; should not make insulting remarks about Korea or Koreans; and should not think about the contradictions that exist in Korea . . . .
. . . Reading what these critics said about my work, I had to conclude that the precepts they spoke of were on the same level as what you might find in an elementary school primer, precepts that the critics themselves didn't even follow. Of course I understand the cultural and educational background that led these critics to preach elementary school precepts. Even so, it came as a shock to me that they hadn't advanced beyond that level.
. . . I do not endow the characters of my novels with moral absolutes. I have that to thank for the fierce attack I came under from several righteous critics, who like to refer to themselves in the plural, uri. Why did I allow myself to be attacked this way in the first place? The answer is simple: in this day and age you cannot discuss the human condition in terms of moral absolutes. When I see fictional characters endowed with these absolutes, they strike me as being ghosts of the legendary Good Brother and Bad Brother, Hŭngbu and Nolbu . . . .
Let's be honest: The reason certain critics took such offense at To the Racetrack is clearly the amorality of the characters. I'm sure there are still critics who believe my works are amoral. Granting this, we could categorize such critics as follows: first, those for whom literary conventions are so narrow that their understanding of human beings is simplistic—they are either black or white; second, those who still don't understand my works; third, those who are forever under the illusion that they are capable of making absolute moral distinctions, which is characteristic of those educated for any length of time in a dictatorial regime. If none of these categories applies, then I can only conclude that those who took offense from my novel simply lack intelligence. By now, no critic with any common sense should be saying that my works are amoral.
. . . What is the issue, then? I'm convinced that the real reason this group of critics can't address my work on its own merits is [End Page 66] because they have a peculiar psychological reaction to it. They judge me, in other words, because my work makes them feel insecure and uncomfortable. That is the real issue.
. . . I have realized that the more these critics stoop to uncivil discourse, the more you'll see them indulging in the curious phenomenon of relying on the words our and Korean in their criticism...