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  • Ennui1
  • Yi Sang


Hurry—I would rather—it just get dark—summer in this remote village—the days are long enough to bore one to death.

To the east, P'albong Mountain. Why is its silhouette so devoid of curves, so monotonous? But look to the west and it is plains, to the south, plains, and to the north, plains again. Ah, what shall we do with these endless plains in every direction? And why is everything so damned green?

Farmhouses line a single road, some ten on the left and ten on the right. Walls of crooked pine pillars patched with clay, wrapped [End Page 261] in cornstalk fences, fences topped with pumpkin vines—every single one exactly the same.

The broom cypress trees I saw yesterday, Mr. Kim, whom I see again today, and the white and black dogs I will have to see again tomorrow.

The sun casts down its nearly 100-degree rays on the rooftops, on the plains, on the mulberry trees, and on the tails of hens. Even in the mornings and evenings, nothing but unbearable scorching heat.

I finish breakfast. There is nothing to do. But "Today" is laid out before me like a ridiculously broad blank page, and it demands a story, any story. I must do something, anything. I must research what it is I must do. Well then—shall I go over to Mr. Ch'oe's place for a game of chess on the porch? Sounds good. Mr. Ch'oe has gone out to the fields. There doesn't seem to be anyone in Mr. Choe's room. Mr. Ch'oe's nephew is taking a nap. Aha, since I didn't have breakfast until after 10, it must certainly be naptime for Mr. Ch'oe's nephew.

I decide to wake Mr. Ch'oe's nephew for a game of chess. If I play 10 games with Mr. Ch'oe's nephew I win 10 times. For Mr. Ch'oe's nephew, ennui begins from his chess game with me. When we can do this all day with the same results we might as well not even play—but, if we don't play, what else is there to do? We have no choice.

If losing means ennui for him, how much greater must my ennui be at winning? This farce of winning ten times in a row is even more tedious than losing ten times. It is too tedious to bear.

I make up my mind to let him win a single game. I pretend to deliberate for a long while before slyly depositing a chess piece in a precarious position. Mr. Ch'oe's nephew makes a long yawn, soon after which he moves his piece to a completely irrelevant spot. His philosophy must be, since he's going to lose anyway, to avoid going through all the headaches of figuring out moves and such. His philosophy must be just to put the pieces wherever and [End Page 262] get the losing over with. Then this ever-victorious general, unable to vanquish his own overwhelming ennui, will leave of his own accord. His strategy must be to resume his nap after I have left.

Unwillingly, I win again. He suggests we quit playing now. Of course, I have no choice but to quit.

Even losing on purpose is difficult. Why can't I exist, like Mr. Ch'oe's nephew, in a state of eternal blissful ignorance? Am I enthralled by desire for trivial victory even amidst this stifling ennui? Can I not just become a fool?

This petty human desire remaining in me is singularly repulsive. I must escape this final thing. I must eliminate the very nerves that perceive ennui, and completely prostrate myself.


I go to the edge of a stream. Due to a drought, an extremely meager water flows in silence. This emaciated trickle, why does it not scream?

It is unbearably hot. It is so hot that even the leaves on the trees pant in exhaustion. In such stifling heat, no mere stream has the wherewithal to produce a cool sound.

I sit at the water's...


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pp. 261-275
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