Busan Street Dialogues
By Andrew Lawrence Crown
Copyright © Andrew Lawrence Crown, 2022. All rights reserved.
The cool spring evening air and a refreshing breeze felt crisp and clean as it blew upon the faces of Raymond from Melbourne, Australia and Nishad from Tehran, Iran, when the two of them together walked outside of Go to the Coffee café and into the Busan night in South Korea. Neither cold like the winter chill of February, nor insufferably hot and humid like intolerable July heat, this comfortable and comforting April night air put smiles on both of their faces as they exited the coffee shop and the weekly meeting of The Society of Busan Writers and Thinkers which had taken place within earlier that same evening. The two English professors lived in the same neighborhood in Sajik Dong, so their habit and weekly routine was to walk homeward together after each meeting of the Society, with its group of ambitious intellectuals engaged in the art of writing and the always lively and deep conversations about this art the small gathering of expatriate English teachers and professors never failed to generate. Sauntering down the sidewalk at a leisurely pace, the two of them chatted reflectively about the evening’s predictably stimulating and enlightening discourse within the precincts of the Society. Both Raymond and Nahid agreed that the evening’s meetup had been a particularly lively and animating one, and they were still filled with the heightened sense of consciousness and keen artistic sensibility which the spirited exchange of conflicting ideas and theories concerning the method and purpose of the creation of literature had imparted to them.
Nahid confessed to Raymond that his fervent and spirited contributions to the evening’s discussion flew directly in the face of some of her most deeply held and cherished beliefs about God and the purpose of life and the role writing and literature plays within the drama of human existence. The Society’s discussion had officially terminated over an hour prior, when all present regressed to a more light hearted bantering and socializing over their coffees and desserts back inside the café, but Nahid now divulged to Raymond that underneath all the small talk, her thoughts remained focused on the intensity of the arguments Raymond had earlier put forth during the meeting of the Society. She confessed to Raymond the manner in which he had challenged her most heartfelt beliefs and assumptions about not just writing and its place and function in human life, but also her own place and purpose as a human being within the very universe itself.
Raymond thanked Nahid for taking his contributions to the evening’s discussion with the Society seriously. He well knew the manner in which he habitually stated his views was overly bold, perhaps even outlandish as the content of his personal philosophical predilections appeared to be when measured against the standards of a more conventional understanding of life. The existentialist framework forming the basis of his Raymond’s entire approach to writing as art was also the foundation of his attitude to and disposition to life itself more broadly conceived.
Obvious to both of these expatriate professors was the fact that there remained much more to discuss concerning these matters, opinions, and arguments left unsaid, neglected, or not fully developed and elucidated during the meeting of the Society in the coffee shop. The cool spring breeze left them feeling fully alive, awake, and alert, and so fully ready and willing to continue the evening’s discussion even in the absence of the rest of the Society. For the duration of their leisurely walk homeward, they both agreed to engage one another in continued dialogue.
Though the two of them were not aware of the fact, approximately thirty meters behind Raymond and Nahid, and likewise enjoying a pleasant stroll in the fine spring air after departing the coffee shop, walked the Society’s organizer and discussion leader, Paul from Chicago, side by side with Adriana the aspiring novelist from Los Angeles by way of Idaho. While Raymond and Nahid, lost in the intensity of their discussion, remained unaware of the presence of their two friends walking behind them, Paul and Adrianna, even in the dark of night illuminated only by streetlights, neon storefront signs advertising the wares within the assorted shops lining the street, and the headlights of the occasional passing vehicles on the road, could visibly detect that Raymond and Nahid were engaged in an intense discussion of some sort. Raymond’s wild gesticulation of his flailing arms drove home the point, as did Nahid’s halting in her steps every so often to answer back to Raymond, a maneuver she seemed unable to exercise while walking uninterruptedly.
Paul remarked to Adrianna how it looked to him like their two friends were engaged in another serious discussion of some sort. Adrianna agreed that Paul correctly surmised from the evidence on display, those wild gestures of Raymond’s arms and Nahid’s halting manner as she made her way down the boulevard, that the two of them, Raymond and Nahid, were continuing the discussion commenced hours earlier in the café. Adrianna remarked to Paul that she too had much she wanted to talk about that had been left unsaid during the scheduled meeting of the Society. While she told Paul she believed he had performed remarkably astute and exemplary as the group’s presiding officer and discussion leader, Adrianna also told Paul she had much more to say concerning the evening’s conversation. If Paul was willing, as she said she was, and as she knew Paul was always willing, she desired to continue the discourse in much the same manner of the two interlocutors fully and visibly engaged with one another up ahead on the boulevard. Paul, whose academic training focused on political theory and political thought, was never one to let any opportunity for engagement in discussion and debate of a philosophical nature pass him by, so he eagerly embraced Adriana’s proposal to continue the evening’s discussion, just the two of them, she and Paul, alone and unaccompanied by the rest of the Society of Busan Writers and Thinkers as they walked down the sidewalk feeling fully alive in the pleasant spring night air.
So, the two pairs of expatriate English professors, though separated by some distance from each other, proceeded as two independent dyads to converse with the same degree of earnestness and erudition always characterizing their weekly meetings with the collected Society assembled in the coffee shop.
Nahid was full of questions for Raymond, since his arguments ran counter to many of her most sincere beliefs as a Muslim born and raised in the theocratic nation of Iran. She did not hesitate to challenge Raymond to more fully explain, defend, and justify his contention, as an existentialist, that there was no God, and therefore no clear and evident purpose or meaning to our lives outside of our own creation and construction of such purpose and meaning for ourselves through the sheer power and force of our own will.
“If there is no God, as you contend there is not,” began Nahid, “And consequently no clear and evident purpose to life, then tell me Raymond, what is your reason for living and your dedication to the art of writing? Why try and struggle to write anything meaningful and significant when you believe all of human existence is a pointless and purposeless exercise in inescapable futility?”
“Yours is precisely the question I strive to keep at the forefront of my mind, especially when I am writing,’ Raymond answered. “I know you are a religious Muslim, and so you have a different opinion on this matter than I do. But ever since I first encountered the work of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Heidegger in graduate school, I fully embraced and accepted as my own the contention, which you will find to be the most commonly held assumption now viewed as established truth among the vast majority of contemporary philosophers, that God is truly dead. This widely held dictum does not mean that in any kind of literal sense that there previously was a God who then died and no longer exists. Rather, this claim, first made famous by Nietzsche, is more accurately the discovery that there was never any God to start with in the first place. The question for us Nahid, is whether God created humankind, or whether it is more honest to accept the truth that it was humankind that created God. I hold fast to this understanding of the relationship between God and humankind, the view accepted as firmly established and incontrovertible by most philosophers since the time of Nietzsche, the divine Nietzsche who suffered for all of us in order to dispel those deep-seated illusions confining us within the cave of conventional morality and the theology from which we have thankfully emerged. We must have courage enough to face and live with the consequences to which this clear thinking and intellectual integrity inevitably and irretrievably leads us. The contention that humankind created God is the starting point for all honest thought and philosophical positions. This is the significance and meaning of the contention that God is truly dead.”
“But how can this be?” protested the skeptical Nahid. “How could a human create an all knowing, all seeing, supremely powerful, omniscient being, which in turn created the entire universe and the very human who you claim created this perfect being, who my people know as Allah?”
“You are making the common error of understanding the death of God in a literal sense, rather than in its metaphorical and true meaning,” Raymond continued. “God does not exist, nor has God ever existed. The death of God refers not to the demise of this being who never was and never will be. Rather, it is the human discovery that God was and always has been a complete fiction created by humankind to justify a particular set of political and social relations and structures of power throughout each stage of human history. Humans created such a God as an act of will, as the culmination of the will to power, which Schopenhauer discovered and Nietzsche concluded to be the essence of life.”
“Tell me more about this will to power” Nahid requested. “I am having trouble understanding you, so please speak more clearly and try to remember that I am an English professor who lacks the academic training in philosophy and theory you acquired in graduate school.”
“Ah yes Nahid. Now you call me to remember those heady days of my graduate studies, when I was ambitious and full of big dreams to someday obtain an academic post in a top ranked philosophy department. But alas, decades later I find myself to be nothing more than a humble expatriate English professor with little opportunity to utilize my academic training as I instruct my students in the rudimentary fundamentals of the English language. Thankfully there remains for me and what persists of my sense of sanity and purpose, my writing and the meetings of our little Society of Busan Writers and Thinkers, and also the ample free time afforded to me here in Korea to engage in serious reading of the kind I grew accustomed to in graduate school. When I compose a story, I try to put aside for the time I am writing, all of these deep and weighty philosophical theories and instead write straight from my instinctive feelings. This is what I mean when I nowadays claim that I write straight from the guts. But I must concede that, even when I write following my inborn intuition, the weighty ideas I was preoccupied with in my youth never fully leave me.”
“To return to your question and your request for some more clarity here Nahid, I must tell you that my embrace of the truth of the death of God and the linkage of this tragedy to the will to power all those years ago was a life changing and life defining moment and experience for me. I will never forget the most poignant epiphany of understanding afforded to me during a lecture given by one of my favorite professors, a renowned political theorist, who taught the first seminar on Nietzsche I had the opportunity to enroll in during graduate school. This brilliant man told us in the seminar, regarding the will, that life itself is the will to power. The will to power moves through us, courses though us like blood through our veins, conveying itself into existence by using us and our lives and struggles to be and endure. Life is nothing more than the will, willing itself into existence through us as the medium and objects whose purpose is to enable the will to propagate itself forever into the future and eternity.’
“In Schopenhauer there is the sense that the will is imbued with certain sexual connotations, a function of the sex drive and the instinctive need and desire of all life on earth for procreation. Nietzsche took Schopenhauer’s discovery one step further, employing it to explain how from the will to power, all systems of government, social structures, theological constructions and their accompanying moral and ethical principles, emerged into being. All the former systems and structures, far from being created by a loving and omniscient God, have throughout the entirety of human history been the work of the value creators, the great men or the supermen, the uber menschen, from whose will came forth the fundamental character of each historical epoch and the philosophical architecture and moral principles underpinning each historical epoch.”
“So Nahid, the foundational moral and ethical principles undergirding any theological world view and the entire society emergent from this theology have always been the creation of human agency, not the work of some omnipotent transcendent God. This philosophical discovery is the true meaning of the claim that God is dead.”
Nahid was visibly unsettled by Raymond’s explication, stuttering and hesitating for some long moments before asking Raymond yet more questions in order to clarify what was to her an intolerable challenge to everything she knew to be true, holy, and sacred.
“I follow your line of reasoning here,” Nahid said finally. “But your argument calls me forth to pose many questions which I believe remain unanswered by your world view. Earlier this evening, during the meeting of our Society, you claimed before all of us present that the universe is dead to our suffering, that there is no compassionate creator to take any concern for our fate. According to you Raymond, we are all completely alone and isolated in our own existential prisons, and language does not suffice to bridge the insurmountable gap between ourselves and our fellow men and women. If this is indeed true, I still fail to understand why you continue to live and pursue literature as your chosen art, to try to communicate the depths of your despair to anyone else when you contend it is fundamentally impossible to do so with any hope of success. Why, for instance, are you talking to me this moment and revealing to me these dark thoughts, when there is, according to your view, no possibility for either of us to bridge the gap of understanding, the oceans between us, isolating, separating you from me and me from you. You appear to propose that any semblance of empathy for others remains unattainable since the gulf of isolation between you and everyone else in your life is too wide a distance to bridge. Can you see the contradiction in this? Are you not showing me some of the compassion and empathy you contend is non-existent, through this very attempt to convey to me the essence of the philosophical system through which you see and interpret the world? Why expend so great an effort to free me of my supposed ignorance of the true nature of things if I am really of no importance to you, if the ethic of love upon which the world’s great religions is founded is no more than an immensely popular conventional fiction? Am I nothing to you as a fellow human being because the ethic of compassion is an illusion? Is there even room for my existence for you, trapped in your cold dead universe absent of the one true all powerful loving God?”
“Now you are confronting me with the question of dasein, or existential being as Hegel and Heidegger employed the term,” said Raymond. “Allow me to provide a somewhat roundabout and meandering explanation of the matter at hand here, and I hope in the end to enable both of us to return, if ever so briefly and fleetingly, to a moment of clarity and understanding. Because there is no God and therefore no divine sanction for any particular system of theology, ethics, and morality, all value systems and the civilizations founded upon them are not rigid and permanent, but instead change and transform through each newly emergent historical epoch. This is the discovery of the historical nature of all truth, and from this discovery one is forced to conclude that there are no values, ethics, morals or truths that are everywhere and always the same, timeless or universal. All is flux, all is change and transient, all is relative, and nowhere and at no time are there certain and permanent eternal truths required for the existence of any sound theological system of ethics and morals. What remains from the cruel travesty of this discovery of the impermanence of everything is our need to face the stark reality that our lives have no clearly identifiable meaning. Instead, the only certainty awaiting all of us is the inescapable reality of death. Most people lack the inner strength and fortitude to confront the necessity of a death which is the final, total, complete obliteration of the self when there is no heaven or afterlife or soul to sustain any hope for continued existence into eternity. All that remains for us is the truth of dasein, or existential being, which must mean being in time and being in this world, which is the only world we can ever know and exist within. This concept of dasein is very difficult to grasp and describe, and Heidegger’s challenging writings on this theme are notoriously opaque and inscrutable. But try to follow me now Nahid, if only for a moment here as we walk down this street tonight, and I will attempt to show you how, even without full comprehension of the illusive concept, you can at least feel the truth of dasein, the truth of being in time and being in this world.”
“I will do my best to try to follow you,” said Nahid. “Show me, if you believe you can, the escape from the base nihilism which seems to my mind to be all you are left with if your ideas about the death of God contain within them any accuracy. See if you can show this devout Muslim woman you are now speaking to the true meaning of being in your dead and Godless universe.”
“Nahid,” continued Raymond, “I suspect you may already be aware that I hold you in high esteem. You are a special and valued friend to me for whom I maintain the utmost regard, and in your enchanting presence I have long been overcome by an attraction that has gripped me in its entirety from the moment we first met at the initial meeting of our Society of Busan Writers and Thinkers almost two years ago now. Are you aware of this fact, Nahid? Do you sense my interest in you as both an intellectual and scholar, but also as a woman? Surely you must have noticed by now how deeply I admire you and hold you in a kind of veneration from which I find some slight possibility of escape from the existential angst oppressing the rest of my experience of life when you are not near me and lifting me out of my solitude with the delightful intoxicating charms of your always uplifting conversation.”
“Yes Raymond,” answered Nahid without hesitation. “I admit that on occasion I have caught you looking at me with the kind of intensity and sincerity every woman, even a traditional religious one like me, can readily detect to be some kind of attraction rising above your mere interest in me as a fellow intellectual and interlocutor.”
“When you sense my attraction to you Nahid, do you feel anything similar yourself with regard to me? Are you not attracted to me, drawn to me in the same way I am overcome by my desire for you, this longing for you which never leaves me when I remain in your presence?”
Nahid suddenly was gripped by a sense of unease, abashed as she was by Raymond’s forward directness in suggesting the possibility of a mutual attraction and desire existing between the two of them. She attempted to formulate an answer to Raymond’s questions concerning this matter, but the modesty her strict Muslim upbringing had imparted to her from the earliest days of her childhood in Tehran, infused her response with an unmistakable sense of haltering, awkward discomfort. Eventually, after some long moments of silence, she overcame her initial reticence to reveal to Raymond her true mind concerning her feelings for him.
“I do find you to be a handsome and attractive man, and I am certain your good looks and energetic physical presence match your undeniably superior intellectual abilities. I cannot say I have ever before this moment harbored, either secretly concealed even from myself, or more publicly out in the open, any intention to act upon these thoughts, these feelings. But yes Raymond, it is true that genuine feelings and an authentic attraction for you do exist. I won’t deny it.”
Raymond, immensely pleased by Nahid’s confirmation of her interest in him, felt emboldened and encouraged, though his true intention was to use the opportunity their exchange of mutual admiration and feelings presented in order to further develop the philosophical argument he had been painstakingly constructing, rather than intending to act upon his desire for the dark, wide eyed Nahid in order to make her his own. Though he was drawn to the Persian beauty with a strong and unshakeable longing, he fully understood how great was the possibly insurmountable obstacle of her cultural background, a barrier for him which would more than likely foil any attempt by him to act upon and realize the culmination of his desire. He continued to pursue the topic of their mutual attraction further, hoping, if not to gain Nahid as his lover because he was forced to acknowledge there could be no romantic or sexual relation here absent the kind of commitment to a future marriage he was unwilling to make, that it was at least possible to proceed with his more theoretical kind of conquest of her.
“I want you to focus on these feelings you have for me Nahid. Perhaps they make you uncomfortable. Perhaps you are not accustomed to a man being so forward and direct with you as I am being right now. I do want you for my own, Nahid. I think you realize this to be true and obvious. Concentrate and focus on your feelings for me. This sensation of experiencing a longing for me, this awareness of how you are drawn towards me, the desire for a communion between us, this is the essence of dasein. This is the life force, the very will itself, coursing through you like the blood in your veins, leaving the two of us with a heightened awareness of the truth and reality of our existence in this world full of so many illusions obscuring the truth which we can feel but not completely and satisfactorily formulate into words. These sensations are the experience of being in time and being in the world, revealing to us an epiphany of understanding beyond the capacity of language to describe. But you are alive Nahid, you are the medium through which the life force flows and unites you to another face, another human being who is as lost and hopeless as we all are from the realization of our solitude and isolation in a universe and a life absent a benevolent God to guide and sustain us. The instinctual desire and attraction, this longing for me as the other you cannot deny, this fleeting effervescent sensation which too will pass away as all things impermanent must, this is the awareness of being alive, the one experience in this dead and uncaring universe which makes life sufferable and worth prolonging for the brief time we are allotted before we must embrace inescapable death as the finality of all finalities, the end of all ends, and entire obliteration of everything we can know and conceive of as real.”
Nahid remained skeptical, though she was able to follow the general line of reasoning in Raymond’s passionate speech. Yes, she was undeniably drawn towards him. It was an incontrovertible fact she wanted him and that she was elated that he wanted her too. Nonetheless, the unshakable influence of her conservative upbring, especially concerning sexual mores, prevented her from adopting Raymond’s portrayal of what she believed she was experiencing in her attraction to him. For all the power and force of his address to her concerning all of these matters, she persisted in maintaining her traditional views regarding all things connected to love and romance.
“Raymond, you must understand how unfamiliar I remain, even at my age as a woman who just turned thirty years-old a few weeks ago, with all things related to love and romance. I am entirely inexperienced and naïve when it comes to love, if indeed it is love you are referring to when you speak of dasein and this mysterious life force you contend is inexorably drawing us toward one another. Practically everything I do know about love and romance I have learned from reading all of those British romance novels which have been one of the focal points of my academic career. Jane Austin, the Bronte sisters, and other such writers, these have been my only tutors and exemplars in anything related to love. Back home in Iran my brothers, my mother, my father before he passed away, all of my other relatives and family connections have for more than a decade now admonished me to find a Persian husband and settle down into a traditional Persian marriage. So far, I have been able to resist the pressure exerted by my relations, because I fear that after marriage, my husband will force me to give up and forgo all of the ambition with which I have pursued my academic career. I possess no desire to content myself with the mundane drudgery of family life lived in the context of Persian conventions. I don’t want to give all of my time to cooking and keeping house and raising children, when what I really want to do is to write my own brilliant and modern version of the old Victorian novels I so adore more than I think I could any man or even my own child.”
“I refuse to submit myself to the authority and control of any man, so I have with intention and purpose remained single and alone in spite of all of the pressure from my family to find a husband. They all expend considerable efforts to convince me to return without delay to Iran, where they believe my prospects for finding a suitable Persian husband are of course much greater than they are here in Korea. Already I have been living and teaching here in Korea for several years, and my university back in Iran has granted me just six more months of the extended sabbatical leave which has made my time here in Korea possible. I hope to use what remains of my sabbatical here to get started writing my first novel.”
“Raymond, serious and solemn Raymond, you must understand that I have little to no prior experience with men in any kind of romantic sense, not to even speak of any manner of sexual relations. Tell me truthfully, is what you are proposing now a long-term serious relationship with the real possibility of marriage on the horizon, or are you looking for a more superficial affair of the kind that is impossible for a traditional religious woman like me? You speak grandiloquently about the truth of longing and the life force, but do you really intend to use me as your plaything and toy you will inevitably discard when the novelty wears off and you are eventually overcome with boredom? Most of the men in my home country, they want to marry inexperienced and young girls who are easy to dominate and control. If I permit myself to become romantically and even sexually involved with you, please appreciate how this will severely diminish my prospects for marriage to a Persian man back home. Please, I beg of you, be direct and honest with me. Is your intention to use me for a short while in order to experience the heightened sense of being and nature of existence you crave so desperately, or do you want to be my husband and love me with the pure unadulterated love I have as yet only experienced second hand through reading my treasured English novels, my only refuge from the solitude in matters of love I have imposed upon myself in order to preserve my independence.”
“Ah Nahid, Nahid,” responded Raymond in a sorrowful lament. “This is why I am filled with an unquenchable longing for you and desire for a union between us more spiritual than physical. Supremely intelligent and good Nahid, with a deep perception of your place in the world. I don’t know if I love you Nahid. I am filled with doubts as to whether the kind of love you seek even really exists. Perhaps the selfless sacrificial love you crave is a possibility for you and other people like you, but as for me, I often consider true love to be unobtainable. I know my view of life in this world of suffering and pain is far too dark for an elevated soul like yours. I am forever tainted and scarred by the brand of nihilistic hopelessness and despair I simply can’t shake off. What I am proposing for the two of us is nothing like the romantic, idealized Victorian love you seek. I only know I am overcome by the kind of all consuming passion which can only be satisfied if we give ourselves to each other fearlessly and courageously with no thought of tomorrows. I am asking you to join me in this surrender to the urges of the moment with no heed for the future which may see us returned in defeat and pain to the lonely solitude of our current isolation. Love. Love. Like so many women you speak always of love. Nihilist though I am, when I look into your dark eyes and peer into their depths, I only know I want to possess you entirely and selfishly, if not for the eternity I cannot fathom, then at least until as long as it takes for me to cure this painful ache shaking my entire being.”
“I want you to kiss me now here on this street, here under the cover of this dark night,” commanded Nahid without constraint. “I want you to hold me in your arms and possess me and fill my emptiness with all of your confessions of longing and need. I want you to promise me to take me with you into the eternity which you say does not exist. But please understand Raymond. I cannot, I will not permit you to do it. Yes, I am inexperienced and naïve concerning all things related to men and love, but I am unable to live without a thought for tomorrow as you propose we should do. If you are unable to confess your love for me, a love that will continue to shine and endure after the thrill of your initial passion subsides, then I must refuse you and reject your invitation to accompany you on your quest for authentic being. You say you do not know if love even exists, but I know Allah himself is love. I submit myself to Allah’s commandments in all of their magnificence and purity, to all of God’s incomprehensible compassion, a compassion and capacity for forgiveness which extends even to the sins of an unbeliever like yourself Raymond. The world and everything in it were created in an act of supreme love. I will not reject this gift and demean myself by falling into the meaningless emptiness of a tawdry affair. I have waited too long and too patiently for true and pure love. I will not disavow my God with ridicule and defiance of his destiny for me. You are asking me to submit to the power of your momentary passion as the only experience that is truly real, but I can never agree with you about this because to a true believer like me, all of your eloquent words are nothing more than empty and delusive deceptions and lies.”
Some thirty meters behind Raymond and Nahid, also walking home from the coffee shop after the adjournment of the weekly meeting of the Society of Busan Writers and Thinkers, were Paul and Adriana. Though it was already quite late with the darkness of night settled in over the streets of Busan, Adriana and Paul could clearly see Raymond and Nahid up ahead of them, their two figures illuminated by the street lights, neon shop signs along the boulevard, and the headlights of the occasional passing vehicles on the road. Obvious to both Paul and Adriana as they walked along side by side and quietly at first, was the fact that their two friends were engaged in the most serious kind of discussion. The evidence for this was the wild gesticulations of Raymond’s arms as he spoke, as well as Nahid’s stopping dead in her tracks every so often to make an important point and challenge Raymond with another one of her poignant questions. Paul and Adrianna both wondered with a great curiosity and interest about what subject occupied the attention of their friends engaged in such and adamantly pursued discourse. Adriana finally broke the silence of the late-night stroll with Paul, asking him to speculate concerning what subject might occupy the conversation so passionately pursued by the two Society regulars in front of them.
“What on earth do you think those two are talking about just now?” Adriana asked Paul. “Whatever it is, I can imagine from their body language that it must be some weighty topic of supreme importance.”
“Yes Adriana. They do look to be thoroughly engaged in another serious dialogue,” said Paul. “I can’t say for certain I know what they might be talking about since they are out of hearing range, but I can surmise from everything I already know about Raymond that he is probably at this very moment engaged in another attempt, doomed to failure, to convert our pious Nahid to his brand of Godless existentialism. They are out of earshot, and what, with the traffic and intermittent passing of the occasional and loud city bus, it is impossible for either of the two of us know for certain what they are saying to one another. A lovely night it is with this cool springtime breeze, but the sound of the comfortable wind in my ears precludes any attempt to listen with clarity to any voice in the night other than yours, Adriana. Still, I believe I have come to know Raymond so well over the course of our weekly meetings of our Society, and I can speculate with confidence that he, who is so proud to announce how he has forsaken any belief in God week in and week out during our meetups, is at this very moment trying to induct into his irreligious species of faith in nothingness the true believer, our friend the good and faithful Nahid. Raymond never fails to contend, with the religious like fervor of one whose only remaining belief is in the impossibility of all belief, that God is dead, and furthermore this incontrovertible fact must inform the way the rest of us write and think.”
“Yes Paul,” Adriana agreed. “You are probably right in your guess concerning the probably topic now occupying the attention of the Nietzschean existentialist and the pious Muslim up ahead of us. Raymond’s ceaseless proselytizing against religion is as predictable as the rising of the morning sun. I suppose he is not much different from you in this respect. You, like Nahid, remain a true believer with your unshakable faith in God an impenetrable fortress against the consistent and inevitable assaults by Raymond against your stalwart adherence to your faith. But you, not unlike Raymond, remain an evangelist, if not in religious matters, then with regard to your particular idiosyncratic and iconoclastic views concerning what constitutes the most feasible and reasonable methods of publication available for deep thinkers like yourself and the rest of us in our Society of Busan Writers and Thinkers.”
“You may very well be correct, Adriana,” Paul agreed. “Self-publication online is a kind of religion for me, one I have promoted and adhered to myself for almost sixteen years now. There was a time when I, much like you now do, harbored those same fantastical ambitions to publish in the traditional way and make a big name for myself in the writing world, and also to earn the kind of money for all of my efforts as an intellectual and writer that now motivates you, Adriana, to continually attempt to chase down and seek the attention and support of that New York literary agent who has been giving you the run around for years. I set aside and laid to rest those dreams of notoriety and fame some time ago, because I realized how most of my writing is too heavy and sophisticated, and I’m not ashamed to admit, far too highbrow for the kind of mass market appeal required for success in the writing world in the conventional meaning of this word, success. These days I am content to write primarily and foremost for myself, and also for those other kindred spirits, though they may be scattered far and wide, never to constitute the kind of mass market audience required for commercial success for any writer. I am confident I am reaching those readers who share my old fashioned and outdated notions about what constitutes good writing. I no longer maintain any hope or ambition for the conventional success and renown you so desperately seek and desire, so I am content to continue to write in the heady high intellectual style, convinced as I am that I do, on occasion, reach and satisfy those few, sparse and scattered others in accord with my ideas regarding the purpose of this fantastically rewarding but also tremendously frustrating business of writing.”
“Sounds like you know exactly what you want to do with your writing, Paul. I admire you for your dedication your art and your commitment to the pursuit of literature for its intrinsic value. So good and thoughtful of you to organize and assemble our little Society of Busan Writers and Thinkers. I know that I, and I think I can also speak for the rest of the members of our Society, have benefitted immensely in terms of the quality of my writing and the formulation of my own personal philosophy of writing. The disparate and often clashing views concerning the art and craft of writing I have been exposed to though my participation in our weekly meetups have forced me to think deeply about why I commit myself to this undertaking of spilling the ink in the first place. Still, I remain fully committed to my intention to publish my novel though the normal channels. I just cannot bring myself to give it all away for free or satisfy myself with the sense of personal contentment and accomplishment sustaining you in your art by putting it all out there in cyberspace. I have worked too long and too hard on my novel to forgo these long-held dreams of landing a handsome contract with a New York publishing house.”
“Adriana, I too once shared your species of ambition for conventional and commercial success as a writer. Many years ago, when my Korean wife Suji and I were living in Chicago and teaching in high schools there, I submitted a number of my stories to literary agents. I received some positive feedback, but nothing panned out. My wife and I at that time were in the process of applying for her permanent residency status, what is more commonly referred to as the green card, so the two of us could remain together in Chicago and make a life for ourselves there. During this period of time when we were awaiting a response from the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, the regulations stated that I needed to earn an income sufficient to support the green card application. It was then that I was contacted by several literary agents interested in working with me on getting my work properly published. Unfortunately, the plan of action each of the agents proposed would have placed Suji’s green card application in jeopardy. The literary agents wanted me to drop everything and resign from my position at the selective enrollment high school for gifted students, in order to move to New York and write for them. They were put off by my hesitation to set everything else aside, throw caution to the wind, and go for broke in an attempt to make a name and career for myself as a writer. But I turned down their offers and invitations to relocate to New York and lay all my chips down in an attempt to make it as a full-time novelist.”
One agent in particular called me up in my Roscoe Village apartment, in order to counsel me to leave teaching and dedicate myself entirely to writing. She wanted me to change the location and setting of my expatriate tales from South Korea to Japan, believing there was a bigger market for books about Japan than there was for books about South Korea. This was some eighteen years ago when I got the call from New York, a number of years before the advent of the Korean wave with its K-pop and Korean film and dramas, and so many other elements of Korean culture now taking the world by storm. Think Gangnam Style, BTS, the blockbuster movie Parasite, and the Netflix hit series Squid Games. Korean popular culture is currently an international sensation. But back then, at the time the agent wanted me to write about Japan instead of Korea, most people outside of the small nation of South Korea were familiar mainly with the once hermit kingdom primarily as the site of all the geopolitical tensions surrounding the ongoing conflict between free, democratic, and capitalist South Korea, and the authoritarian dictatorship to the North. I was deeply offended by what I considered to be the ignorance of the literary agent regarding the considerable difference between Korean and Japanese culture and society. Married to a Korean citizen, and having lived and taught in Korea for years, I was more aware than the agent of the history of conflict, colonialism, and wars which had colored the fraught relationship between these two countries for centuries on end. I tried my best to explain my reasons for staying with the Korean setting and themes in my writing, and my staunch refusal to substitute Japan for Korea in all the many stories I have written about the land I consider to be my home away from home. For some reason this particular agent was incapable of grasping the sense of my reasoning and why I refused to write about Japan, a country I have neither lived in for an extended period of time nor traveled in extensively. In the end, I let go of what might have been a singular opportunity for me as a writer, but I felt I had to do it to preserve the artistic integrity of my work.”
“I admire you for your dedication to your wife, Paul, as well as for your regard for the artistic integrity of your writing about Korea. That agent should have realized how offensive was her proposal for you to lump Korea and Japan together as one entity, especially given the considerable history of distrust and outright animosity long characterizing the fraught relations between those two countries. Still, if I had been in your position and received the invitation to write for that agent, I would have dropped everything and immediately booked the next flight to New York. When opportunity knocks, you have to respond with decisiveness and determination, because who knows when another lucky break like that one will come your way.”
“Maybe you are right, Adriana. “I probably responded with too much restraint and hesitation when I received all of those phone calls and invitations from the literary agents who were genuinely interested in my work. But please understand, I was in a bind, all because of the green card and the government mandate that I earn sufficient income to support the permanent residency application we had filed for Suji. I was afraid of the possibility that nothing would come of all of my efforts to publish big time, even with the help and assistance of seasoned professionals in the industry. My fear at the time was that even if I succeeded in landing a book contract, I still might not earn enough money to support Suji’s green card application. I suppose I will never know for certain what might have happened and what might have been, had I not acted guided primarily by my instinctual aversion to risk and chance.”
“Anyhow, as I often repeat in the meetings of our Society of Busan Writers and Thinkers, I like to maintain complete and total artistic and editorial control over my creative works. I am fairly certain I would dislike working with literary agents and editors who would try to convince me to make the kind of revisions and alterations in my writing I know I would stubbornly refuse to make. Change Korea to Japan? Absolutely ludicrous and insulting to anyone who has spent any time living, teaching, and writing in Korea, or anywhere else in Asia, as we have Adriana. Yes, I am a snob and a fool to insist on writing in the highbrow and elitist way I refuse to forsake in exchange for worldly success as an author. I don’t write for money or for fame, but instead mainly for myself and for those few like-minded sophisticates and intellectuals, those rare kindred spirits who I know are somewhere out there in cyberspace reading and appreciating and approving of my work. I meet them from time to time and also receive some of their e-mails. They are often other expatriates like us, who always thank me for telling the world “our story”. You long for recognition from the gatekeepers of the writing industry, and that Adriana is why you won’t let go of your dreams concerning the big-time contract you aiming for. You too, like me, are a snob in your own fashion when it comes to your demand for the kind of validation of your worth as a writer you believe only traditional publication will afford you. All I can say is good luck my friend. What a pleasure and a privilege it is to help you as you proceed upon your journey to whatever destination you seek for yourself. I am honored to accompany you and help you spill some ink as we make our way together and separately along this road we have chosen for ourselves. Whatever happens to either and any of us, we can all appreciate how our journey, though filled with some of the inevitable hardship and difficulty all artists must learn to embrace without fear, is as refreshing and as life affirming as this cool springtime breeze awakening us to all of the possibilities of a life lived with the audacity, pluck, and mettle of a truly creative soul.”