“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.
About the author
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 self-deprecating 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.
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