- Interview with Gong Jiyoung
In an interview many years ago you mentioned that your approach to writing fiction is to find an issue and write about it. Is that true of your writing today?
Instead of finding an issue and writing about it, I think about ways in which my writing could have more meaning in society. It may be that Korean society was more rigid back then, and me along with it. It's not that I've completely changed, just that I'm much more relaxed now. And the things that are considered important in life—things like humor, optimism, having fun—are absolutely important to me today.
What is your relationship with the mundan, the literary establishment in Korea? Does it tend to stifle you as a writer, or does it tend to stimulate you?
Trying to describe the Korean literary establishment in one word would be delicate, and it really wouldn't be any easier to describe my dealings with it because they're practically nonexistent. But you can probably guess the answer when you see that I enjoy my freedom outside it. And aren't writers necessarily the kind of people who don't take to flocking around together in a group? [End Page 71]
You have traveled outside of Korea and you lived for a time in Germany. What effect have your experiences outside of Korea had on your writing?
It would be difficult to say there's been a direct influence, but clearly there's been some influence. I guess it would be that there's something universal that links the peoples of the different countries of the world. I think that my experiences abroad have taught me what we need to learn about the cultures of advanced countries, and what troubles are shared in common by the civilized world.
Why has Korean literature tended to lag behind the development of other Korean arts, such as film, dance, theater, and installation art?
I think that Korean literature itself doesn't lag behind world literature; rather the lag is in terms of its visibility. I have to wonder if the reasons for this aren't that the Korean language simply isn't well known in the world, and that there's a severe shortage of human resources when it comes to translating.
In our view The Crucible is one of the very few works of modern Korean fiction that deals with evil. Why are there so few works of modern Korean fiction that deal with evil?
The most important reason is that if you're going to talk about evil people you necessarily have to stir up the power structure, the social structure, and social practices. It seems to me that other authors are not comfortable doing this.
In Korea it seems that almost all fiction writers start by publishing short fiction, and then change to writing mostly novels. There are virtually no fiction writers, such as Haïlji, who have written only novels. Why is this? [End Page 72]
Good question. I myself refer to them both as fiction, but I've always thought of them as different genres. From the time I was young I've considered myself better suited to writing novels. But the Korean literary establishment has always tended to emphasize short fiction, and because of all the opportunities we have to get our works critically evaluated, writers who depend for their livelihood on the publication of their books can't help clinging to short fiction because of the prizes awarded for accomplishments in that genre. The influence of this trend is really enormous—there are writers who confess that they make a living off prize money. And after all, isn't it easier to write a 25-page story that will appeal to critics the writer already knows, than to spend years writing a novel that will be evaluated by readers as yet unknown? I think that the auspicious circumstances surrounding the short story, and the absence of those...