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[Opinion] Ghostwriting for the Masses

Posted July. 04, 2003 22:02,   


` My words are not mine, neither is my laughter.`

So goes the first sentence of `Write Your Own Autobiography, Please`, written by Lee Cheong-jun. The novel is about a ghost writer who gives up writing an autobiography for that of a famous comedian. The letter he sent to the comedian says, "You should not publish your autobiography if you don`t have the honesty to admit your dark past, the courage to seek forgiveness for your wrongdoings, and the love for yourself by embracing everything about yourself."

Even now, 25 years after the book was published, the letter seemed to have failed to gain acknowledgement from famous people in our society. Once people become famous, they rush to publish books about their lives. There are even publishing companies which specialize in writing famous people`s autobiographies. Koreans are not the only ones to be criticized, as Hillary Clinton also hired a ghost writer to write her recent autobiography.

Ghostwriting is not always wrong however. When the illiteracy rate was high, soldiers who knew how to write often penned letters for their illiterate comrades. These letters, even though written by others, brought parents closer to their sons in the army, and made girls weep after having been sent sweet nothings from their loved ones serving on the frontline.

At that time, there were many scrivener`s offices located around government offices. Those offices wrote all government documents for ordinary, powerless citizens who could not afford to consult lawyers. People who don`t know very much about writing were often surprised at the superb writing and vocabularies of scriveners.

There was a memorable occasion when controversy over ghostwriting caused severe divisiveness in our own society. A suicide note left by a student dissident before he immolated himself to death at Sogang Univ. in May 1991 uncovered suspicions that the note was in fact not written by him, and controversy swept the nation that some foul play was involved in the case. At the time, 11 university students, workers, housewives burned themselves to death, calling for regime change. One famous poet even wrote an article to ask people to stop committing suicide.

After a comprehensive investigation, the prosecution arrested a friend of the dead dissident for writing the suicide note. He was found guilty for aiding in the suicide, though to this day he strongly denies the charges.

With general elections at hand, books about the lives of politicians are expected to flood bookstore bookshelves at anytime. These campaigners of course would be much too busy to have time to scratch out a book about themselves.

Ghostwriting is not only confined to political circles these days. Some people make money by writing self-introduction letters for university entrance applications or even graduate theses. Are we becoming a nation of ghostwriters?

And lastly, in the recent calligraphy contests can we be truly confounded by the fact that ghostwriting does exist, even in art circles.