The Net by Kim Namil

Share this:

Kim Namil is a South Korean novelist and activist. He was born in Suwon, South Korea in 1957, studied Dutch at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, and was imprisoned for pro-democracy activities during the 1970s military regime. Kim made his literary debut in 1983. His writings reflect social criticism, which in the 1980s centered on labor issues and the struggle of laborers, and the voices of the marginalized and disadvantaged. After the democratization of South Korea, Kim was one of the few writers who successfully continued to publish into the 1990s as the country underwent rapid changes. In his writing, Kim began asking questions about the meaning of human existence and the role of memory to create hope for a better life. His publications include several novels, four short-story collections and essay collections. He has also written critical biographies of several minjung theologists and three books on myths in Asia, as well as several books focusing on his interest in the relationships between Asia and modern Korean literature. He has won the Jeon Tae-il Prize for Literature, the Beautiful Writer Award, and the Violet Literary Award and was a recipient of the Kwon Jeong-saeng Creative Fund.

Kim Namil’s short story “The Net” is translated by Jeon Seung Hee for this issue.

 

The Net

A bug was crawling toward the net. Full of curiosity, it continued to move its feelers. Bugs have always been testing the will and tolerance of the net, thousands of times a day. In the process, they have associated, formed alliances, and organized unions, just like the net. Sometimes, they targeted the net by creating mutants and variations, or clones and ramets, through asexual reproduction. Now, the net had been feeling tired with all of this. If this attack had originated from a grand alliance of bugs or were the result of some mutants’ curiosity for something unusual, the net would have been willing to respond with curiosity.

However, it had to deal with this kind of an obviously insignificant bug! Equipped only with immature feelers, like those of a kindergartner who had just begun to carry a book bag, it proudly proceeded through the main passageway, as if on a grand mission. Against this insignificant, solitary player, the net did not even feel like turning on a firewall. Still, it had an obligation to block an approach, even by this kind of lost caterpillar. The net had always performed this duty. This time, too, it swiftly subdued the bug at the entrance. That was that. Then, as it had always done, it recorded the bug’s intrusion attempt, its access route, and how it had been eliminated, adding to its list of martial achievements.

Suddenly, however, the net felt something brush by. Something moving at a surprisingly fast speed. Disconcerted, the net stared at the tail-end of what had just passed at lightspeed. At that moment, a second firewall was triggered automatically. The bug flinched. The net wanted to breathe a sigh of relief. Instantly, however, the bug transformed and produced innumerable clones. And they no longer looked like bugs—so the second firewall automatically opened its door. Witnessing itself deceived right in front of its own eyes, the net felt consternation and triggered the highest level of alarm. It had never imagined that anybody could dare to become the object of this level of its alarm, but now the net had to sound it for an actual battle. But could even a final judge tell which was the real net among those innumerable clones? Is it this net, or that one? Is it a 0 or a 1? Is it existence or nothingness? The process of the net’s evolution should probably have been and eventually be prepared for this kind of extremely simple yet difficult question. But now was not that time. It was clear that the net was still on its way toward a long evolution—a rushing toward the direction it believed to be right. Would it be right, though? Was this a right direction? Even at that moment, the bug was wriggling ahead, on and on and on.

Unprecedented chaos swallowed up the island.

The bus passes malfunctioned. The switches at the subway entrance turned on and off on their own. Airplanes stopped abruptly in the middle of leaving their berthages. And planes waiting for permission to land were turned away. In a large warehouse store, while taking their receipts, customers were yelling, “What in the world!” To which a cashier would cluelessly offer, “That’s right, you’re in the E-Mart world”: all the receipts were showing ₩2,007,010. At Warehouse B3, rabbit meat was classified under diapers and dried filefish fillet under sanitary pads. Unable to endure a barrage of protests, part-time workers who had created those labels ran off, with labels stuck to their foreheads. Similar occurrences took place in a nearby university library. Anatomy of Marxism was classified under the Anatomy section, and Conquering English under the ordnance science section. As most students studied only prep books for TOEFL or TOEIK, though, they didn’t lodge complaints. The financial management network also malfunctioned. ATMs stopped. Online transfers did not work. Soon, the entire net went down, with busy signals whenever one made a phone call.

The situation was much the same in police stations, prosecution offices, courthouses, registrars’ offices, the Korea Housing Corporation, railways, harbors, apartment management offices, gu-borough offices, dong offices, crematoria, incineration plants, recycling centers, culture centers, powerplants, hospitals, and offices of waterworks. The police appointed a drug dealer arrested seven times to be a member of the committee to guide juvenile delinquents and delinquent rabbits, and a prosecutor yelled at a police officer, Isn’t this too much, regardless of the ongoing conflict between our two offices? The courthouse was in uproar because all twelve cases held at room #1110 had been classified under rabbit abuse. The registration office gave a certified copy of the register stating that a 162-square-meter apartment worth ₩1,080,000,000 was a rabbit farm, while the Korea Housing Corporation was taken aback when their press release announced that they would build 0.33-square-meter rental apartments—the size of a rabbit hutch—to be distributed later that year. Trains stopped at non-existent stations; harbor authorities drove away ships that were mooring to avoid typhoon; apartment management offices had a hard time because automatic crossing gates were blocking residents’ cars, while allowing cars visiting a nearby building to enter; the gu-borough offices sent all visitors to the dong offices, which then sent them to the “sweet-mouthed” Blue House; the crematoria quietly handed ashes to the families of the deceased after burning bodies together; incineration plants burned only things that should not be burned; recycling centers chose only things that were not recyclable and featured them on their websites; culture centers offered aerobics classes for poor rabbits living in rented ranges; powerplants were struck by lightning; hospitals gave enemas to patients with common colds; and offices of waterworks released aluminum sulfate in more than ten times the legal amount as a coagulant, before hurriedly shutting the sluice gates.

Utterly stupefied, all these organizations quickly stopped their operations: police stations, prosecution offices, courthouses, registrars’ offices, the Korea Housing Corporation, railways, harbors, apartment management offices, gu-borough offices, dong offices, crematoria, incineration plants, recycling centers, culture centers, powerplants, hospitals, and offices of waterworks. And, of course, all related types of activities stopped at the same time: addition, classification, systemization, manipulation, copying, assembly, dismantling, experiments, application, separation, elimination, disposal, circulation, arranging, comparison, dispersion, processing, sending, distribution, production, fusion, combination, shortening, compression, dissolution, transfer of control, and public relations.

The situation was even more serious in the military. The Garrison Headquarters of the island sent out emergency messages to troops under its command. All kinds of training—attack, defense, search, storming, tactics, concept, formation, geodetic survey, descending, airlifting, landing, bombing, simulation, roadbed, three-dimensional structures, and suppression—immediately halted. Even so, because of the order to find missiles that had never been fired, frustrated soldiers thoroughly searched all the beaches, as if they were searching for rabbits, while a sergeant fainted after receiving a message of congratulations on his commission for staff sergeant, a day before his discharge. The situation was different for veteran reservists. As soon as their training was cancelled, they left the military training ground, like ebb tides, without caring to take not only their ₩3,500 lunch reimbursement but also their ₩1,800 transportation reimbursement, which had begun to be offered only this year—the year of a presidential election. They left so fast that even a marine or rabbit struck by lightning could not match it.

Technologists, scientists, technocrats, employees at traditional management companies and private security firms, and national and regional governments’ security workers hurriedly gathered to try analyzing the causes, processes, and outcomes of this emergency situation, using manuals.[1] They were professional analysts, and so they were confident in their ability to analyze and solve. There were, however, two concerns in this process. One was the possible arrogance of the professionals about their own abilities; fortunately, they controlled them skillfully. The other was a question from the beginning: Could they agree on a name for this group? Although they did agree on “Emergency Planning Committee of Relevant Offices About the Unprecedented Net Malfunction Incident,” they had to face a bigger problem: coming up with an acronym.

He was working on the net, as usual. Having just sold Hanmong Fur stocks, he bought large quantities of stocks in Happy Pharma. He did this because he’d just heard from an acquaintance, who was a scientist at Happy Pharma’s U.S. research institute, that an experiment on the somatic cell cloning of a rabbit was looking promising. Immediately after he bought the Happy Pharma stocks, however, there was a huge inflow of buying orders. Freaked out, he had to be responsible for his actions. He hurriedly wrote an email, planning to act on its reply. Then, suddenly, his email program stopped working. There was a pop, and a phrase appeared on the screen: “GHOSTS OF THE WORLD, UNITE! AND RABBITS, TOO!” He shuddered. Memories he thought were long gone flashed across his mind.

He had grown up in a remote village. His father drank every day before coming home, and then beat his wife, the boy’s mother. He always gave reasons for his beatings, and he never ran out of them. He beat her for putting on and not putting on make-up. He beat her because the rice was cold and because it was too hot. Because she was crying, and, if she didn’t cry, he beat her until she cried, saying, Oh, let’s see if you still won’t cry! When she lay down, he beat her, and when she sat up, he beat her. Finally, there came a day of an inevitable tragedy.

As soon as his father entered the yard, completely drunk, he saw the boy’s mother in front of their rabbit hutch. In the middle of feeding a plantain to a mother rabbit that had just given birth, she did not notice him entering the house. His father was not one to miss this opportunity. Yelling, Wow, a rabbit, huh! So, your husband is not as good as rabbit droppings to you! he wielded his fist like a stone mortar and his foot like a plough. Bathed in blood, his mother repeated only one word: rabbit, rabbit, rabbit. That was her last word on this earth. Although she lived 20 more years, she could no longer speak.

What happened to the rabbits? That had a decisive influence on the boy’s life. That day, his father disposed of all the rabbits in their house, mothers and babies. Disposed! It was such an awful scene that the boy did not want to remember it ever again. However, the memory was so obstinate that it reappeared in his dreams over and over well into adulthood. At last, thinking there could not be a truly free world without commemorating and consoling the souls of rabbits so cruelly sacrificed by patriarchal violence, he initiated the Rabbit Liberation Front (RLF). “Rabbits of the World, Unite!” was the slogan he came up with. Later in his life, the net offered a space for infinite solidarity with this resolution. Right, once there was such a time!

He felt moved again, but it was not rabbits that were the most important to him now. Time was money, and his email was still not working. A little later, the phrase, “GHOSTS OF THE WORLD, UNITE! AND RABBITS, TOO!” disappeared from his screen. Although he quickly pressed a button on the top of his Explorer (Version 6), the net blocked access. Then he tried what he always did in such a situation: rebooted his computer. He continued on and on with it. Still, he could not regain access to the net. Finally, he had to accept the fact that he knew nothing about what to do in an event like this, although he had thought he was quite knowledgeable about the net. Those MS punks! Darn KT punks! Unfortunately, nobody was listening to his cursing and condemnation. He was helpless. Yet he had to do something. Never had he done nothing in front of a computer—he had never even imagined such a possibility. He had always acted before even thinking. In a book, which he had read, shedding tears, over and over again during his rabbit liberation movement years, there was a sentence: “Existence determines consciousness.” He had underlined and highlighted it. Still, he did not understand well what it meant. Did it mean his hand always acted before his thoughts?

In any case, he was anxious. It was not just a matter of the stocks—he felt as if he was being chased. His heart pounded and he felt out of breath. He broke out in a cold sweat, and a chill ran down his spine. He had to hurry—into the net! Yet the net still did not respond, and his hand clicked the mouse continuously and in vain. There should be another way, for sure. Right, there should be another way, another route to gain access. At that moment, a face emerged in his mind. Surprisingly, it was his wife.

The _______,[2] composed of technologists, scientists, technocrats, employees at traditional management companies and private security firms, and national and regional government security workers, analyzed the causes and effects of this incident from various angles and discussed possible measures to handle it, measures that were emergency, alternative, temporary, urgent, and indirect. These members of _______ felt humiliated over it—but had no alternative. This bug was so promiscuous that it appalled all of them, these professionals who had been analyzing the net three hundred and sixty-five days a year. Nevertheless, all the members of _______ continued to analyze, determined to do their best, as officials paid by citizens’ taxes, to come up with efficient, rational, specific, systematic, and technology-intensive measures. At that moment, their superiors, who didn’t know a thing—not even as much as rabbit droppings—were only yelling at them. Not surprisingly, these superiors remained backward, and analog.

Sometime ago, he’d run into his wife on her way back from visiting her parents. It had been three years since he’d last seen her. She’d looked comfortable, which surprised him. He expected that she would look pathetic, shabby, and starving. Only then, will she regret, he thought. His wife should have understood that he had made the right choice by giving up the rabbit liberation movement. It was a logical and ethical decision. And also, it was she who had cheated on him. Nevertheless, let alone repenting, she’d proudly demanded a divorce. He did not hesitate to accept that demand. His wife acknowledged that the fault (the word she used was “source”!) was with her. So he told her he could not give her anything, neither their apartment, nor money. She said it was okay. As they were childless, they did not need to fight over custody. He had already disposed of all the rabbits crowding their verandah (No worries! He hadn’t eaten them!).

Leaving with just a suitcase and 15-day-old baby rabbit, “Kkoto,” his wife had said, Think hard. You can have a different life. You were not like this in the past. He scoffed at her. What different life? Different life, my ass! How dare you, you cheater! She protested, Even at this moment, when we part, can’t you call it love? He replied, Love, my ass! What she had done was immoral—no more, no less. How shameless that she called it love! He thought, Let’s wait and see how long such shameless love lasts. She would soon regret it and return in tears, asking for forgiveness. That was how it should have been, logically and ethically. However, as the days and years passed, she did not come back. Rumor had it she was living as a farmer’s wife in a remote mountain village. The farmer was also a poet.

Curious, he searched for the man’s poems and read them. As he was not a famous poet, he had to try various search terms. At any rate, he found a few poems by this farmer poet. They were ridiculous. One of them was archaic, like a well-known and old-fashioned pastoral poem of the 1930s by Kim Sang-yong. Another was not so different from the protest songs he’d sung at the frontlines of demonstrations. It was like a slogan through which one passionately released one’s unfocused anger, when one could not comprehensively and systematically analyze an event’s causes and effects, and was overwhelmed by sentimentality. From that perspective, the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and neoliberalism were unconditionally evil. Among protest slogans, for example, was “Resolute Opposition to Korea-US FTA Killing All Korean Rabbits!” Some media were accurate when they criticized it for expressing open support for North Korean rabbits rather than love for indigenous rabbits. As they thought like that about everything, to their minds, they were the chosen few, lofty and lonely, whom the wheels of history would ultimately carry to the day of victory.

When he gave up on that revolution, he renounced this kind of elitism, above all else. His wife had gently embraced his exhausted shoulders. Don’t be too disappointed, dear! In fact, what is revolution after all? It’s all about doing our best, right? A way for both rabbits and us to live—there definitely should be such a way. How was that wife now? He found and read “A Slow Letter from a Remote Mountain Village,” a blog post by her. I came back from a walk. On this road where I walk every day, surprisingly, I saw a columbine for the first time today. Its purple flower looked pretty, like a jobawi hat, rather than a falcon claw, the meaning of its traditional name. On my way home, I thought how this flower would not be seen from a car driving at 150 kilometers per hour. All the driver sees is a navigation device. Only if you go slowly, can you find your way, using maps and signposts, and feel the happiness that flowers along the road can give. I don’t want to get in a car ever again. I have no reason to hurry. At home, I wrestled with Kkoto a while. Goodness, I found its droppings all over the floor. By the way, do you remember rabbit droppings? My, how cute! They really look as cute as what we associate with rabbit droppings.

He muttered unawares at that moment. Bravo! You’re so good, pure, and innocent! He had an organic-farmer friend, who said quite frankly, It sounds great to be free of pollution and to be organic, and all that, but I wonder if I’m joining in a show where the rich and affected brag about their social awareness. Not using pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers! It sounds great, but do you know how the elderly farmers in my village look at me? As I’m relatively young, and because young friends occasionally come and help me, I can weed by hand, but they can’t survive like that! Besides, look at the entire earth: One-fifth of all babies born every year die of starvation and the curable illnesses that come with it. In such a reality, I work hard to ignore productivity for comfortable ladies ordering their chauffeurs! He wanted his ex-wife to listen to his words. Who wouldn’t want to live like you? Are you the only moral person? Not at all! I can perhaps say that you are an egotist who thinks only of yourself! In this way, he grew extremely angry. He wanted to crush that egotism of hers that ignored the absolute poverty everywhere in the world. His hand moved on the pad, searching for the browser again. There must be an answer. But the net was still not responding.

Since the local government could not control the situation, it began to consider emergency martial law, working with the commander of the Garrison Headquarters. So, in the military, the Defcon was executed, the same condition as martial law. However, all kinds of trouble had already been occurring: suicides, assaults, imprisonments, murders, vagrancy, cheating, accusations, cutting, yelling, loud singing, public urination, ostracization, bullying, road rage, self-injury, intimidation, fraud, torture, rape, embezzlement, bankruptcy, burglary, perjury, non-attendance, cancellations, revenge. At guard posts at the harbors, citizens were blocked from leaving the island. And they had to hear pacification broadcasts pouring out all day from speakers connected to amplifiers installed at the entrances of every alleyway. We dare to tell you that we are experiencing surprising progress in our controlling of this unprecedented situation, about which both quantitative and qualitative analyses are difficult. Dearest fellow citizens, don’t be distracted, but do your best in performing your duties at the frontlines of your trades. Spies are everywhere. Invisible enemies have already infiltrated. Don’t believe what is unbelievable. Don’t believe even what is believable either. Trust only your government and your military. But the citizens seemed to trust rabbits more than their government and military.

It had been only three days, but they felt like thirty years—or an eternity. Although he left his computer on, he had already given up attempting at reconnecting with the net. He tried not to look at the monitor. The screen saver showed a beautiful rabbit pasture. But no rabbit could comfort him. The only thing that would comfort him now was the net. He was uneasy because he was alone. Of course, he had heard rumors about what was going on outside his house. He also knew that other citizens were as stunned and pained as himself. However, he had no room for sympathy for their confusion and pain. To him, the word “solidarity” was already strange. So how much less could he imagine the solidarity of confusion and pain! He had no intention to lead such a solidarity movement or even participate in one. At all times, he felt emptiness, as if a corner of his heart had been vacated, a foreign-body sensation, like when he touched the air bladder of a dead fish, and dizziness like when he looked below his feet from the top of a tall building.

When he had been an activist for the rabbit liberation movement, he had been dragged to many interrogation sites: Namyeong-dong (the Headquarters of National Police), Seobinggo (the Army Security Command), and Mt. Namsan (the Agency for National Security Planning). They had all pressed him to confess all things related to rabbits. They even cornered him, demanding an obedient confession of how a rabbit with a long left-foot had gone north. Later, they even threatened to beat him to a pulp, like a rabbit. Yet once torture by electricity and waterboarding were added to severe beating, his unease disappeared. (He had endured all these pains well and had stood in front of the corrupt court together with socialists, National Liberation members, and Trotsky Alliance A members. There, he had argued why the rabbit liberation movement would guarantee a future for humanity and why he had worked together with socialists. Having already seen many ridiculous socialists and their imitators, the prosecutors and judges calmly watched him; the former demanded a ten-year imprisonment, while the latter sentenced him to seven years. When the officers at the court dragged him out, he shouted as loudly as possible: I am not guilty in the court of history! Rabbits of the world, unite! He was proud of himself. In prison, he strengthened his position by constantly renewing his resolution. It did not take seven years to do that. Feeling unsure of itself, the fascist regime had had no choice but to adopt an appeasement policy. When his fellow activists on release rushed to factories to participate in labor movements, he went to a temporary rabbit pasture. Fortunately, rabbits had survived those harsh years, thanks to his then-intended wife.)

Now he had to witness himself enwrapped by an anxiety entirely different from that time. Suddenly, he caught sight of his bookcase. Like turnips that turned porous, there were many holes in it—spots his ex-wife had left by removing books. He had never noticed them before. But now those gaps felt like black holes, swallowing stars and even time. It was a momentary sensation, however. He could not forgive his ex-wife’s cheating. Why? Because he loved her too much! She was so beautiful. From her body, the fragrance of honey had always wafted. He embraced her every night. Sometimes, he felt like a silver bead swimming in a sparkling river, and other times, as if walking naked in an orchard with all kinds of ripe fruits, under the moonlight. And those white thighs! Like fabric woven with heavenly yarn. He felt like he could put on that fabric and forever dream beautiful dreams. To think that someone else’s hand touched those thighs! That was the kind of shamelessness that negated and insulted his entire life. When the net resumed, he wanted to post a fill-in-the-blank question to the search engine and give lots of stars to the netizen who responded with the most feasible answer: “A person whose entire life is negated may do (              ) to the person who did it to them.” What mattered was the net, however. He again thought that, as soon as the net issue was resolved, the state of emotional imbalance he was feeling, a complicated and unfamiliar feeling, would be resolved like the spring snow. He caught sight of his empty verandah. There was no rabbit there.

As the situation was prolonged, rumors began to spread like a fog: gossip that the local government might be conspiring with the Garrison Headquarters to stage a coup d’état, or that defense industries and conglomerates might unite with ultra-rightwing groups to demand an early election, or the rumor that extreme Islamist fundamentalists had mobilized a large group of hackers to punish the central government, which had dispatched troops to Iraq, and, finally, even that a small minority of liberated lefty rabbits in a remote mountain village on the island had incited rabbits throughout the world, leading militant rabbit-lovers, pathologically loving the animals, to disturb the net all at the same time.

In short, the island was thrown into a panic. Curiously, that caused all those forms of social disruption to disappear—suicide, beating, violence, imprisonment, murder, vagrancy, cheating, accusation, cutting, yelling, loud singing, public urination, ostracization, bullying, disturbance, road rage, self-injury, intimidation, fraud, torture, rape, embezzlement, bankruptcy, burglary, perjury, missing classes, missing meetings, cancellation, and revenge—as if they had never occurred. It seemed that the analyses by social psychologists was right: extreme panic can lead to an extreme need for security. However, that security was an extremely precarious one, occurring in the face of an unimaginable level of fear, that is, like a calm before the storm—even every Kim, Lee, and Park knew that.

A week into the crisis, he could no longer stand it. For the first time, he thought he might have been wrong. That what his wife had said might be true. His wife might really love the farmer-poet. After all, love was supposed to transcend everything. Although social customs, norms, and institutions condemned their relationship and love, they acted dignified. What other evidence did he need? He should accept it. Meanwhile, he developed a habit of stroking the spaces his wife had left, over and over, several times a day: the sink where his wife did the dishes, the rocking chair on which she sat reading a newspaper, the bed where she rubbed her eyes half awake, the floor that she swept and mopped several times a day, the verandah where she took care of the rabbits, as lovingly as if they were her own children, and the bookcase from where she retrieved books.

Although he wanted to phone her, he was afraid to. It was not that he wanted to go back to the time before their divorce. But he felt that his ex-wife could give him a good advice in the current situation. He also thought again about the different way of life she had chosen. It seemed worth trying at least once. It could be an act not entirely selfish, nor built upon other people’s sacrifices. He knew well that speed should bring acceleration and the “mega” should bring “giga.” As the history of his computers, which had begun with PC-186, was that of upgrading, so was the history of the net, which had begun with a modem. Whether playing a game or writing an essay, calculating numbers, trading stocks, or making friends, computers had continuously become faster and more. Faster CPU and more memory, faster LAN and more information—only they were truth. He had been adjusting quickly and correctly to this evolution of brilliant speed and quantity—because he would fall behind if he wavered. Fall behind? He thought about this phrase now. Falling behind whom? Rabbits? His wife? That supposed farmer-poet? He blushed. He shouldn’t be so disturbed by it. He could be momentarily embarrassed. He didn’t have to think of himself forever falling behind because of that incident.

Suddenly, he felt brave. He opened his phone: #1 was the number of the psychiatric hospital where his father had been an inpatient for thirty years; #2 was the securities company he had begun trading on the first day of the 21st century, and #3 was her number. When he was about to speed-dial it, he realized that on the day his ex-wife had left, he’d bravely erased the number. What was it? All he could remember was “0111,” the telecommunications ID. As he had assigned speed-dial numbers to people close to him, he never remembered their numbers. Of course, he did not have a physical phone directory. Everything important was in the net. The web’s hard drive had storage boasting gigabytes. It was there he stored numbers, diaries, his favorite photos (of pretty rabbits and women), and music files he and the rabbits both liked.[3]The web was his other self—his daily life, memories, recollections, reality, and future. And now he couldn’t be there! He missed his ex-wife, no, his wife, even more! Yet, she was far away. She was not in the remote mountain village—but in the net! The net where he could not go, no matter how hard he tried!

Citizens gave up the idea of leaving the island. They explored different methods of coping instead. They agreed they should bravely confront the coup d’état that was becoming more evident by the day—the conspiracies by the local government, Garrison Headquarters, conglomerates, defense industries, and Islamic fundamentalists that had penetrated the island unawares, like avian flu. Words of mouth quickly spread. Nobody anticipated it. Fortunately, they had memories of defending freedom and democracy, despite all odds, difficulties, and sufferings, although it was a long time ago but still the memories were inscribed in their genes. For a long time, memories of those experiences seemed to have gone dormant in their lives, and their genes seemed to have mutated. However, these memories began to grow back quickly, with renewed power, against the argument that a coup d’état was inevitable, an argument put forward by the establishment, such as the military and the police, some security companies, neo-liberal-friendly businesses such as Rabbit-for-Human, the largest manufacturing company in the island, which made cellphone covers with rabbit skin, and extreme rightwing groups. Against them, citizens rose up and chanted: We can deter only by arming ourselves! We should defend only by arming ourselves! It was a new civic revolution. The surprising power of an oral tradition carried out without the help of the net! Whose island is this? Ours/Whose net is the net? Theirs/Let us prosper and let them fail! In every alley, on every street, and in every marketplace, citizens sang in unison, like sharing slogans, whenever their eyes met. And rabbits, wild or tame, listened with their eyes wide-open, with curiosity, wondering what was going on now.

He felt sorry for his wife. He thought he had given her much, but it appeared he had not done anything properly. Certainly, she never complained or pressured him. When he talked about the potential and possibilities of the digital world, she had said, That sounds good, but it might not be the only possibility. That was the extent to which she disagreed. She was an extraordinary person, so she showed extraordinary love for concepts like difference and distinction, gap and space, and pause. Right before their divorce, she copied a poem and abruptly gave it to him: I have sung only and too many songs for the cutting edge/I neglected the beauty of pause too much/Dear trees, dear souls!/Like a light sparrow, I briefly/Sat down my tired body onto your branch that’s not ugly/Growth is what all wisemen have done since Socrates/Organization/Is what twenty-century poets harassed by wars have done/Still, trees are growing…. It was an excerpt from “Preface” by Kim Su-yeong.

In fact, after giving up on the rabbit liberation movement, he had suffered from deep lethargy for a while. No matter his devotion, rabbits did not understand him. Despite consciousness-raising education, they would not escape their hutches. The rabbits of the world did not unite. Rabbits showed interest only in eating, execration, mating, and preservation. My hope for the rabbits has gone. He acknowledged his defeat. It was true that numerous websites and blogs related to rabbit liberation had sprouted up on the net thanks to his efforts. But frankly, he could not help doubting if they were really there for the benefit of the rabbits. One blog was shamelessly using rabbits for merchandizing. (Surely everyone must remember the liberation activist rabbit wearing a beret with a star on it and a cigar between his lips. Although he had been shot to death at the liberation frontlines long ago, his image still was everywhere: coin banks, T-shirts, notebooks, mouse pads, cellphone covers, even toilet covers!) Also, most fellow activists showed a poor level of philosophical thinking, believing that opposition to the treatment of rabbits as pets, like Persian cats or iguanas, would complete the liberation movement.

One day, an NL activist who was tried with him came to see him. Surprisingly, he argued from beginning to end against what he had previously believed in as an NL member. He talked about his deep sympathy for and sense of solidarity with the rabbit liberation movement; but at the same time, he carefully talked about the movement’s limitations. Comrade, you have seen nuclear experiments, right? When a nuclear bomb explodes, you know what happens, right? It’s game over. There’s neither freedom, nor democracy, nor nothing! Therefore, the origin of all problems is that punk. He had asked him, That “punk?” Who? Our president? His former comrade said, No, the one in the north! He said, Oh, that punk! His former comrade said, That’s right, if only we eliminate him, all rabbits in both the south and the north can live peacefully. It is because we humans don’t have time to think about rabbits that rabbits are now suffering from poor living conditions and being subject to shots fired and traps set by a few thoughtless hunters and that they sadly finish their lives as part-time worker-rabbits without medical benefits. The axis of evil is what matters. Although I tried to understand and trust the north more than anyone else, I finally realized that no hope whatsoever exists there. Comrade, let us join our hands! So that we can usher in the free world where rabbits can also live freely, by overthrowing the regime in the north!It was moving. He felt as if the sluice gates were all opened at the same time. He thought, Right, although I am disappointed with rabbits, I should not give up on my expectation for the progress of humanity!

After that, to log onto the website his old comrade had established, he was in front of his computer day and night for a while. Unable to bear a sight like that anymore, his wife suggested, Wouldn’t it be better for us to take a few days off and go somewhere? He instantly rejected it, saying: Do you know what it’s like now there? Do you know how much that punk exploits his people? His wife asked, That punk? Who? Our president? He said, No! The one in the north! Then his wife said, fearful, I know, but this is too quick, all of a sudden. When he talked about the next-generation growth engines, our nation’s breakthroughs, and the vision for the era of $30,000 per-capita income, his wife said, You don’t look like yourself somehow. She suggested they go hiking, visit the blog “Love of Wild Flowers,” turn off the computer and read the poems by the laborer-poet Park Yeong-geun, whom he had once liked. One night, his wife carefully began, Well…. At first he did not pay much attention, assuming she was making everyday requests, like, Please throw this pot away or Can you be careful with ashes? or Please expect a phone call for me later. However, her words struck him like lightning: Darling, do you love me? Still? Is it true that we’re on the same road? He was incensed, perhaps as just the hormonal effect of adrenalin. Or it could have been because he’d just read a posting by his former comrade, the one belonging to the B faction of the Trotsky Alliance, at a site he’d visited, full of sophistry. Or it could have been because he had lost 17 times in a row in BVS solitaire. What he clearly remembered was that he abruptly stood up and yelled: So what if we’re different? Should you and I be on the same road? Is that love? It’s you who argued for difference and distinction. Now, you ask me if we’re on the same road? Not at all! I am not on the same road as you. I tell you clearly now. That would never happen later either!

Remembering the scene now, he felt his face burning. He should not have said such things, no matter what excuses he had to come up with later. His wife wanted to talk about it over a beer. But what did he say? He once recited poems by Park Yeong-geun himself. He once said repeatedly, I’d rather live one day with you than a hundred years without you. Once he had shouted that he was not guilty in the court of history and had urged rabbits of the world to unite. Once, once, once… He felt that nothing could make a person as miserable as memories. He could not understand how all his beautiful memories had disappeared so completely. The forest path where he had taken a walk with his wife—back then his girlfriend—had disappeared. The river where he had skipped stones with his wife by guiding her hand was gone. The beach where he was patting her shoulder, while watching the setting sun together.

Many other things, mostly trivial, small, unimportant, shabby moments, no, what he thought trivial, had completely gone. He tried hard to remember the smell of her flesh. He tried to remember her voice, the one in which she said as soon as she woke up, Darling, look at those sunrays! He tried to remember his wife’s fingertips, with which she used to gently stroke his face, while covering him with a comforter when he had collapsed, utterly drunken. However, he could not remember anything clearly. All his memories were too far away—like the center of the net, which could not be approached, no matter how hard one tried for one’s entire life![4] He was moved to tears unawares. No, this is not it! Wildly shaking his head, he absentmindedly touched his mouse with his right hand. At that moment, a bright light flashed, and a surprising scene unfolded. He had never seen such beautiful scenery in all his life. It was the opening screen of a portal site he had chosen, but he had never known that it was this beautiful. Utterly surprised, he could not believe his eyes. At last, the net had come alive!

The faces of people had all been grave and resolute. Priests had regretted that they had urged believers only to look up, and asked them for the first time, while they cried, to look to the sides, behind, and below. The faithful had cried even more than the priests. They were citizens standing outside the door. Thinking that it was finally the time for a true revolution, they had made up their minds. At that moment, just as they were about to carry out their resolutions, the moment when they were about to execute a revolution, for a truly human-like life free from unilateral and violent rule of patriarchal authorities and male power, the moment when they were about to regret their previous pointing fingers at people who went to the countryside, mountains, areas suffering from tsunamis, remote African villages, and people who went to the north to give rice, medicines, and fertilizers in large quantities, according to their so-called “philosophy of slowness and difference,” the moment they were about to shout to free themselves from the state of slavery to the net and to build a new world, where they would regain their dignity and authority as homo sapiens, at that moment the net had re-opened.

Although it’s unclear how it happened, it was undeniable: the net was restored. For a moment, citizens were so confused they could not even cheer. Feet about to step forward toward revolution hung awkwardly in midair. A citizen at the end of the procession said self-deprecatingly, Bah, what revolution for a loser like me! That phrase spread instantly, like a highly contagious avian flu, through the island….Well, it wouldn’t be too late to carry out a revolution—after first checking if the net is really working or not….People returned home, at first furtively, then hastily, and, later, quickly. Finally, only the homeless, who had already been on the streets, remained there. The barricades were gone—before being built. The conspiracy of a coup d’état was easily suppressed because troops in this era of cutting-edge IT could not hear the order to arm while they were exchanging news about the net re-opening through DMB (digital multimedia broadcasting) phones. It was a perfect victory for the net. Citizens shouted, Long Live the Net! The central government dispatched the military to the island, and the commander of the Garrison Headquarters took his own life “like a man.” The head of the local government, who tried to escape like a coward, was arrested at his illicit lover’s house on charges of the abuse of power. Broadcasting stations sent out new ads every ten minutes, as if they had been waiting for this moment. Conglomerates claimed, through a very pretty actress, that they had always been with the people, and, through a handsome actor leading the Korean Wave, that they would always be on the side of people. Citizens naturally pooh-poohed them, but, as similar ads continued, featured in many reliable portal sites, the good-natured citizens quickly regained their happiness.

It goes without saying that those who survive unhappiness pursue happiness more desperately. The situation was terminated. What remained was reconciliation and harmony. The army commander, who entered the island as a martial-law army commander, said that only harmony could guarantee a peaceful future on the island. Immediately, seven hundred blog posts were uploaded to urge everyone to select him as a presidential candidate. Naturally, the top-search term in the country was his name. This lasted exactly thirty-seven minutes. The next top-search term was Kim Myeong-ja, the illicit lover of the head of the local government arrested during his attempt to flee. Kim Myeong-ja was also arrested for harboring a criminal. Someone secretly videotaped and uploaded the scene. As if people had been waiting for this occasion, comments poured in: Wow, she is pretty! A hundred times prettier than Miss Island. She has my vote! The top search term changed again: #1 was “aecheonyeo,” meaning a “beloved wife woman” and #2 was “suban parody,” meaning the “governor parody.” The first was a newly coined term for Kim Myeong-ja, like “doenjangnyeo (soy paste woman),” the pejorative term for women scrimping on essentials to overspend on conspicuous luxuries, or “gaettongnyeo (dog poop woman),” a term for a woman who refused to clean up after her dog had defecated on the subway. At the same time, blog posts and websites advocating for the release of this poor woman began crowding the net. Deeply moved, citizens watched this moment in which a new kind of democracy was blooming. Of course, even at such a moment, some thoughtless citizens were busy earning cash and accumulating points through Star-Craft or Go-Stop, things they had been doing when the net had crashed, so they did not have the eyes or ears to pay attention to this new situation. And what about the rabbits?

He did not lose much money in his stocks, despite his worries. Now, he felt like sleeping soundly. What he had felt, that highly unfamiliar and anxious feeling, was gone. He wanted to thank someone. His wife? No way! Although he still felt the empty space his wife had left, what mattered was that there was no place for him in his wife’s heart—no, his ex-wife! Whenever he thought of her, the image of the farmer-poet’s hand, like the lid of a cauldron, covering her white thigh, intruded. As soon as the net reopened, he erased all memories of his ex-wife from his web’s hard drive. Instead, he uploaded a videotape on the North’s human rights submitted to a hearing at the US Congress by a defector from the north. Rabbits? No way! In the future, he might end up dealing with issues related to rabbits in the north, but he had no intention of forgiving the ignorance and cowardice of rabbits, no matter what. Rabbits, who did not run away when their hutches were opened, were no longer his comrades. Besides, they were also shrewd. They would switch sides to their advantage whenever a situation changed. He erased his memories of days with rabbits from his web hard drive, too. He left only one memory of a rabbit, an attractive one that he liked. He thought it would not be a matter that would cause trouble politically, ethically, or logically (if he wasn’t caught of course!), even if he would run for the upcoming general election, accepting the recommendation by his old NL faction comrade. Then, whom should he thank? He did not think that this object of his gratitude should have the same gene sequence as that of homo sapiens.

Now, everything was resolved happily. (Or was it?)

Sincerely praying for reconciliation and forgiveness, people were becoming addicted to the Cyworld. The acting local governor argued that they should use the tragedy of the past few days as a resource for tourism, and, further, that they should restructure the entire island as an IEI (International English Island), to transform the island itself into a high-end leisure product. After re-analyzing the causes and processes of this recent incident with professionals flown in from Microsoft, the members of _______ announced that the technical problem no longer mattered thanks to the establishment of a cutting-edge super-firewall.

At that moment, a bug that seemed to have died began wriggling. Its face was aglow with smiles. It knew well what comprehensive technical measures the members of _______ had taken with the help of the professionals from the U.S. There was no hurry. The bug proceeded slowly. Its movement was proud, dignified, and confident, yet at the same time somewhat slack—in other words, philosophical. Feeding on fundamental flaws or gaps in technology, science, civilization, rationality, cause and effect, measures and prescriptions, input and output, diagnosis and analysis, hopes and expectations, and, finally, reconciliation and forgiveness, the bug began its new evolution.

No one had yet realized all this—even the upgraded net itself! Grateful for the peace and happiness in front of them, the priests raised their right hands high toward the sky in praise. That gesture spread far and wide—even to the remote mountain village, where a small minority of liberated lefty rabbits, who escaped there after ridding themselves of the bridles of obedience and subordination, were frolicking.

Fear thou not; for I am with thee.

Be not dismayed; for I am thy God.

I will strengthen thee.

Yea, I will help thee.

Yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. (Isaiah 41:10)

[1] These were manuals for many kinds of bottleneck phenomenon: excessive traffic, the invasion of self-cloning viruses, the spreading of deviant hacking tools, buffer overflows, the attack of monster boats, problems of new protocols, the malfunction of firewall control software, sniffing, electricity shortages, abnormality in the electric signal system, the shortage in hardware capacity, laxity in security awareness, and more.

[2] After a heated debate about the acronym of their committee, they decided not to have a name at all.

[3] For example, all songs by Barney Girls; “White Rabbit,” released by Jefferson Airplane in 1967; “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, the lyrics of which includes “Run, Rabbit, Run”; “Rabbit in Your Headlights” by U.N.K.L.E.; and even Boa’s “Winter Love,” whose lyrics includes a homonym of the Korean word rabbit in the Japanese phrase, “Darekaoairsuru toki,” which means, “It’s just alright when you love someone.”

[4] Regarding the center of the net, there are three major theories: a) that it does not exist; b) that it does exist, c) that it is meaningless to debate whether it exists or not. The second theory is also divided into numerous other theories, including: that numerous margins are all the center, that invisible background is the center, and that WASPs (white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) and Jews constitute it. (source: unknown)

 

Interview with translator Jeon Seung Hee

Shuddhashar: When did you know you wanted to be a writer/translator? How did you come to this realization?

Jeon Seung Hee:  I grew up in a very repressive society and in my youth did not feel empowered enough to write anything that expressed my feelings and opinions. It was during graduate school that I began really to feel encouraged to speak my mind and to try expressing my thoughts. This was mostly due to a fortuitous encounter with a professor, who also became mentor. He was a leading literary activist in South Korea. A courageous voice against oppressive regimes, he was also a great teacher, who guided his students not only by example but also by his thoughtful and nurturing teaching, which encouraged our creative thinking. After finishing my doctorate, in addition to writing critical essays and reviews, I began trying my hand at translating some literary and critical works that were personal favorites, as a way of both sharing my linguistic expertise with a wider public and reading and thinking about great works more closely myself. I first participated in a project co-translating essays on the novel by literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, and another project co-translating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I loved translation. I was drawn to its creative challenges, the fact that it offers innumerable choices for expressing oneself—at every step of the way: each word, phrase, sentence. Indeed, it seems to me that translation offers almost as many creative possibilities as creative writing. In a sense, creative writing is a process of translating real or imagined reality into language. Over the decades that I have done translations of all kinds of genres, both prose and poetry, fiction and non-fiction, my love of it has only grown. My guess is that I’ll probably die doing a translation.

Shuddhashar: What impact do you think contemporary political reality has or should have on short fiction?

Jeon Seung Hee: I believe that fictional works are mirrors of the world around us, and ones that shed light on its complexities and nuances. So, it is natural that contemporary reality affects fiction, whether short or long. It seems to me that fiction makes us feel and see, through subtly imagined narration and description, what other kinds of writings ask us to think about through facts and arguments. I also feel that good short stories make us see and feel the most essential things in our reality, even in a minutest detail, and move or motivate us to act on the insights we gain from reading stories. I enjoy both short stories and novels and think they have essentially the same relationship with our reality. In comparison to novels, which usually depict a more expansive picture, in more detail, and thus requiring a longer planning and writing process, short stories I think can allow a writer to have a quicker response and more focused approach to various aspects of contemporary reality.

Shuddhashar: If you were to recommend one writer or collection of short stories, who/which one would it be? And why? Or tell us about a single short story that moved you to tears!

Jeon Seung Hee: Not to dodge the question, there have been too many insightful short stories, which deeply moved me, for me to choose a single writer or short story. I grew up enjoying and learning from mainly Western short stories in translation, such as ones by Anton Chekhov, Guy de Maupassant, Edgar Allan Poe, and Franz Kafka, to name only a few. More recently, I have discovered a multitude of outstanding short stories from non-Western authors, including Saadat Hassan Manto, Ghassan Kanafani, Ngugi wa Thiongo, and Luis Borges, among others. For Korean literature, I could probably say that its masterpieces include a substantial number of short stories, from “Story of a Farm” (1946) by Chae Man-sik to the “Mother’s Stake” (1980, 1981, 1991) series by Park Wan-seo and “Convalescence” (2013) by Han Kang. I am deeply indebted to the world’s great storytellers, for who I am and what I have been doing, as they have enriched my understanding of humanity with their moving, gripping, subversive, funny, hilarious, and absurd stories.

Shuddhashar: What, to you, are the key elements of a great short story?

Jeon Seung Hee: Usually, I believe that a nuanced and complex approach to the subject matter in a short story offers readers a deeper understanding through surprise and pleasure. After reading such a work, readers can often have not only a deeper and more complex understanding, but also a clearer and even simpler insight into what the story is dealing with and with their own reality.

Shuddhashar: What is one thing that the art and practice of writing/translation has taught you?

Jeon Seung Hee: To understand and honor every being in their complexity through putting myself in their situation.

Shuddhashar: What are you working on now? Tell us a little bit about your current project!

Jeon Seung Hee: I’m currently translating Genius Rabbit Cha Sang Mun (2010), a novel by South Korean author Kim Namil, into English. To me, it’s a work that addressed fundamental problems in our West-led civilization, through the story of its namesake fantastical character, a genius rabbit who is a product of decades of oppressive military regimes. Born as a result of the rape of his mother by his father, a secret policeman (both of them homo sapiens), Cha Sang-mun is born a lepus sapiens rather than homo sapiens, and equipped with exceptional intelligence, both academic and ethical. It takes us through the story of his life, from an academic in the U.S., then and an environmental activist and pacific “terrorist,” to his ultimate choice of isolation from civilization. It’s a hilarious, insightful, and engaging story that offers an accurate depiction of modern South Korean society and is a scathing criticism of our civilization. And it’s all the more real and therefore moving and remarkable for being a work of fiction.

  1. These were manuals for many kinds of bottleneck phenomenon: excessive traffic, the invasion of self-cloning viruses, the spreading of deviant hacking tools, buffer overflows, the attack of monster boats, problems of new protocols, the malfunction of firewall control software, sniffing, electricity shortages, abnormality in the electric signal system, the shortage in hardware capacity, laxity in security awareness, and more.
  2. After a heated debate about the acronym of their committee, they decided not to have a name at all.
  3. For example, all songs by Barney Girls; “White Rabbit,” released by Jefferson Airplane in 1967; “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, the lyrics of which includes “Run, Rabbit, Run”; “Rabbit in Your Headlights” by U.N.K.L.E.; and even Boa’s “Winter Love,” whose lyrics includes a homonym of the Korean word rabbit in the Japanese phrase, “Darekaoairsuru toki,” which means, “It’s just alright when you love someone.”
  4. Regarding the center of the net, there are three major theories: a) that it does not exist; b) that it does exist, c) that it is meaningless to debate whether it exists or not. The second theory is also divided into numerous other theories, including: that numerous margins are all the center, that invisible background is the center, and that WASPs (white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) and Jews constitute it. (source: unknown)

 

  • More From This Author:

      None Found
  • Support Shuddhashar

    Support our independent work, help us to stay pay-wall free by becoming a patron today.

    Join Patreon

Subscribe to Shuddhashar FreeVoice to receive updates

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

শুদ্ধস্বর
error: Content is protected !!