2022 Sejong Writing Competition
Winning Entries :: Essays :: Adult second place
second place, adult essay division
Title: Choyeop Kim's "Symbiosis Theory" and Korean Reunification.
In Choyeop Kim’s “Symbiosis Theory,” the character's familiarity and rememory of Ludmila’s planet signal towards a yearning for reunification between North and South Korea. The story’s main characters – Hannah and Soobin – represent distinctly unique characteristics that could signal the divide among North and South Korean ideologies. Throughout the story, Hannah allows herself to think freely upon the results of their scientific study, not rejecting any possibilities based on any form of established social order. However, when Hannah expresses her results to Soobin, she says, “It’s as if multiple beings coexist inside the infant’s brain… I extracted the interoperations that showed p repeatedly and then sorted them out.” Hannah believed her speculation was “accurate, and inside the infant's brain, they existed.” The narrator described Hannah’s speculation as “radical-leaning” and went as far as to “offend other’s sensibilities.” Hannah’s “radical” views become scientific and political, something that can be read as a threat towards Soobin as radicalization may transform fundamental systems in society. Soobin presents a strong contrast, not allowing herself to speculate any possibility that could go against the already established common understanding of the science. When Hannah claims multiple beings are in the infant's heads, Soobin brushes it off, saying, “it must have been noise in the date.” The narrator claims Soobin “spares the team Hannah’s lunacy.”Further, Soobin remained steadfast in her belief that “everything might still turn out to be a massive decoding error.” Despite the evidence that Soobin sees, her dismissal of such evidence implies confidence in a state educational structure and societal systems that have long been in place. Thus, Hannah’s ability to let herself speculate and think freely could suggest a South Korean ideology, while Soobin’s refusal to speculate beyond the accepted understanding could suggest a post-democratization of South Korean ideology.
The central conflict in the story surrounds Hannah and Soobin’s ability to understand the symbiotic coexistence between the “them” and the infant brain of a human. Hannah discovers that coexistence exists from an infant’s age until they turn seven years old. While the “them” and humans are seemingly different, the symbiotic coexistence could prove to be a home for the past understanding of a united Korean within the character’s minds. Hannah notes that “symbiotic coexistence didn’t always involve a mutually beneficial relationship earlier in the story. In some cases, one party benefited while the other was unaffected, and in others, one party actively harmed its partner for a unilateral gain.” This creates an understanding of the two nations viewing each other as partners in a larger global state, likely the author’s response to the policies enacted in the last three decades – starting from South Korea’s first attempt at partnership through their Sunshine Policy (Robinson 165) to the current state of communications between the two nations under South Korea’s Unification Ministry (Kwon). These policies are aimed at making North and South Korea better neighbors with one another, actively participating in conversations about policies to increase trade and better relations between each other. While the two nation's cohabitation of the Korean Peninsula is a complicated arrangement, the two understand the shared past and land as linking the two into a more significant global state.
This ultimately asks readers to investigate Ludmila and her ability to coexist with foreign beings past the age of seven. Ludmila created an art exhibit called Never Leave Me, which the narrator claims was her “begging them not to leave her. Not to take away from her their world and its splendor. Please, oh, please to stay with her forever.” Though many saw this art as a distant creative expression, the result of Hannah and Soobin’s work shows that her planet was the memory of a past that was real. The narrator tells readers, “in every practical sense, she had visited the planet – through them – with whom she’d shared a brain all her life.” Ludmila becomes an agent of remembering something lost but critical to the existence of the foreign beings. The narrator says, “perhaps they just wanted someone in their adoptive plant to carry its memory, even if all the rest lived in blissful ignorance.” While the humans are entirely separated from the planet when the foreign subjects leave their brains, Ludmila’s planet becomes a manifestation of a literal planet. If the planet serves as a state whose memory once united the two people now divided, it forces readers to question the reasons for the foreign subject’s division from their former residence within the human brain.
This coexistence is the driving force in creating her artwork which causes a response of familiarity among viewers. Her artwork is described as “utterly real and completely imaginary,” signaling towards something that seems distant but strangely familiar. The familiarity that the characters feel is a result of their distant symbiosis, as Soobin thinks, “a wholly amorphous memory, flickering at the edge of our consciousness, without ever vanishing completely. It was our vague yearning for those who had shaped us into what we are.” The characters being to understand the implications of this finding within themselves, as they once knew of a place where they coexisted with a now understood foreign being: a unified Korea. As Soobin begins to understand the past coexistence that happened in her head, she feels something “somehow like a longing… for someone she’d never met before.” Her ability to “reremember” the past – through the image of Ludmila’s planet – drives her longing to bring back the coexistence that existed among the beings who now understand each other as foreign subjects. Thus, the artwork of Ludmila’s planet – as a result of the coexistence – becomes more than just a distant fictional artistic expression, but a memory that brings a yearning for a united Korea where all Koreans can coexist in a tradition known before the divide.
Kim, Choyeop. “Symbiosis Theory,” translated by Joungmin Lee Comfort. Clarkesworld Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine, January 2019, https://clarkesworldmagazine.com/choyeop_12_19/.
Kwon, Jake. “North Korea Reopens Communication and Military Hotline with South.” CNN, 4 October 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/03/asia/north-korea-south-korea-intl/index.html. Accessed 26 October 2021.
Robinson, Michael Edson. Korea’s Twentieth Century Odyssey. E-book, University of Hawaii Press, 2007.