Quotes from The Square

Choi In-hoon, The Square, trans. Kevin O’Rourke (Devon, UK: Spindlewood, 1985)

“America has already been discovered. Western stagecoaches are only in movies. The Indians have become alcoholics. Where, mounted on what, and with whom, is one to produce an action scene?…At no other time has the heroic life been more impossible for man. It’s not that man has changed, it’s the conditions that have changed. When all the conditions have been plucked away, the grain that remains is beautiful superstition…All he [Myong-jun, the protagonist] knew was that the seeds [of living hero’s life and dying the hero’s death] could not flower in a dark square lit by a black sun” (53).

“As he [Myong-jun] came south on the Southern Manchurian Railway he kept crying out in surprise like a child. Although from the time he had lived as a boy in Yongkil he had a vague memory of having seen the sun go down on the endless plain that extends to Fengtien, it was indeed a spectacular sight for eyes seeing it again. The plain stretched as far as the eye could see” (94-95).

“He [Myong-jun] turned his eyes again towards the city [Hong Kong], as if fleeing from his own thoughts. The view of the port by night, a vast space filled with innumerable, burning lights, was like looking at some enormous passion. He recalled having seen a similar scene. Far away to the north. The northern border of the mass of land to which this port belonged. Dusk falling in a plain in Manchuria he had visited after going north. That passion. Above the dazzling lights of the city which lay in front of his eyes, a broad plain far away to the north, sparkling in resplendent gold, also caught his eye. The glass in the window was on fire. The distinctive dusk of Manchuria was so mammoth it gave the impression of immersing the whole world in a resplendent sea of fire. Myong-jun, in the process of writing the article he would send to the office tomorrow morning, put down his fountain-pen with a cry of admiration and went over close to the window. Sky and earth were a sea of fire. The clouds gathered in the west were a huge, golden lump of glass. The poplar trees which lined both sides of the road leading to the Korean People’s Kolkhotz office were like inverted brooms burning vigorously. It seemed as if at any moment sparks would leap in all directions. The things sparkling on the road were probably pebbles. The vast fields of corn and sorghum, stretched out in front of him as far as the eye could see, were a sea of fire. Even the air was on fire. A feast of fire…

[Now on Tagore, an Indian ship with POWs of the Korean War bound for a neutral country, Myong-jun has long lost the fire of political passion for the square] The only thing not burning was Myong-jun’s heart. It has been a long time now since his heart had lost its capacity for vibrant throbbing” (81).

“A man retreating to a cave when he was defeated in the square. But is there anyone in this world who isn’t defeated? Man is always defeated. The only think that is a problem is how ignominiously he is defeated, or how gloriously he is defeated” (143).

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