Inevitable Dissident: An Interview with Ch’oe Yun

Ch'oe Yun, author of There a Petal Silently FallsBill Marx of PRI’s The World recently interviewed Ch’oe Yun, author of There a Petal Silently Falls: Three Stories by Ch’oe Yun. Our edition marks the first English translation of Ch’oe Yun’s work and, as Marx notes, she is considered one off the most important authors in contemporary Korea.

In describing Ch’oe Yun’s fiction, Marx writes, “Her writing marries a concern with the spiritual reverberations of political/historical events, such as the Kwangju massacre (1980) and the Park Chung-hee dictatorship (1961-1979) with sophisticated fictional techniques.”

Below are some excerpts from the interview and you can read the entire interview here or read an earlier interview with Ch’oe Yun. On Monday, we will feature the World’s interview with Bruce Fulton, one of the translators of There a Petal Silently Falls.

The World: You are considered one of Korea’s leading writers, which is as good a reason as any to have your stories translated into English. But why publish them now? Does “There a Petal Silently Falls” tell us anything Western readers need to know about Korea today?

Ch’oe Yun: The “Petal” story has to do with the Kwangju Uprising of May 1980, but I constructed it so that it could be read in terms of its universal significance. I emphasized the universal aspects of the story because I was concerned that this uprising would soon be forgotten in contemporary Korean history. All around us, albeit in different forms, violence is perpetrated endlessly against the pure and innocent, and this story can be read as an awakening to that violence.

The World: Critics describe you as an experimental, post-modernist author, heavily influenced by Western literary influences. How have avant-garde techniques shaped your writing? In what ways have they not?

Ch’oe Yun: In each of the three works I took pains to apply the most appropriate form to the story’s world-view. I’ll grant you that this approach can appear experimental. I’ve never been one to agonize over technique, though. The notion of language and expression as constituting their own world-view is part and parcel of much of what I’ve read in Western literary thought and aesthetics.

The World: Why do most of the characters in “There a Petal Silently Falls” live a ghostly existence, existing on the margins of society?

Ch’oe Yun: Because those are the people I focus on. I’ve never been interested in public heroes — male public heroes, that is. The history of Korean literature is full of such heroes; the rest of us tend to be sacrificed to their cause and end up in the shade, so to speak.

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