7 April 17 | Chad W. Post

A Contrived World by Jung Young Moon, translated from the Korean by Mah Eunji and Jeffrey Karvonen (Dalkey Archive Press)

I’ve been reading Jung Young Moon’s A Contrived World in preparation for an upcoming class (we’ll be talking about his Vaseline Buddha) and god damn do I love this book. Why, you ask? Here are three quotes, starting with the longest one, the one mentioned on the forthcoming Three Percent Podcast:

Before I begin to list the things that I think are fun, I would like to take a moment to list the things that I do not consider fun: noises of all kinds, nearly every kind of music, violent things, depression, conventional works of fiction, fiction that reflects the times, novels that discuss scars, consolation and healing, novels in which characters’ actions weigh more than their thoughts, grandiose novels, touching novels (perhaps speaking of the dull nature of the critics who fawn over such novels could be somewhat fun, but not really, so let us just say that the reason for their behavior is that they either have no talent as critics or have no self-esteem as human beings, or both), growth novels, all-too-serious novels, novels that don’t exude an excess of self-consciousness, proverbial poems, things explained by common sense, obvious ploys (and those responsible for them), flawless people, people with nothing peculiar about them, people whose entire being exudes authority, people who are diligent and eager, people who want to contribute to society, people who have no interest in clouds, simple folk, talkative people, overly greedy people, people who know jokes but are without humor, unspeakably dull people who make me speechless (they are really dull), racial chauvinists, self-conscious women who act coy while pretending to be nonchalant (such women can be found everywhere in the world, but more so in Korea than anywhere else; since there has never been formal research, their exact number is unknown, but it is certainly more than the number of a certain species of near-extinct penguins in the South Pole), men who show off their strength and manliness (such men also exist in large numbers in South Korea; among them are those who tense up and crack their bulked-up necks noisily and walk with an exaggerated swagger; such a man might be a good match for a self-conscious woman who acts coy while pretending to be nonchalant), conservatives, and economic issues. I could probably add to this list endlessly. (Adding endlessly to this list is sometimes fun and sometimes dull.)

This sort of list-making gets me right away, especially when I a) generally agree with the observations, and b) these observations are entertaining without becoming too cutesy. Another thing that sucks me in? Talk about hobos.

He told me this and that about hobos. The world has its share of people who talk without being asked, and he seemed to be one of them. He told me that drifters are people who roam from one place to the next, and that drifters can be divided into tramps, who only work when absolutely necessary; bums, who never work and are not so different from beggars; and hobos, who find work as they roam. He said that hobos have held an annual American hobo convention since 1900, and that hobos have their own code of ethics, which prescribes that they must help other hobos in difficult situations, and have control over their own lives. Hobo culture is a weighty subject matter in American literature. Many authors, including Jack Kerouac, Jack London, Eugene O’Neill, and John Steinbeck, lived as hobos and wrote about hobos, coining numerous new terms, such as possum belly, a term that describes free-riders lying flat on their bellies on the roof of a train car so as not to be swept away by the wind. The hobo added that San Francisco is like a holy ground for hobos. These were all things I’d read about hobos. I listened carefully and quietly to catch inaccurate information, but everything he said checked out. It was as if he had memorized the content of some hobo manual.

These two quotes pretty much capture the tone and nature of this book. The narrator/author is in America, things happen around him, he reflects on them in an entertaining, occasionally insightful way, and the narrative follows his eccentric train of thought. It’s a real joy to read—exactly what I’ve been looking for. And since I’m sort of childish, I’ll close with a quote that’s a bit sillier and more juvenile than the ones above.

I would have liked to put my underwear back on and move on to something normal, but it suddenly occurred to me that I must not have let out a respectable fart since my buttock had become so unsightly. It seemed only logical that a person with a nice-looking butt would fart respectably. In order to test this theory, I tried solemnly to fart, to see what sort of unrespectable fart would come out, but I couldn’t break wind. I wished to release several farts in a row, rather than letting out one lousy fart, but there was nothing. I was angry at the gas that would not be released. My failed attempt reaffirmed the fact that trying to fart on purpose for whatever reason doesn’t work. This fact, too, seemed logical. I was not at all proud that I’d become aware of two very useless logical facts in a short time. I’m making this up, actually. From the get-go, I didn’t believe I’d be able to far, so I did not try.

Buy this book!

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