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  • Mirror and Window
  • Kim Kyung-uk (bio)

The Apollo Program sent twelve astronauts to the moon. The question they were most often asked after returning was: What did it feel like to walk on the moon? An astronaut from New Jersey, the second man to set foot on the moon, said, "I was intrigued by the lunar dust at my feet. If you kick sand on the beach on Earth, some grains travel farther than others. Grains of moon dust, however, mostly traveled the same distance." He gave an answer worthy of a scientist, but failed to satisfy the public's curiosity. Some complained that poets or philosophers should have been aboard the Apollo spacecraft.

It was not their words but their lives that told us the poetic and philosophical meaning of the moon-walking experience. The spacemen who walked on the moon became painters, missionaries, and senators. One even ended up in a mental institution. Their moon landing experience obviously changed their lives. What happened to them?

Many of the astronauts talked about the earth rather than space. The man who became a painter said, "I think, really, the whole earth is the Garden of Eden. We've been given paradise to live in." What those moon walkers found was not the moon at their feet, but the blue earth gleaming in the dark of space. The spacemen were able to look into themselves only after getting far [End Page 57] away from themselves. Regardless of the original intention, the essence of the Apollo project was the "walk."

We can never find ourselves in our rooms. It is easy to be a narcissist when you lock yourself in your room. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all? The new queen looked in the mirror not because there was something to see, but because there was something she wanted to see. For those who only look in mirrors, the reflection is everything. That is why they mistake a window for a mirror. The queen should have asked: Window, window on the wall. … Indeed she knew it was not a mirror but a window. She was afraid lest the window show someone other than herself. She believed the window could turn into a mirror if she called it that. While the new queen mistook a window for a mirror, Narcissus mistook a mirror for a window. What killed Narcissus was not his own image reflected in the water but his delusion about another world under the water. While the queen manifested the arrogance of the self-admirer, Narcissus manifested the foolishness.

From the beginning the novel was sensitive to the crisis of the walk. The first modern novel comprised stories of young people sequestered in the suburbs of Florence, escaping from the plague. As long as the crisis of the walk continues, the novel will never die out. Because a novel feeds on a sense of crisis.

Fourteen years ago, after having knee surgery, I was unable to go outdoors. I could not write at all—it was as if I had forgotten how. I had no choice but to pity myself. Of course, sometimes self-pity makes us write something. Writing out of self-pity is very productive. You just need to reproduce unhappiness, something to "confess." To someone lost in self-pity, there is no motif more familiar than unhappiness. However, writing that resorts to the dark force of self-pity—writing that is not distanced from your own life—is dangerous. The writer has to incessantly reproduce and expand misfortune. You cannot write a new story without deeper unhappiness. This is why sometimes a writer's last work is "suicide." [End Page 58]

To not commit suicide, I had to "describe." To describe, you should look out the window instead of looking in the mirror. But people who always look out the window cannot confront themselves any more than people who always look in the mirror. Some people hide behind the mirror, others conceal themselves inside the window. I could neither confess nor describe. Without confession or description I was unable to write a single sentence. It was not until I went out...