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A Collection of English Essay
(Lodon: Minerva Press,'1999)
As I said in one of my essays "Who Has Seen the Wind?", it all started with the wind - the invisible and irresistible wind coming from nowhere that drives a man, against enormous odds, to sail across the ocean, to discover a new continent, to explore the South Pole, to climb up Mount Everest, and to land on the moon. Once caught by it or exposed to this seemingly weak and negligible power, I could not shake it off, nor could I run away from it. In fact, my life hitherto has been a struggle with it, against it, and for it. It became my fate the mounent I breathed it into my lungs. English is my wind.
Before writing essays in English it was the English language itself that caught me and would not let me go. Since my first acquaintance with the English alphabet when I entered middle school when I was a boy of fourteen, it has alway been with me - alluring, annoying and challenging me. From that time until now my life has become, consciously and unconsciously, a battle for mastering it - arduous, of course, but an infinitely satisfying and rewarding one. Not only did I come to earn my bread for my family by teaching it, but through it, at the same time, I could make eternal friendship with the greatest minds that mankind has ever produced.
As all beginnings of good works ought to be, my initial motive or purpose for writing in English was modest and humble. I cannot but help looking back at the time when I first saw my essay "Philadelphia and I" published in The Korea Times about thirty years ago. I was not a columnist then. I contributed the essay to the column open to all the readers of the newpaper as an exercise of my English composition. As a student as well as a teacher of English language I thought it proper and profitable for me to write in English from time to time as a way of improving and polishing my English. But soon I found myself growing secretly ambitious as more of my English articles appeared in the newspaper, and quite unexpectedly some favorable comments about my writings were heard from time to time. More than anything else, in the meantime, I found I liked to write, and continued writing. I found myself devoting the best of myself to it. Slowly and gradually I came to believe that I had got something in there.
One morning, opening the newspaper, I found myself elevated one level up. Expecting to find my article in the open column, "The Thoughts of the Times", I found my essay was given a new and independent place. It was evident that, moved by my bulldog-like tenacity, they decided to give me a column without consulting me. I could well understand the psychology of those who made that decision. Imagine a man who has continued to write for more than a decade, steadily, if not regularly, for that pittance of fee ! My perseverance or my persistence, apart from the merit or quality of my writings, was formidable enough to terrify anybody into doing something about that man. Anyway, I was greatly pleased and flattered. It was no small a success for me in my life since I had my first contact with a foreign language. Like parents who get their first child late in their married life and who are so much eager to give a better name to their hard-earned child, I had tried and discarded hundreds of words and phrases before I chose "Ideas & Ideals" for the name of my hard-earned column.
With the "Ideas & Ideals" I lived another decade. To have a personal column in a public newspaper is a privilege as well as a burden. Columnists are like the players of some sports. Like a soccer player you have your ground on which you can play, and the spectators who watch and cheer you. But you are under perpetual pressure to play well, otherwise they will yell at you and boo you out. As you cannot play all the game well, so the writer of a column cannot produce a good and praiseworthy piece at every stroke.
Anyway, in the midst of self-praise, self-excitement, self-satisfaction, and self-consolation, more pieces have been written. One day I counted the total munber of the essays written. They were 121 pieces in all, to be exact. More than twenty years have passed since I began to write. I fell into reminiscence. It slowly dawned on me that I should do something with my works: publish it as a book. Quantity was good enough: quality was to be tested and to be approved and appraised as a whole yet. To find a publisher abroad in an English-speaking country would be a fine and fair attempt to evaluate my works.
By sheer chance my eyes fell one day on the advertisement section in Time and Newsweek magazines to which I had been subscribing. Minerva Press in London, England, was seeking new authors worldwide who want to publish their works. I prepared materials and sent them by mail, and waited, like an angler, in a mind of subdued excitement and pretended peacefulness. Within five weeks there was a reply by mail saying that they had decided to publish my essays as a book.
As a man who has a duty to fill up a newspaper column, I could not and should not ignore the topical subjects of the time entirely. Therefore, the essays included in the book could be a good chronicle of the recent social, political and cultural history of Korea. But my nature or my personality would not allow me to be satisfied with becoming a journalistic reporter or a commentator. I found myself, in the treatment of them, more of a familiar and personal essayist.
And readers of my essays will find at a glance that most of the ones included here, except for a few pieces, are of almost equal length. They may look rather mechanical or too systematic but fortunately I did not feel hampered by the limit of the newspaper column. I tried to fit myself to it, and I found it, like the net in the tennis court for the tennis player, useful and challenging for the improvement and sharpening the skill of my writing. More often than not, I felt the length of my column was too long, not too short. Freedom has a very deceptive face. Even the birds flying in the sky are not as free as we think they are. We have to learn to be free under certain conditions. Artists, in particular, should learn to be free within the given circumstances.
The essay is the most comfortable and convenient kind of writing with which anyone can feel easy and familiar whenever he has some itch in his mind to write down something on the paper. It can be, therefore, conveniently defined as any kind of writing other than novels, short stories, plays and poems. Its seeming absence of the established form of plot, structure, content, and even sometimes of the writer's basic discipline and technique and, more than anything else, talent, can be a great inducement for many to write it. They are just happy at and encouraged by the absence of these obstacles to writing. But very unfortunately they often fail to see that the very absence of these obstacles makes the would-be essayists helpless instead of being free. There is no knowing or teaching what makes an essay, and the borderline between essays and just insipid, banal, and commonplace scribbings is almost impossible to draw. This is why essays abound, but really good essays are very hard to find in this age of prose.
As I said already in one of my essays, "Who Has Seen the Wind?", I am greatful to the wind that came to me early in my life and has sustained me until now. I know the wind comes and goes like so many dreams we dream at night. Its being is not trustworthy. For many it will not stay long and faithfully. Many lose the track of it soon, while some are blown away by it and land in a place where they do not belong. Only those blessed few can keep and nurse it, control and tame it, from their boyhood through their youth to the end of their life. This collection of essays of mine is the climax and culmination of my boyish dream, of my career, and ultimately of the quiet and uneventful drama of my life.
(September 3, 1998, On my 58th birthday)
- 다음글 해바라기와 구두 [이창국 수필선집] 12.12.28
* Williamsburg, VA - reviewed a product · Aug 30, 2001
A model of essay
This book is very interesting book.
It contains the philosophy of life, as well as penetrates and
reveals the core of the phenomena of our society.