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click opera - 7 Lies About North Korea
February 2010
 
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Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 12:02 pm
7 Lies About North Korea

I first met Christian Kracht in 1991, when he came to London to write a feature about me for Tempo magazine. The photos were by a then-unknown photography student called Wolfgang Tillmans. Christian's next assignment was to live for a month as a homeless person on London's streets and write about that. When I next heard from him, he'd become "one of the best-known writers and journalists of his generation", with books translated into 14 languages. In 2003 he commissioned me to write a short story for Der Freund, the literary magazine he was editing, and I responded with "7 Lies About Holger Hiller" (published here in English for the first time).



Kracht managed to edit this German literary magazine while living in Katmandu, Nepal. He's now back in Berlin (the phone and internet just proved too patchy in Katmandu to get any collaborative work done) and has just published a coffee table book about North Korea. Total Recall: Kim Jong-Il's North Korea proposes "the nation as time machine". Leafing through Eva Munz's gorgeously faded photos of monumental buildings, vast boulevards with only one car, suspicious rental crowds, opulent (but non-operational) underground railway stations, and patriotic collectivist murals, it's easy to see parallels with certain parts of East Berlin. For Germans, this really is a time machine back to their own past. It's also, in a certain way, beautiful.

Yesterday I attended the launch for the "North Korea coffee table book" in the control room of an old power station (later the Vitra Design Museum) in Prenzlauer Berg. North Korean propaganda posters decorated the walls, and video monitors streamed whitewashing films at us, accompanied by solemn ceremonial music. The result was remarkably similar to ostalgie -- with more beautiful, faded East Asian pastel colours.



"Those few thousand tourists -- and a few journalists -- who come annually to the North Korean capital of Pjongjang are accompanied by guides and only allowed to see what the regime considers worth seeing," the publisher's blurb for Total Recall explains. "Some places are prepared particularly for this viewing with actors, who represent pedestrians, but are not, with consumer goods, which are apparently on sale, but are unavailable, and with dubious statistics. Kim Jong Il's People's Republic of North Korea is a gigantic installation, a simulation, a play. Eva Munz, Christian Kracht and Lukas Nikol travelled to North Korea to make pictures of a country from which there are no pictures. What they show in this book is a window onto the gigantic 3-D production of Kim Jong Il, who writes the nation's statistics and makes its film script. Because, from the outside, no accurate view is available of this total installation, the authors make the only one possible: they commentate their photos with quotations from a didactic book of axioms on the art of film written by the dictator - who not only collects wine and Mazda RX-7 sports cars, but also has an enormous film library."

While photographer Eva Munz (who was born in socialist East Germany) had found her experience of North Korea menacing, Christian Kracht was full of praise for what he'd seen of the nation. It was simply beautiful. People seemed happy. He felt very free there. It was like participating in a nationwide piece of cinema. It was only when he approached the South Korean border that Kracht, wearing a pink suit, felt menaced by something sinister: from the unfree south, yoked by the tight bonds of capitalism, border guards and Americans watched him through binoculars, taking pictures. I laughed with delight at this reversal of the usual stereotypes.



Kracht will give a talk at Rafael Horzon's REDESIGNDEUTSCHLAND Wissenschaftsakademie on Monday, September 11th at 8pm. Apologizing for missing my lecture there a couple of weeks ago, Christian had the perfect excuse. "I was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro that day," he said.

60CommentReplyShare

hook_and_eyelet
hook_and_eyelet
Picky Broad
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 10:29 am (UTC)
I hope you don't mind the ass-kissery.

Momus, your blog is simply indespensible.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 11:07 am (UTC)
Re: I hope you don't mind the ass-kissery.

Thank you. Breasts are an acceptible form of payment!


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nicepimmelkarl
.
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 04:12 pm (UTC)
Re: I hope you don't mind the ass-kissery.

cor, what a pair.


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nicepimmelkarl
.
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 06:41 pm (UTC)
Re: I hope you don't mind the ass-kissery.

just had 2 metaxas. i wanna suck em, you know what i mean....


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nicepimmelkarl
.
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 07:52 pm (UTC)
Re: I hope you don't mind the ass-kissery.

give birds a chance. that's what i'm talking about.


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nicepimmelkarl
.
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 08:16 pm (UTC)
Re: I hope you don't mind the ass-kissery.

oi !!! flatpack won't ansa.... it's autumn in crete...


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stanleylieber
stanleylieber
Stanley Lieber
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 10:38 am (UTC)

Sounds like my home town.


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kaipfeiffer
kaipfeiffer
Kai Pfeiffer
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 12:15 pm (UTC)

it's quite heart-warming to hear a shallow upper-class puppet in a pink suit liked the fancy play staged by kim jong-il.
i hope he also appreciated the acting skills of ca. 200 000 prisoners for life in the "reeducation camps", and other parts of the population, like unspecialized workers etc. categorized as "hostiles", and therefor having to live off 250 gr. rice per day. or even the 5-6 million people who don't get any food supplies, and are officially "not existing".

i'd like to have a pink suit, too.
if i get one, i promiss not to mention it, if i wore it in a country i know nothing about. especially, if i happen to have some crazy adventure like being watched by americans through binoculars.
a more insightful personal account from north corea through western eyes would be the comic reportage "pyongyang" by canadian guy delisle, who worked there for a while in the animation business. french edition from "l'association", english edition to come from "drawn & quarterly". delisle, like kracht, never felt menaced in north corea, but tried to have some basic human exchange with his corean co-workers, or his "guards", who followed him everywhere (he didn't need americans to be watched). but nobody would speak to him in a personal manner, out of fear to make a mistake and be punished.
i'm decadent european enough to prefer the movies by kim ki-duk from "the unfree south, yoked by the tight bonds of capitalism" to kim jong-il's sick and far too long epic in pastel colours.


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alisgray
alisgray
spoonful of sugar, pinch of salt
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 01:11 pm (UTC)

...well, yes of course. I thought that was implied. but, while it's worth underlining, it's also fascinating to examine the illusion itself and the illusion becomes a powerful psychological metaphor.

As a teenager I had the strange fortune to visit both East Germany and Russia on tourist visas. Even then and there the textures of newsprint and magazines was more brittle and coarse, and the inks, paints, and dyes were less saturated and somehow dreamlike. Books were so cheap. Chewing gum was a sort of minor illegal currency.


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kaipfeiffer
kaipfeiffer
Kai Pfeiffer
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 02:07 pm (UTC)

yes, i wouldn't deny the illusion created by kim jong-il is fascinating on certain levels. but, from momus' account of kracht's book and attitude, it doesn't seem he really examinated it. he merely took it as a stylish installation, which also provides him the opportunity to express a "provocative" position in praising a dictatorship for its aesthetics, and denying its attorcities by simple implicating "well, i wasn't menaced". ever hear of propaganda, kracht? yes, of course, and he loves it.
the gdr i know quite a bit. i was born in west berlin, but, for example, last year i did a project for bauhaus dessau in halle-neustadt, the biggest satellite town made entirely of "plattenbauten", built for 100 000 habitants, mostly workers in the chemical industry. now, 50 000 people are still living there. i spoke to many people there for this project (comic reportage about the place), and quickly learned how powerful the influence of the "stasi" (state security service) was, and still is, in a way. i wouldn't damn every aspect of the gdr, but as a dicatorship, it was a sissy next to north corea. and i, for one, prefer to live in a country where i can not only have access to the internet, but maintain a weblog, write, make and publish art and music freely. i feel germany is "yoked by capitalism", too, and it makes me more and more sick to see the way its going. it's not even all about capitalism, but about this stupid, greedy kind of capitalism which can't see two years into the future (basically, we must get rid of the stock trade, but to go into that would exceed this discussion). but north corea has no alternative to offer on any level. i'm shure momus thinks so, too, but this article's polemics i didn't find inspiring. and its subject, kracht, is basically a reactionary to me. which may not be easy to understand at first glance. one has to know a bit about german media, and its circles intermingling literature and journalism. well, whatever, on the other hand, he's easily ignored.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 12:41 pm (UTC)

I remember seeing photos, with comments, from Noth Korea not long ago. But it is far more different to READ about the experience than to watch mere photo's.


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 12:41 pm (UTC)

Ooops, that was me not logged in...


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desant012
||||||||||
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 02:04 pm (UTC)

Herr Kracht sounds out of touch to the point of delusional insanity. I agree there's so much fascinating about dictatorships like Kim Jong Il's, and his book sounds really interesting - but it's the kind-of fascination some people have with serial killers. The only difference here is that it sounds like Kracht is in support of the serial killer side of things.


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kaipfeiffer
kaipfeiffer
Kai Pfeiffer
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 02:22 pm (UTC)

kracht has some success as a "pop author", but is strangely obscure at the same time. his family relations to "springer verlag", the right wing publishing house responsible for "bild zeitung", our most disgusting yellow paper, known for destroying peoples privacy with made up reports about their personal dramas, allowed kracht to publish his magazine "der freund" under the wings of this respectable company. a magazine which hardly anybody bought, and even fans of the magazine admitted they just liked it for its nice design, but wouldn't read any of the texts in it, which are just of no interest, apparently not only to me ... (with possible exceptions like nick's article, i assume).
but kracht knows to get some attention from time to time, by "provocations" like occassionally praising a dictatorship. it's just bourgeois business.


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lapsedmodernist
lapsedmodernist
trust the hours
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 02:27 pm (UTC)

While photographer Eva Munz (who was born in socialist East Germany) had found her experience of North Korea menacing, Christian Kracht was full of praise for what he'd seen of the nation. It was simply beautiful. People seemed happy. He felt very free there. It was like participating in a nationwide piece of cinema.

Perhaps he was not familiar with the concept of the Potemkin Villages, that is an important political staple in all dictatorships (socialist and otherwise). And I am sure all the refugees and survivors from North Korea would be thrilled to know that their experiences were all in their head.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 07:33 pm (UTC)

i enjoyed your '7 lies...' story immensely. i love first-person narratives of off-beat mental states, as they show a world that might be, but isn't. i suppose the same can be said of the face north korea puts on for the world that visits it.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 07:41 pm (UTC)

You know, I'm tremendously glad you made that comment. I thought perhaps nobody had followed the link. It's a funny story, and I'd write more fiction if I thought there were people out there who'd read and appreciate it. Sometimes that really doesn't seem to be the case. I'm still very grateful to Christian Kracht for commissioning that piece, and I think some of his playful and generous spirit got into it.


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short story - (Anonymous) Expand















king_chiron
king_chiron
Chiron
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 08:42 pm (UTC)

Sounds like he's the modern version of those that went to Stalin's Russia and assured us everything was fine and dandy while they were starving millions to death and filling the jails with political prisoners.


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 09:51 pm (UTC)

Don't you think you might be overreacting a little bit?


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king_chiron
king_chiron
Chiron
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 09:58 pm (UTC)

Christian Kracht was full of praise for what he'd seen of the nation. It was simply beautiful.

I suspect on a per-capita basis the leaders of N. Korea have killed more than Stalin. No, I don't think it's over-reacting to say that apologists for mass murderers and those that fetishize totalitarian governments (of any stripe) should be called on it.


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wankerness
wankerness
TONDA
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 10:27 pm (UTC)

That's what I thought, too. Starving millions of your own people to death can't really be called superior to much of anything, no matter how much one hates the US.


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iblodgett
iblodgett
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 09:25 pm (UTC)
7 Lies...

A charming pastiche.


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beketaten
beketaten
Juliet
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 10:09 pm (UTC)

That is an awesome-arse story. I'm not entirely sure what to make of it, but that's part of what I like so much about it.
After having numerous dreams during my overlong sleep this afternoon in which I could no longer remember my identity as I fell asleep in a bus where sitting beside me were my mother and the rapper Nas...And watching my beloved soap-opera on a public television channel in a parallel universe, promising to show a video I had dreamed of sending to a television channel when I was five years old.
It's ridiculous and totally relatable, to all of this, and to the part of me that wants none of it at all.


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zzberlin
zzberlin
hh
Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006 10:33 pm (UTC)

I measure in with those that care about capitalism. I care about capitatlism because when you draw a circle representing weath, well, there is simply more weatlh than when you draw a circle without weatlh. I care because I believe in Adam Smith. I care about you, imomus, and that's whyI care about your manifestitaion, oodf, oh my I referet something.


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record_play
record_play
Mon, Sep. 11th, 2006 12:24 am (UTC)

truly disturbing.

nice coffee table book, we hope you choke.


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