Pasha Malla presents an interesting perspective on how Korean ideas about emotion relate to Han Kang’s “Human Acts”. Firstly, there’s the idea of hwabyeong (화병 or for those who are rigid traditionalists 火病). Literally fire disease or, to use the obviously contextually intended reading of 火， anger disease. The other concept discussed here, han (한 or once again 恨 if you prefer). I found it interesting that it was this character on its own that was highlighted here as the word most relevant to human acts because my instinctive response was to think of won han (원한 or 怨恨) referring to a grudge or grievance. On further thought however, 한 on its own seems the more appropriate term. Human Acts isn’t a story of those grinding the knife in memory of the wrong that has been done to them but of those bearing the shattered memories of unresolved injustice. In the chapter “the Factory Girl” for instance, the MC’s desire is to bear witness and have her friend survive. Perhaps even to regain a level of dignity as the hangeul 여공 for factory girl (女工) can also be read as dutchess (女公).
The English translation more than anything serves to highlight the nature of Han Kang’s style in the original Korea. No different fonts for the recording. Not even any speech marks. On one hand, this could be seen as a desire to have the text be a direct reporting not of the past but of the survivor’s own recounting in the present. The flashbacks then aren’t a portrayal of the past but of the survivor’s reporting of the past As Deborah Smith states “The past is not presented as past—neither antecedent to, nor separate from, the present.”. However, the use of the second person in certain passages presents a slightly different perspective: almost as if though the reader is being put into the role of experiencing the survivor’s thoughts: with all the chaos of the rapid un signposted flashbacks in the Korean version.
Hang Kang’s emphasis then then to a large extent is about the individual perspective over the objective and in a way then, it can be seen as a personal struggle not just against hegemonic oppression but one’s EXPERIENCE of it. At the same time however, there is a sense of regionalism or regional culture running as a very thin strand through the book such as when in Chapter 6, a regional dialect is used to show that the regional or cultural nature of the conflict along with the personal and political one