Skip to content

The Dead Don’t Rest

The Dead Dont Rest
By Christy Rodgers

South Korean author Han Kang has written two short novels translated into English in the past five years. In a time of global social movements for liberation like the mid-20th century, they would doubtless have been considered part of the literature of socio-political engagement. In the dyspeptic early 21st century, in the Age of Consequences that is now dawning, they are instead examples of what I would call a literature of mourning. What they are mourning for is the ever-less tenable idea that humanity is engaged in an irreversible process of triumph over its most destructive qualities.

Booker Prize winner The Vegetarian (2016) chronicled a seemingly average urban middle class womans disintegration and its consequences through the eyes of three people: the salaryman husband who overlooks and disdains her, the artist brother-in-law who becomes obsessed with her as an object of aestheticized desire, and the sister who tries hopelessly to understand and protect her, even as her own sham of a family collapses under the weight of her sisters mania. As with many literary depictions of madness, the story exposes (for those who are willing to look) the appalling deficiencies in what is considered normal in contemporary life. The eponymous unremarkable woman, ignored or objectified by two domineering men, first tries to purge her carnivorous human identity, and then finally even any animal identity, as she seeks refuge in transforming herself into a kind of plant life.

With the second novel Human Acts, Han Kang enters more explicitly political territory. She tells the story of a historical event: the 1980 massacre of students and workers in the southern city of Gwangzu by the repressive South Korean government, headed by the military dictator Chun Doo-hwan.

Hans excellent English translator, Deborah Smith, gives Anglophone readers a brief historical introduction. She also explains why this history is not just a long-covered scar but a recently re-opened wound. Chun Doo-hwan was the prot g of Park Chung-hee, South Koreas dictator for the preceding 20 years. Parks assassination set the stage for Chuns ascension only months before the massacre.

In 2013, the year before Human Acts was written, as Smith points out, Parks daughter Park Geun-hye was elected president, and the memory of that bloody period rose up like an unquiet ghost. (Park Geun-hye, whose conservative pro-U.S. party has been mired in corruption and patronage scandals since the beginning of her administration, was impeached and removed from office earlier this year. The regional ramifications continue to unfold, as North and South Korea play their proxy roles in the intensifying zone-of-influence jousting between the U.S. and China.)

Unquiet ghosts are central to the Human Acts narrative. As in The Vegetarian, a central event is seen through the eyes of multiple characters (seven this time). The opening section is the voice of a schoolboy, Dong-ho, whose life and death are the point of contact for the rest. The second section is told by an actual ghost, a friend who is speaking post-mortem, as his murdered body is being taken away to be destroyed by soldiers. The stories interweave, over more than 30 years; all are aspects of a single story, and it is not an uplifting one. It is the story of the consequences of organized violence and repression that, so far, are an inescapable part of human existence. Of the death-in-life that survivors of torture, massacre or the murder of loved ones experience: an irrevocable, pervasive poisoning of their lives that is not in any sense a triumph, as survival is often portrayed in popular films.

Han Kangs courage as a writer lies in her ability to stare at the events with an almost microscopic (yet somehow not clinical or jaded) eye, and find the details that give universal expression in individual lives: the seven slaps an editor receives when she refuses to disclose to an official the name of the man who translated a subversive theater piece, and the exact nature of the marks produced on her face; the wound that having a ballpoint pen driven into the flesh between his thumb and forefinger leaves in an ex-prisoner, and the feeling that rises in him whenever he sees one of those innocuous objects decades later. Kang knits the toxic intimacy of physical abuse together with the prolonged bleeding-out of mind and spirit. Again, as in The Vegetarian, the body of blood and flesh is the solid field upon which all the poisonous abstraction of power and its justifications play out.

In the authors epilogue, her fictionalized self describes how the Gwangzu massacre rose out of enforced oblivion to find itself in her consciousness a generation later. In the course of her research, she says:

I read an interview with someone who had been tortured; they described the aftereffects as similar to those experienced by the victims of radioactive poisoning. Radioactive matter lingers for decades in muscle and bone, causing chromosomes to mutate. Cells turn cancerous, life attacks itself.

This slow poisoning of the individual life is one effect; the other is the collective denial and attempt to obliterate memory, which turn both the living and the dead into unquiet ghosts.

Another of translator Smiths helpful additions is to point out several of the novels untranslatable aspects. For example, there are the multiple meanings that cluster around the word uprising. She tells us the novel contains dozens of examples: come out, come forward, emerge, surface, rise up, which suggests an uprising of another kind. The past, like the bodies of the dead, hasnt stayed buried one of the main Korean words to remember mean[s] literally to rise to the surface.

Most political uprisings are quelled when soldiers kill their fellow citizens en masse. This act is usually successful because it proves there is no moral limit on how far a state will go to preserve its power, and thus all other pretexts for its existence are demonstrably false. Resistance withers; it has nowhere to go unless it can replace the state in which case, in its triumph, it becomes the very thing it has been fighting. Less successful is the attempt to repress memory and historical fact. But until it wells to the social surface again, it festers in the individuals who experienced the denied reality, and many of them will die of its effects. Even if their bodies survive, they will be ghosts of history.

Han Kang is a writer from a family of writers, and already well-known in Korea. Her first novel was published there over 20 years ago. She brings this new genre, this literature of mourning, to the West now, where it serves as a harsh but necessary tonic in a culture from which the old eternally progressive fantasies are draining fast. She leaves open and ambiguous the question of any greater meaning in human life, given that down all the millennia, civilizations have not ceased to reduce living human beings to poisoned and broken objects made of meat and bone, when power demands it. If there is meaning to be found, it is in the act of remembering, even if we can only mourn, not celebrate the remembrance.

Christy Rodgers writings have appeared on Dissident Voice, Truthout, Alternet, Upside Down World, Counterpunch, and Dark Mountain Project. She lives in San Francisco and blogs at What If?: Tales, transformations, possibilities. Read other articles by Christy.

View the original article at

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Posted in Analysis & Review.

Tagged with , , , , , , .

Support #altnews & keep Dark Politricks alive

Remember I told you over 5 years ago that they would be trying to shut down sites and YouTube channels that are not promoting the "Official" view. Well it's happening big time. Peoples Channels get no money from YouTube any more and Google is being fishy with their AdSense giving money for some clicks but not others. The time is here, it's not "Obama's Internet Cut Off Switch" it's "Trumps Sell Everyones Internet Dirty Laundry Garage Sale".

It's not just Google/YouTube defunding altenative chanels (mine was shut), but Facebook is also removing content, shutting pages, profiles and groups and removing funds from #altnews that way as well. I was recently kicked off FB and had a page "unpublished" with no reason given. If you don't know already all Facebooks Private Messages and Secret Groups are still analysed and checked for words related to drugs, sex, war etc against their own TOS. Personally IU know there are undercover Irish police moving from group to group cloning peoples accounts and getting people booted. Worse than that I know people in court at the moment for the content they had on their secret private group. Use Telegrams secret chat mode to chat on, or if you prefer if you need to or buy a dumb phone with nothing for the NSA to hack into if you are that paranoid.

So if your not supporting this site already which brings you news from the Left to the Right (really the same war mongering bollox) then I could do with some. Even if it's just £5 or tick the monthly subscription box it will be much appreciated. Read on to find out why/


Any support to keep this site would be appreciated. You could set up a monthly subscription for £2 like some people do or you could pay a one off donation as a gift.
I am not asking you to pay me for other people's articles, this is a clearing house as well as place to put my own views out into the world. I am asking for help to write more articles like my recent
false flag gas attack to get WWIII started in Syria, and Trump away from Putin. Hopefully a few missiles won't mean a WikiLeaks release of that infamous video Trump apparently made in a Russian bedroom with Prostitutes. Also please note that this article was written just an hour after the papers came out, and I always come back and update them.

If you want to read JUST my own articles then use the top menu I have written hundreds of articles for this site and I host numerous amounts of material that has seen me the victim of hacks, DOS plus I have been kicked off multiple hosting companies, free blogging sites, and I have even had threats to cease and desist from the US armed forces. Therefore I have to pay for my own server which is NOT cheap. The more people who read these article on this site the more it costs me so some support would be much appreciated.

I have backups of removed reports shown, then taken down after pressure, that show collusion between nations and the media. I have the full redacted 28/29 pages from the 9.11 commission on the site which seems to have been forgotten about as we help Saudi Arabia bomb Yemeni kids hiding in the rubble with white phosphorus, an illegal weaapon. One that the Israeli's even used when they bombed the UN compound in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. We complain about Syrian troops (US Controlled ISIS) using chemical weapons to kill "beautiful babies". I suppose all those babies we kill in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Syria are just not beautiful enough for Trumps beautiful baby ratio. Plus we kill about 100 times as many as ISIS or the Syrian army have managed by a factor of about 1000 to 1.

I also have a backup of the FOX News series that looked into Israeli connections to 9.11. Obviously FOX removed that as soon as AIPAC, ADL and the rest of the Hasbra brigade protested.

I also have a copy of the the original Liberal Democrats Freedom Bill which was quickly and quietly removed from their site once they enacted and replaced with some watered down rubbish instead once they got into power. No change to police tactics, protesting or our unfair extradition treaty with the USA but we did get a stop to being clamped on private land instead of the mny great ideas in the original.

So ANY support to keep this site running would be much appreciated! I don't have much money after leaving my job and it is a choice between shutting the server or selling the domain or paying a lot of money just so I can show this material. Material like the FSB Bombings that put Putin in power or the Google no 1 spot when you search for protecting yourself from UK Police with "how to give a no comment interview". If you see any adverts that interest you then please visit them as it helps me without you even needing to give me any money. A few clicks per visit is all it takes to help keep the servers running and #altnews alive!

However if you don't want to use the very obvious and cost free ways (to you) to help the site and keep me writing for it then please consider making a small donation. Especially if you have a few quid sitting in your PayPal account doing nothing useful. Why not do a monthly subscription for less money instead. Will you really notice £5 a month?

0 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.