Against the Nihilism of Suffering and Death: Richard E. K. Kim and His Works

Jooyeon Rhee, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Author Richard E. Kim. Courtesy of W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
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Abstract

This article examines the life and works of Richard E. K. Kim (1932–2009), a first-generation Korean diasporic writer in the United States. It focuses on how Kim struggled to overcome the nihilism of suffering and death that derived from colonialism and the Korean War through his literary works. Kim witnessed firsthand these two major historical events, which caused irrevocable psychological and physical damage to many people of his generation. In his autobiographical fiction, he conveys painful memories of the events by reviving the voices of people in that era. What his works offer us goes beyond vivid memories of the past, however; they also present the power of forgiveness as a condition to overcome the nihilism of suffering and death. Remembrance and forgiveness are, therefore, two major thematic pillars of his works that enable us to connect to these difficult and traumatic times. These themes are portrayed in such a gripping way mainly because Kim tried to maintain a certain distance—an emotional and linguistic distance—from the familiar, in order to elucidate the reality of the human condition: an ontological position of the exile from which he produced his works. This article argues that Kim’s works provide us the possibility to transcend the nihilism of historical trauma through articulating the meaning of remembrance and forgiveness from his self-assumed position of exile.

Keywords: Richard E. K. Kim, diasporic writer, Lost Names, The Martyred, Searching for Lost Times, Japanese colonialism, Korean War, remembrance, forgiveness