Page 1

TheDar kr oom oft heMap


Tr ans l at edbyJ anetHong, J ackJ ung

The Darkroom of the Map By Yi Sang Translated by Jack Jung and Janet Hong

Literature Translation Institute of Korea

Originally published in Korean as Jido-ui Amsil in Chosun, 1932 Translation ⓒ 2014 by Jack Jung and Janet Hong

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and Literature Translation Institute of Korea. The original manuscripts to these translations were provided by Gongumadang of Korea Copyright Commission.

The National Library of Korea Cataloging-in-Publication Data Yi, Sang (The) darkroom of the map [electronic resource] / authored by Yi Sang ; translated by Janet Hong, Jack Jung. -[Seoul] : Literature Translation Institute of Korea, 201 4 p. 원표제: 지도의 암실 Translated from Korean ISBN 978-89-93360-67-7 05810 : Not for sale 813.61-KDC5 895.733-DDC21



About Yi Sang Yi Sang (1910 – 1937) was one of Korea’s most innovative writers of modern literature, enough to deem him Korea’s finest modernist. He died at the early age of 27, but despite his short literary career, he produced surreal and highly experimental pieces that were avant-garde and far ahead of their time. He showed brilliant literary prowess not only in poetry and fiction, but also in essays, exploring the confusion and anxiety of those living under Japanese colonial rule, the psychology and despair of uprooted urban dwellers, and the alienation, disquiet, and terror experienced by intellectuals, more than perhaps any other writer in Korean history. He did not shy away from presenting decadent subject matter, and experimented ceaselessly with form, created selfdeprecating characters with excessive self-consciousness, portrayed the delirium of sensation, and employed wit, paradox, montage, and other various techniques all to brilliant, enigmatic effect, to the extent that his works resist easy comprehension even to this day. These are the reasons why he was heralded as a “modern boy,” who sprung onto the literary scene during Korea’s dark colonial period. Yi Sang’s fiction is largely autobiographical. From his sole novel December 12 all the way to his short story “Dying Words,” Yi Sang has used his own life as material. However through his unique method of processing those experiences, in other words, through his unique artistic method of handling language, his work continues to be cutting-edge even today.

About “The Darkroom of the Map” “The Darkroom of the Map” (1931), Yi Sang’s first Korean short story, is often considered to be his most difficult work. As the text opens, we are led into the labyrinthine mind of an insomniac named “Ri Sang,” but the prose is extremely experimental, even by Yi Sang’s iconoclastic standards. Most notably, the use of pronouns is highly ambiguous throughout. As a result, the narrator, the character Ri Sang, and his friend “K” often become impossible to distinguish. A sentence might begin with the narrator speaking, but by the end, the apparent words of the narrator have become Ri Sang’s thoughts. The creation of this sense of schizophrenia derives from Yi Sang’s prose. One might in fact say that the main character of the story is neither the narrator nor Ri Sang, but the prose itself. The fragments of its imagistic obsessions—the nature of light, the nature of language, and the nature of love—emerge as each broken sentence pushes onward. These abstract ideas are connected to a paradox that appears at the beginning of the story. The narrator/Ri Sang seeks to discover “the words” that humanity has never written. However, he realizes that anything written—any words—will always have 3

meaning. He concludes that such meanings, once generations pass, will become irrelevant, because the world changes and truths change. In a way, the difficult text of “The Darkroom of the Map” is an attempt to deal with an irreconcilable contradiction: the abstract idea of unchanging, singular truth, and the fact that the world we live in is always changing, making such a truth impossible. Whether Yi Sang is able to resolve this issue is for readers to decide, but because of the status of “The Darkroom of the Map” as one of his seminal works, it may help point a way toward interpreting his later output.


The Darkroom of the Map

He is one who sleeps for a long time, which is like lying down for a short time, which is like sleeping for a short time, which is like lying down for a long time. When he lies down at four o’clock, and at five, six, seven, eight, nine, and then from nine o’clock to ten o’clock, Ri Sang—I know a ridiculous man called Ri Sang. Of course, I am trying to take a peek at him. —tears from him the work he was doing and throws it to him. Because rain pours from the night where the sun beats down as it does on the bright side, he steps from his room, worried about not having a raincoat. From a three-room thatched house to the station out back, riding a rundown yellow cart. In a certain room he walks the tip of his finger. The tip of his finger that is like a storm walks a map and even though he has seen countless starry lights, his determination keeps his steps strict. He does not ask him why he has found peace and instead covers a piece of K’s bible face with a piece of cloth from his eyes and leaves. He does not like clothes. His only work is to remove his habitual annoyance with clothes once a day and retort, “Isn’t that so?” to no one in particular. He consoles no one in particular. Given this situation, he does not throw away his clothes. Because he favors his friend with such savage stubbornness, to him he easily entrusts his flushed body. Though he is considered a fool for not keeping close watch on his friend, in truth this seeming negligence comes from his desire to be rid of the heavy labor of lugging around his own flushed body. His mind accepts that the clock will strike when it will strike; it strikes three times in an hour or when there’s three minutes left in sixty-three minutes, and now the indulgent time when he makes up his mind to let the clock do whatever it does begins. The light bulb is covered with an envelope. If he has never thought of being indulgent of this kind of preparation and place, without once giving thought to where the diminished light goes, no one probably thinks he will go to sleep soon. Since the words humanity has not yet created do this and that in that place, he thinks whether he should throw away the insufficient habit that employs a useless and fixed technique for words that are read just once because of some suggestion or reason. Keeping the words as though they were his, and if those words were like this and that, what he thinks about again is a person, one, thoughts, two, speech and words, three, four, five, then five again, then five again and again, then five again and again and again, and in the end he cannot help but believe in the terrifying power of this thing called time. He knows that once something has passed it becomes useless, but he does not want to ask him if he too rejects the old-fashioned act of throwing a thing away. He knows that what he is thinking of now 5

and the words he has now will all be useless to the one, to the one, to the one he will have later. Why bother having these thoughts or words now? No matter if he doesn’t have them, but he already does. He’s already got them. He’s already got them. He’s already. Got them again. Whether it be a person or a road that is clothed ahead or in impending time, he wants to walk on it and kick it and fight it. At some point, he wanted to make a stand without retreating and have a fight. He takes off his clothes, and still there are clothes, still there are clothes, still there are clothes, and then he walks, and still there’s a road, still there’s a road. The light bulb turns on suddenly, just as he awakes. If that’s how it is. That is, the length of time where the brightness could be light or something else is like the hour that clings to him five hours later. If that’s how it is. That is, he sees the bulb covered by an envelope, which could well have disappeared, and he sees half his body boiled raw inside his bedclothes, and he thinks the envelope is bedclothes. The envelope is clothes. Bedclothes, the envelope, and he—what have they learned? How to throw away his body, how to pick up his body, and he knows that the implicit message written by the ray’s ink on the sliding door is telling him the light in his body has suddenly turned on. So he dons the envelope. Like donning bedclothes and removing bedclothes. The envelope is clothes, and it gets worn out, because this is what he covers his body with after the bedclothes. He removes the moisture from the light bulb in red and he becomes wet. The light of day, which is received and thrown out and picked up and thrown away, comes in. When the light turns off, it begins. Of course. Just because today is saturated by the red light of the calendar, he cannot violate what has been prepared by the person who made or cheated the calendar. Because K is a good man who likes to match the light of the calendar in his own room to the light of the calendar in his room, he considers carefully whether K warned him about the red light. The red light of Sunday became useless after the white light of Monday, but it is used the most now. Uncertain double digits hold each other and see him laugh and laugh in imitation of his laughter. He does not lose to the calendar. Because he could, like some superhuman, shorten the time needed for conveying a very wide laughter and a very narrow laughter to as short as possible, he could show that he was laughing. Since they say exchanging greetings is pleasant, he is not lazy about doing so. Ever. The toothbrush makes its way between his teeth, and the water disturbs his face, especially his cheeks. At the toilet, he sees the news bulletins from even the most distant country as being very close and narrates comfortably during that time. Whatever has gone by must be thrown away. Through the open window inside the mirror, he meets Ri Sang—strangely enough, this name is the same as his own—this Ri Sang who is dressed in identical gym clothes, but if Ri Sang doesn’t do anything because he’s different from him, he wants to ask where Ri Sang goes all day. When he meets this Ri Sang, a gym teacher on duty, he uses a towel to rub his face on Ri Sang’s face, as a mark of respect. He does not ask what Ri Sang does at the 6

place he goes. Disappointed words stand up one by one and remain so that they can collapse. Where are you going and what are you going to do? He feels lucky that he was able to quickly drive out the sad dust before it could wear more clothes over his clothes. He even likes reading Eroshenko1. But he sees. Why do I have eyes that cannot see myself? He would rather see. The breakfast he ate passes through his esophagus and immediately enters Eroshenko’s brain, and no matter if the food is digested or not, he steps ahead motionlessly in his habit of pushing things out without going against the sense of time. He cannot bear to unload his breakfast on someone else’s brain, so he decides not to bear unloading his breakfast on someone else’s brain and soon does not bear it. Even though he has soon found what should be found, he does not know what he has found. The sun will grow drowsy from its own heat. It will spill over. Humans will jump like beetles. It will be warm. It will collapse. A black shard of blood will fall and shatter with a clang. It will stick to the ground. It will smell. It will harden. People will gild their skin in black. They will crash into each other. There will be noise. From a temple, the sound of a bell will come walking. It will come here to play and then leave. It will play and never leave. He is trying to pull many different strings, and so, he is told to prepare a face for when he is angry, and so, he does. His body does not get angry, only his face does. And the inside of his face does not get angry, only his skin does. And he feels quite awkward, because it feels as though someone else’s head has been placed on his neck, but he decides to back it. He has no other choice, because other things, like trees, people, clothes, and even K will try to make fun of him. He will go out to look for the trees, people, clothes, and even K, though they have nothing to do with him. In truth, the banana tree, the skating woman, the skirt, and K who has gone to church, because they had nothing to do with him, he wants to move them to a position where they will have something to do with him. He gets a coat from K, turns around, and puts it on. A proud pleasure hangs from his shoulders down to his back and doesn’t budge. How strange, he thinks. His back is his astronomy. Having decided that such is the case, on top of a mountain close to the stars, he pins down a few strands of light sent by the sun, sits in front of it all and plays. There is a lot of sand. It is all grass. His mountain sags lower than any plain. Not only that, his mountain caves in. Let’s say he’s a wizard, let’s say the stars have come to watch, let’s say Orion’s seat is over there, let’s wait and see; in truth, all the things that his life forces to move are nothing but poor imitations and magic tricks to show the stars—they don’t come close. 1

Vasili Yakovlevich Eroshenko (1890-1952) was a Russian poet, anarchist writer, Esperantist, linguist, and teacher. He contracted measles at the age of four and became blind as a result.


He fled, because he, who has lost too much meaning, and all the work he does are too terrible to reveal among people where people live. He is here. He is lonely. He cannot help but wish for someone, in some crack of the world, to be doing something that has nothing to do with the world, to keep doing that meaningless something again and again, even if that someone has nothing to do with him. JARDIN ZOOLOGIQUE. CETTE DAME EST-ELLE LA FEMME DE MONSIEUR LICHAN? You parrot, it would be nice if you had prattled so, and in that moment I could say: OUI! Wouldn’t that be nice? This is what he thinks. He ends things with the monkey. The monkey imitates him, and he imitates the monkey, and an imitation imitates another thing that imitates, that imitates, that imitates, that imitates another imitation. There is a busyness that he cannot bear, so he does not look at the monkey, but the monkey is here already, and the monkey does not look at him either, but when he thinks about how it could have ended up there, his heart feels as though it will burst. Dear monkey, you were born with a habit of imitating people, so why do you keep demanding that people end up in such a state? When one cannot bear it any longer and does it that way, you say do it again, and so when one cannot bear it any longer and does it the same way, you say do it again, and one does it the same way, and you say do it again, and one does it the same way, and you say do it again, and even if one does it the same way, and even if one does it the same way, the same way, you say do it again and again. He makes up his mind that this is it. From now on he will no longer do whatever the monkey makes him do or makes him imitate. Not only does he not want to believe that monkeys evolved into people, but he also does not want to believe that it was the hand of Jehovah that had committed the deed, but from where does his—? —his meaning come? Because his meaning seems so far away, it is probably difficult to call for it. Once his mind, which thinks to live alone means to live utterly alone, begins to think that he wants to ride a camel, he thinks of what is beyond the desert, he thinks a good place will be there like a friend. If he can ride a camel, he will go. He will kill the camel. He thinks, time will not come to that place, or even if it comes it will go back. He likes the camel, which is like a trunk. He eats blank paper. He eats paper money. A reply to some woman—whatever the content, whatever the request—is eaten up envelope and all, just as the woman’s hand had been in front of the mailbox. He wishes that the camel wouldn’t eat such an obscene letter. Thinking there is nothing that can be done, since the camel does not know the pain will wither its bones once such a thing is eaten, he wants to write a letter and feed it to the camel, a letter written in pencil on a piece of blank paper that tells the camel to spit out the obscene letter right away, but the camel knows no pain.


When the midday siren stretches and stretches out like a rubber hose, the temple’s bell begins to toll such stubbornness. He saw the sound of the bell, bouncing like a rubber ball, fall recklessly and break apart. At last on a hill, the sound of the bell and the siren got wet together and slipped down and fell, and spilled and got piled up together, and then suddenly broke apart. Like a bumpkin from the countryside, he stood watching even after everything was finished. Right then, he— —was lying down on a bed of new grass, placing his drowsiness, which smells of spring, on an abacus. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, seven, six, seven, six, five, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, eight, nine, eight, nine. When his eyes gaze vacantly at the sleep beneath his jaw that has not yet entered his eyes, the sleep has already cast a grey shadow on his eyes. But perhaps the sun shining on his back is so warm because sleep is glaring. Why won’t sleep come? It doesn’t matter whether one sleeps or not, so it does not matter if one does not sleep, if one does not sleep, but he thinks that it still might be better to sleep, but if that is so, why does he listen to that parrot’s foreign language, why does he let the monkey go, why does he ask for the camel to come? He thinks he should not pain his head by keeping the things he should throw out when he receives them. It is as though he is offending himself terribly, it would be better if he didn’t think about this at all, but he still thinks about it anyhow, it will be useless later anyway. So why does he hang his face and limbs on his hard running body and think at the same time? Why not just sleep, no, he must sleep, this is how far he managed to think, but sleep says come a little closer, just a little closer … no … just try to sleep … no … he is going to sleep … no … if he sleeps … It will be better to walk and see the skirt that reveals a little bit of skin and not find any meaning and not feel anything. But he wonders: When do such things happen? It would be nice if buses traveled about two meters above ground and scooped up small crowds of people along the way. It is comfortable to think that it will be comfortable when a bus carrying many people passes over the many heads of many people walking. His back begins to feel heavy. He tries not to be surprised that death has come for him. If death is heavy, he decides to do whatever death wants to do for the rest of his brief time, and he thinks that taking pleasure in the most hygienic time of his life will make him hygienic. But then does that mean he is simply bearing death? He suffers because it is difficult to thoroughly determine whether he is simply bearing death. Death came even though he walked on and on, following the parallelogram law and Boyle-Charles Law. Death pushes him on. An open alley is a dead-end alley, and a dead-end alley is an open alley. Right then, from inside the overcoat on his back … … a western-style suit jacket falls out. At the same time his eyes, his mouth, his heart, his brain, his fingers, his overcoat, his underpants fell out together. All that was left were crumbles of buttons, a necktie, and a liter of carbonic acid gas. Even if you were to ask what stands there now, it is nothing but a ruin that is a location. This is what he thinks. 9

Should he put an end to it all while he lies scattered like this? This urge orders the arms that have fallen on the ground toward such and such a direction and toward such and such a trend. He ends up beginning like so right away. Sudden terror surges over him, and so he disperses the angry things that have angered his angry face and moves swiftly forward. From far beyond the terrible sign, the minced shapes of those angry things peep out and in at odd times, looking awfully pitiful. So this time he thinks, what is the most appropriate thing for a pitiful thing, what should I hang up? He thinks, he thinks upon it for a long time, and makes up his mind that it should be laughter, and then, before he knows it, he is laughing, and so it is difficult to take his laughter back. The laughter, which has emerged, is as brilliant as a fossil. Laughter, terror, anger. In the middle of the city on the newly erected tomb of a cinema, the laughter of various nations, stained on a beetle, scatters, falls, and gathers itself again. When he dies trying to die again inside the grave, he knows he still has to die once more, and so when he dies, he has to die again, and even after dying again, he has to die again. Exhausted, he tries to die once and for all, but nothing changes. Still he dies many, many times, but in the end, nothing changes and the end does not end. Dear God, are you going to forsake him? God, are you going to forsake him to die again after dying? Thus at the end of thinking about how he should clean up his grave, he gathers up the fragments of his grave into the dubious jacket that fell from his back, and makes up his mind to plod along, and decides to work though the list of things he might do, step by step, in case God does nothing after he does what he does, and after that what will happen if God indeed does nothing, and if God does something, what will he do? He thinks that K swarmed to the theater like a western cigarette after K wore the jacket that he had lent him. K’s jacket, like a thought police … … is of the simplest color that never fades, and it has merely made him experience his grave. He thinks that K’s attire will laugh out its tricks like a crow wherever it goes, and so he takes off his hat and puts it on the ground. And while this motionless hat is motionless, the urge to crush the hat with his boot heel sinks to his calf bone, but from there the urge ascends magnificently to heaven. The remaining soul doomed to a brief existence, the perfect compensation for the lonely ruin of the jacket, his spiritual arithmetic … he wears the jacket and heads out to the road. Heading to the road is a special event whose conditions are identical to not wearing the jacket. He resolves to harden his resolve and walks the road as the road is, barely managing to string together one thought upon another. Night does not readily allow him to have a road worth traveling, and night’s narrow interior—he had always thought that night was denser, thicker, and narrower than day, but it had never given him any trouble until now. —Even while he walks in strict discipline, at the sight of the simple figure of the jacket’s soul that anxiously follows him while cradling his abandoned memories, he wets himself above the collar, here and there, like a brush and 10

draws a calm map that is neither built nor sailed, and night, not knowing that he is carrying it around, pushes night away, and night is pushed away by night, and he ventures deeper and deeper among the troops that night has massed. But he does not know that this adventure is an adventure, yet he seems to be adventuring, and because of him, his meaningless formulaic behavior is enforced. However— Why can he not throw away the thing that he should throw away without throwing away the act of throwing away? As far as it was pain, nothing had changed, and so he considers whether he is he who is not him who does not know how to think tediously after the last person’s position in his parade has ended. He drags his tired legs and steps on the light thrown by the light and keeps treading on the light to get closer to the light. I am two. Even though three cannot be given, if I gain three, I am three. If this is the case, he might as well go. And so he fastens a meaningless baiser on the small, flashing metal under the skirt, and then his attempt to forget even the meaning of trying to make his stand in that place becomes thoroughly forgetting the process of forgetting that meaning. And when he ends up thinking that, he abandons himself to let such things happen. An uncommon sound arises and knocks over a few strands of air, but still the road that should have been uncommon ends up common, which is uncommon, but when that happens, he ends up thinking it is fine if it is common, and it is fine, because it always ends up being fine, so despite whatever anyone else might say, it is fine. LOVE PARADE. He continues to stand at a standstill, but the pavement flies like flying chocolate and keeps slipping away under his boots, and if this is the reason why he keeps standing at a standstill, then it could be one of the reasons, but the majority of the reasons lie with the musical effect, and he cannot simply conclude that they do not, because this night he cannot help but favor music over anything else, because the light in the fog is playing sports, and he cannot help but see sport as an almost magic technique. The door retreats in fear of him, and almost at the same time, using the heavy current of high air pressure flowing into low air pressure, it may as well be that he tumbles into that restaurant, or it may as well be that he throws his body into the restaurant and gets crammed into the restaurant, he ends up handing himself over to an already determined fate that the action ends up having, and it is the acting out of the action that does not map out a direction for his body. Because he is so unexpected, he ends up slipping out from him and spilling. He sweeps off this result by rounding it off, because it is excluded from the meaninglessness of his work of receiving and throwing away. He chops up his reasoning, and when that reasoning is no longer what he chopped up, he disappears unnoticed, and each scrap dances once and the scraps withdraw together, in order or not in order, to a place that he may have withdrawn to, and then his babbling gradually loses depth, and so of course, even though there never was going to be an audience for all his dull and dry acrobatics, there they are. But after seeing his face 11

torn up in red, K leaves immediately, so there is one other person there. He always looks for a particular woman, like his habit of leaning on a boulder after coming upon it unexpectedly when he goes for a stroll, but the woman never changes her location, so he leans against her right away. She says, many things angered me today, are you angry too? Before he can answer yes, he raises his eyes toward her as though to ask whether what she says is true and nods, and the woman quickly nods as well, and it does not matter if she is nodding for a different reason, he does not know. She says, it seems many people went out to have fun today, did you as well? As she asks, she caresses his hollow cheeks, and he ends up saying that he did. It has been a long time since he began to consider drinking alcohol to be as painful as drinking mercury, and so of course, he does not drink alcohol but drinks coffee instead. When the woman drinks alcohol without ever saying she dislikes it, when her eyes turn bright red, when her eyes suggest a drastic change of temper, when he sits still and watches her become as savage as a lion, the woman does all sorts of things to him, but he grabs the emotions on his face by the nape and does not let them go, and causes the woman to grow angry and bite her lips until they bleed, and in a language like a gramophone, she begins to pour insults at him thin and long, but he does not care. The woman cries. As though she does not know that the habit of someone doing those things to her is stuck to her, he gently brushes her hair, with its black flower pinned to it, and makes a point of asking her if her suffering is getting worse, he knows how to do such a thing, and then she places her head on the table and shakes it from side to side, which does not mean that what he asks is not true, but is the evidence for why she cannot shake her head up and down. The woman raises her tearful face and bares her arms, and says, look at them, can’t you see how thin they are?, and no matter how much she holds out her arms to him, he has no idea how thin they have become, so he simply says, yes, they are, and the woman sobs wildly, as if angered. Until a short while before, he had been wearing his suit jacket in a strange manner, but he now walks the road, already as someone who walks the road wearing his jacket as normal. The dark yet light thought that the terrible day’s day is gradually ending is as ticklish and refreshing to him as taking his hat off right after putting it on and taking it off right after putting it on. After asking to be still for a moment, he takes off the envelope from the light bulb, and then he starts to shuffle the books on his desk one by two, by three, by four, like when you shuffle cards, and it seems as though he is looking for something as he neatly gathers together all these shuffled things, but nothing comes out right away. The clock says eight, and the light is bright inside the room, but the clock does not alter its penchant striking and going, and from this point on, he thinks that if he begins right about now the work that he does won’t bother his digestion after dinner, and the reason is not that he wants perfect digestion, but that his view of food that he has eaten is to forget about it and let it be, if possible. He holds a piece of blank paper and a colored pencil, and opens an outer door, and opens another door, and then another door, and then another, and another, and 12

another, and another, and when he thinks he has come in far enough, he stands the colored pencil on the paper, and in that no man’s land he begins a beautiful and complex technique that he does just enough and stops, and because this widest field is a bright night to him, he can completely forget what seems most narrow and suffocating. Every day the limit of how far he can enter in increases, and though he believes that he will always be able to return to the place he began from without too much trouble, he also realizes that it may not be so, but it may be so, he does not know for certain. At such a time, the time that is fine for the woman to come to him, tired smoke begins to rise from his hand. The woman massages him with her broad hands that have grown thin because of her great suffering and tells him to sleep, but he thinks it is fine whether she comes to him or not, but he also thinks that it really would be fine if she sometimes came to him like this. If he goes behind the woman and stands there with his pants rolled up, he will not be able to tell if he is there or not, and he will grow angry, and so he hates her broad body and anyone else with such a body. Four—one, two, three, four, he thinks it would be nice if the clock would strike just a refreshing four, instead of all that cumbersome bit, but a clock is not like that, but even if it did as he hopes, one, two, and three will always strike out, and even life will also end somehow, and the filthy experience of the jacket that earned laughter from an unknown woman will also fade out and disappear, so there is no need to be this anxious, and if he covers the bulb with the envelope and takes off his clothes and abandons his body to the bedclothes, he thinks he will be able to forget everything, and how comfortable that would be, and he sleeps at last. (1932. 2. 13.)


The darkroom of the map  

Yi Sang (1910 – 1937) was one of Korea’s most innovative writers of modern literature, enough to deem him Korea’s finest modernist. He died...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you