Monday, June 20, 2016

Summer Reading: "Superman Now" (초인은 지금) from 김이환

I've been following Kim's work for some time now, and, at some point, will post up my impressions of his novel, "Neighborhood War" (동네 전쟁).  But, until then, some short notes on his short story, "Superman Now" (초인은 지금) in the collection "The Superhero Next Door" (2015).  What draws me to Kim's work is his use of Seoul as the staging for his stories, and it is not difficult to see why.  Besides being a huge, Dickensian metropolis full of dramatic encounters and chance meetings, it is city of sometimes profoundly alienating spaces: row upon row of apartments, faceless office buildings.  Accordingly, Kim's Seoul is a place for disturbingly non-human encounters.  Seoul citizens are harried by a black-hole like sphere in 절망의 구 (2009), and by monstrous, multi-species aliens in 동네전쟁 (2011).  Confronted with the completely enigmatic, Kim's characters circulate rumors and wild theories, but their attempts to understand the city always fall short.  In Kim's contribution to this short story collection, the "superman" is likewise enigmatic: seemingly human, but unused to human contact and human physiology.  For some reason, the superman only saves people within the boundaries of Seoul--never the suburbs.  And he has never talked to anyone--well, perhaps just one person.  But he could also be anyone, an everyman with an ordinary appearance.  People who have been saved by the superman collect data and post it on an internet "superman cafe," and dubious theories abound.  Two of these people--one saved from a subway fire, the other from a terrorist attack--stroll around the plaza around Seoul City Hall while they wait for the results on a popular referendum a "superman law" that will place the superman under the administrative control of the Gangnam police force.  But it's doubtful that the superman will obey--if he even understands the politics of Park Geun-hye's Korea in the first place!   For Kim, the enigmatic story is another entry in his chronicle of Seoul, where the familiar and the uncanny continuously swap places, and where "superman" means both man and non-man.