Thursday, August 10, 2006

The pluralistic utopia of 'Paradise Garden'

When imagining utopia, the green forests of Eden or clear blue seas of a Mediterranean paradise might come across one's mind. But when it comes to the men and women living there, one's mind goes blank. Why is it that dreams of a heavenly land always secludes human beings? Could this be because two people can never have the same vision of a utopia, or is it merely because people desire complete isolation from other humans?
Journalist-turned-author Kwon Ki-tae takes this question further in his first novel "Paradise Garden." By taking a stab at people's indifferent ideals of paradise, the 40-year-old author opens up a fictional world where different utopian ideals clash. "Since the world is comprised of all sorts of different views on ideal lands, it would be literally impossible for one type of a utopia to make everybody happy," Kwon said in an interview with The Korea Herald. "Pluralistic conceptions of utopia - that's what I wanted to talk about." Kwon's belief in pluralism is well expressed in Chapter 75, in which he describes the different eye structures of creatures.
"Are the colors seen by human eyes really the accurate colors of the earth? Is the world seen by human eyes really a perfect vision? Since a honeybee can only see gray, there cannot be a red tulip in its world. Due to its compound eyes, a dragonfly sees everything in mosaic. A snake can capture the heat and temperature with its eyes. While humans see only darkness at night in deserts or jungles, a snake sees movements of all sorts. I think this chapter best represents what I wanted to say," Kwon said. "What we believe as a perfect world could actually be a complete hell for others. This is why a singular paradise can never exist."
"Paradise Garden" centers on two characters, Kim Beom-o and Won Jik-su. Won, a faithful believer of market-economy principles, believes that a utopia only exists when the strongest takes over. If everyone had free access to the land, it could not be a paradise, he believes. Kim, on the other hand, believes that utopia is a land of nature where anyone can enter and heal their wounds. When Won, the president of a major conglomerate, plots to take over Dowon Arboretum, which was formed by Kim and his friends, Kim decides to fight back. Here, Kim represents ordinary white-collar workers living under oppression, while Won represents the owners of such powerful organizations. Speaking for the author, Kim learns the meaning of pluralism while he battles against the conglomerate, becoming more violent over time. This bloody collision emphasizes the dangers of forcing one's utopian ideal to another.
Although Kim might represent the dreams of many working men in Korea, while Won stands for the few powerful men - whom many might despise - Kwon does not take sides. "Since I have more in common with Kim Beom-o, I portrayed a lot of myself into him in the beginning. But Won Jik-su isn't a bad guy. He tries to live up to his beliefs just like Kim and everyone else," said Kwon. "When you have lived all your life competing, it is natural to believe that real victory can only exist when there is a loser." Kwon also has antipathy toward the repression and control of society and reveals an intriguing vision of naturalism and anarchism. But he believes that a society free from control is not the answer. Such thoughts are depicted when Kim and his friends talk about Auroville in India. Formed by people who believed in a non-governmental society, Auroville was once regarded as a utopia. But with no economic and social laws, the village was nearly destroyed.
"I wanted to capture an aspect of current society where people are being watched and controlled by companies and organizations. But I don't regard naturalism or anarchism as ideal concepts," said Kwon. "I believe that a community isolated from the real world would only fall back into an idle primitive state." "Paradise Garden" is a lengthy novel of two separate books that have about 400 pages each. Despite the lengthiness, the book is readable because of its intriguing plot. "Once I opened the book, the sentences flowed and I was turning the pages unconsciously. Then suddenly, I was reading the last sentence of the book," literary critic Kim Hwa-young said. Although many journalists dream of writing a novel one day, the dream is easier said than done. Reporters might know how to write, but are lost on what to write about. (

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