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Kilt and QuiltJoo Min-hyeon

『Kilt and Quilt』

Author: Joo Min-hyeon
Publisher: Munhakdongne
Publication date: March 10, 2020
Pages: 148
Format: 130x224mm
ISBN : 9788954670951

Joo Min-hyeon

Born in 1989 in Seoul. Made her debut through the Korea Economic Daily’s Annual Spring Writing Contest in 2017. Received the Sin Dong-yup Prize for Literature in 2020.

We act, In retrospect


Within Joo Min-hyeon’s world, two people that are placed within the same space appear as two separate beings. The couple that she tries to accomplish through her work is not a narcissistic pair of one reflecting the other as if upon a mirror. Nor do they draw out jealousy or resentment in competing against each other to achieve the same desire. They do not seek completion by becoming one with one another. Neither does one represent the inner monster of the other that Mary Shelly’s Victor never succeeded in facing. The couple that the poet illustrates contains one that practices imitating the other, while maintaining its completely different appearance from the other. Thus, the pair depicted in Joo Min-hyeon’s poetry is one that practices togetherness, but never forces another to forsake its identity and become one in return for that closeness. I did mention solidarity above, however, I do not believe that the imitation the poet is painting has solidarity in mind. As I mentioned previously, what the pair reflects in her work is something more fundamental.

To be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women has developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such a limited space. But this has been at the cost of a woman’s self being split into two … From her earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually.

And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituents yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman … The surveyor of the woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object.[1]

John Berger, in exposing the violence of the male gaze inherent in modern European nude portraits of female bodies, speaks of the two-fold self or surveillance that exists within a woman. The female self is split into the surveyor and the surveyed. This “split self” is the result of years of teaching and persuasion thrust upon her by male ideology. John Berger makes the following example, “Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping.” The poet offers an even better anecdote. “What woman would offer her heart to a plain man?/ But I only loved such men.” What truths do these lines expose? The ideology of “pure love” forces women to form romantic attachments with men who are worse off than they are. Society has trained women to think that looks aren’t important nor is money everything. When the poet speaks of the time “Auntie Ra-ra I met in my dreams/ She has so much to do and so much she wants to do/ She organizes the yard in the morning and sets the table in the evening/ Her joy and hobby is to make clothes for her family/ Soon I developed affections for her and/ Became a dog that strongly wags its tail and [I opened] my eyes” (“Imported Snacks Dime Store”) she does not point the finger towards Auntie Ra-ra or herself for blindly pursuing the fixed female stereotype without deep contemplation on social norms or gender. Because that would be too easy.

At first glance, Joo Min-hyeon’s togetherness appears tentative and passive. However, I believe it is in fact the opposite. The doubled pair she accomplishes within her poetry is the most subversive response to the split female self. The female self within male ideology as depicted by Berger is 1. originally one but is split in two; 2. has hierarchy between the surveyor and the surveyed; and, 3. twists and represses the subject’s cognizance. However, the pair in Joo Min-hyeon’s work is 1. a co-existence of what is originally two; 2. a commune without any surveillance or hierarchy; and, 3. therefore a recovery and a renewal of the two subjects’ cognizance. The gaze of the subject that has lived its whole life as a repressed female will function in a way that is fundamentally different from that of the male objectifying the world through its gaze of power. The subject of Joo Min-hyeon’s poetry, by responding to the torn self by juxtaposing opposing factors such as together/split, equality/hierarchy, renew/twist, presents the possibility that two individuals can occupy the same space and simply exist, without violence or hierarchy.


Kim Sang-hyuk


[1] John Berger, Ways of Seeing, BBC/Penguin (p. 46–47)

Translated by