dagNotes: Alienated Solitude
Solitude in Bataille is not individualist, which is alienated solitude. This is very important.
Documents—not so books because I think books are always more than they are supposed to be and fetish objects that writers will always praise more than readers and consumers more than writers—documents are what we have post-production. I like thinking about Anti-Oedipus for many reasons, but the more I read it, the more vital it becomes for me as I process what it means to write, to be a writer, to write with others, to be a colleague, to teach, to be with students.
Desiring machines work only when they break down and by continually breaking down. Writing is breaking down. I think of Olson’s “Projective Verse” and his concern about the poet’s voice. Let’s be clear. He’s concerned about his voice, which is the poem being spoken, the poet breaking down, documenting the performance of breaking down. Retrospectively, what producer wouldn’t insist the physics of the poem are such that the reader is speaking with the poet’s very own breath—not breath but his breath. Deleuze and Guattari note even desire desires death, and that this is the death instinct. The organs of life are the working machine. A document is not a working machine. It’s the record of the machine working.
Our documents—for me a poem or prose-verse or an essay—are bodies without organs. The body without organs is nonproductive nonetheless, it is produced, at a certain place and a certain time…it is not a projection; it has nothing whatsoever to do with the body itself, or with an image of the body. It is the body without an image. This imageless, organless body, the nonproductive, exists right there where it is produced… . It is perpetually reinserted into the process of production.
Poetry and composition are something else. The state of affairs or being—a discourse, spirit. I think we forget that there is production, on the one hand, and products on the other because they exist right right there in the same place, often, apparently, at the same time.
I’m complicating the original work for a reason. We—readers and writers—conflate the body without organs and the desiring machines all the time. Deleuze and Guattari quote Antonin Artaud: the body is the body/ it is all by itself/ and so has no need of organs/the body is never an organism/organisms are the enemies of the body. The binding of a book helps us think of the document as a smooth, slippery, opaque, taut surface as a barrier. As a barrier to what? As a barrier to resist linked, connected, and uninterrupted flows. The books sets up a counterflow of amorphous, undifferentiated fluid.
We are left with the resulting production of paranoiac machines, that is a projection that results from the body without organs can no longer tolerate the desiring machines. The critic is the body without organ’s counter-measure. The critic is the counter-inside; the publishing industry’s market, the counter-outside.
Reading is so much more fun when you can do this with it, when you play with it. And seriously, fuck The Church of the Book. The performance is key and we can all perform. I think we forget that books are written. We don’t ever say, “books are writing.” We act like they are. The paranoiac wonders how else will I persist without books; how do I know you’re authentic without books?
Schreber always wrote about fleeting bodies and transparent bodies pierced with rays of light—becoming a women is becoming transparent. The book, in this manner, is very much a masculinist capitalist object.
Really disgusting how the critique of hook-up culture always places the onus of responsibility with women insisting women participating in hook-up culture, say, leaving a bar with a new friend, create an opportunity for assault to occur. This lazy common-sense claim certainly objectifies women while liberating men. That young women have adopted this rhetoric within slut-shaming discourse as a kind of feminist practice—we see it on tumblr, facebook, and twitter—is purely reactionary, I suppose, but should be called out for the anti-feminist action it resists an examination of misogynist ideological work accomplished in traditional rape culture. It provides cover for those who assault and that which permits or cultivates assaults. I think it’s the result of boiling feminism down to equality discourse, which has led to other horribly oppressive social movements, like the men’s rights movement.
I do not quote the article because my response is about the unstated assumptions and tone of the article as much as anything else. Honestly, it’s a poorly written piece and haphazardly put together. It’s clearly got more than one author. The authors implement a kind of self-centered and problematic narrative foreign teachers often use to talk about Korea and Koreans, thus it’s uncritical and self-affirming. It’s enough to ask a reader to quickly read the article and then my response. If you’d like me to address a point from the article, I’m more than happy to. Feel free to send me a note or reblog with a question.
It’s creepy the authors use the HIV, AIDS, STD tests as a tool to scold Koreans for their treatment of foreign teachers. These guys have been on about this for years, and longer than I’ve been here. For being such professional Korea haters, they have never left. They have comfortable, happy lives here. They always use the AIDS argument and they always use a comparison to the military. I’ll try to address the problems I see with both arguments.
The conservative Korean culture that tends to worry about purity and that might most benefit from the metaphor that AIDS is a sign of foreign contamination and that foreign men want to corrupt Korean women is not opposed to the US military presence on the peninsula. So, the comparison in the article that foreign teachers are the new American soldier doesn’t really work. The comparisons tell us much more about the men making the argument and what it is they are trying to construct—a better place for them to work.
The problem—bigotry towards foreigners and its persistence in spite of evidence to the contrary—is much more complex than the authors want to present. In many ways, American occupation of Korea during and since the US War here and American cooperation with Japan’s occupation has suited both the US and Korean governments and ruling elites. Let’s not overlook and forget that leftwing uprisings have been historically slaughtered while Americans looked on and did nothing. Sure, the Korean media is overwhelmingly conservative and spreads malicious rhetoric, from time to time, about foreign teachers as it does Americans, in general, but this propaganda has served US interests as well. I certainly don’t ever hear men like the authors complaining about the US in Korea.
As most conservative governance illustrates, its constituents must fear a persistent foreign influence. The US military presence has historically backed authoritarian conservatives for a reason. It’s the leftists in Korea who bang the drum to end occupation. This, too, is complex. Unfortunately, the left is rather nationalist with its relative anti-capitalist culture, pro-labor culture, and so Korean leftist action carries with it all the complications nationalism brings to any social action, like highly-structured bigotry against foreign elements within both the movement and nation. Additionally unfortunately, nationalism is rather complex and a response to Japanese and American occupations, and so it’s explicable and not simply bigoted rhetoric. Korean independence is not as simplistic as, say, American Exceptionalism, if we want to compare nationalist extremism. It’s not only more complex (one only need know Korea’s modern history to understand how complex) but it’s more aware of itself and its mission. Nobody has occupied the US, but American conservatives find foreigners to blame. Some particular somebody has consistently been involved with a project to occupy Korea and to discipline Koreans since the middle of the 19th Century. Their worries are justified. The elite (Korean government and corporate elites often historically with US backing) have every reason to help cultivate these bigotries.
The article I’ve linked to ignores this complexity in Korean attitudes towards foreigners for a self-serving purpose. It wants to compare the way Koreans think about foreign teachers to the way Koreans think about American soldiers. The comparison doesn’t hold. Korea invites teachers and offers them outstanding benefits in comparison to the shit we take for being foreigners. It’s a cooked up comparison that loses its punch under the slightest scrutiny. I really hate how the argument composes a Korean culture that is narrow and stupid and merely self-concerned, wrapped up in old myths. It’s just not the case that Koreans are of one mind about anything.
Sure, the bigotry is present and the falsehoods often appear pointless and harmful to everyone. It’s just not as simple as the authors make it. How long has it taken for the US to even attempt to begin addressing anti-black racism? We have never done it. Not yet. We don’t even like to talk about it. In fact, people tell lies about how racism is over. That’s how bad it is in the US. Koreans know they’re bigots. This isn’t a slight. All my Korean friends admit it. It’s shameful for me to hear the confession because I can’t even get my family members to address bigotry. Koreans are talking about these things.
The major altercations of the war are only just 60 years since and people are still coping with Japanese occupation. The economic ascendance of the peninsula is only two decades old. They rebuilt an entire country under the weight of authoritarian rule. They worked for their nation. Not for a teacher to feel comfortable teaching English in Korea. I get Korean contempt for foreign teachers who naively perform privileges and constantly complain about a backwards Korea. There’s a lot that Korea has learned about the world in such a short period of time. And it’s a lot of knowledge that I don’t have. It’s not that I know something they don’t know. And this is what the article assumes with its tone. That the authors and most foreign teachers are trustworthy for some reason that Koreans just won’t accept. This is simply bullshit; and a sign of another kind of bigotry that liberals always fail to examine. I don’t think it’s asking much to let Korea work out some shit on its own and learn what it means to navigate liberal, global capitalist culture without privileged intellectualist foreigners insisting cultural occupation persist until Koreans learn to properly behave.
In the 60 years since we permitted non-white people citizenship, how much has been done to find other ways to oppress foreign people of color in the US? Do I think that it’s silly and harmful for Koreans to circulate worries that foreign teachers are capable of infecting students with HIV, with AIDS, with STDs, simply by teaching in classrooms, or that, worse, we’re perverts? It’s silly and harmful. That said, foreign teachers do nothing to change public perception of them nor do they come from societies that have learned how to solve this problem of hating foreigners. Fulfilling contracts is not going to achieve any change in perception. You have to get out of the foreign ghettoes and get into Korea and make a difference.
Moreover, US, Canadian, and British citizens also express silly and harmful narratives about dirty and criminal immigrants. This is not a Korean concern. It’s international. So, we have an international concern about nationalism, authoritarianism, military occupation, the preservation of unique cultures, the stigmatization of sexual difference and illiteracy about illness. So, what do these authors who have decided they aren’t going to take it do? They make it a problem of convenience and ego. The article is clearly set up with the unstated assumption “judge me as an individual, not as a group” and that assumption undercuts any sympathy I’d be prepared to offer an individual who feels ashamed the result of a blood test their employer receives. It’s clear the authors don’t respect the group they want to be a member of nor do they respect the group they have constructed for themselves.
We all know for a fact that these authors aren’t activists. What work have they done? Not hard to complete research and find articles testifying about how harmful it is to be ignorant of illnesses. These are teachers who would never utter another peep about bigoted Koreans were Korea to legislate a more progressive Visa structure for teachers. Their concern is extremely narrow and strictly individualist. They don’t give a shit about the thousands of oppressed laboring immigrants in Korea. They only care about the teachers. All this whining about the UN response to their complaint is purely egoist bragging about a stupid moral victory over a perceived Korean bigotry that I have shown is much more complex and much more inclusive of the US bigotry than it would first appear.
This article is poor argumentative method and I think it’s implicitly homophobic and prejudiced. When people start talking about “gays”, bad things happen because “gays” are often treated as a monolithic identity and for purposes of establishing a kind of liberal social order in the discourse. Gays become a tool. These are straight men and women who want us to sympathize with them because their school wants them to prove they have no STDs and don’t have HIV or AIDS. In Korea, this is a means to suss out transgressive sexualities as much as it is to keep Koreans healthy. So, the teachers are embarrassed that Koreans think they are perverts. That’s what this is about. It’s terrible stuff. The authors aren’t being honest. I’ve always said, who do I care who sees a blood test result? But then I have a different experience with conservative Korean culture that these authors rail about. This dirty leftist teacher gets along just fine in spite of the annual hassle of renewing my Visa. I have never experienced one bit of pushback for who I am. Much more the opposite, in fact. I have experienced overwhelming curiosity. So, you know, the authors don’t represent me. And quite frankly they love saying they represent all of us when they clearly aren’t interested in different narratives just as they aren’t interested in other immigrants.
I may agree with their assessment of Anti-English Spectrum, much of Korean print journalism, the Korean government’s failure to appropriately address a problem that would be easy to fix, but I fail to sympathize with their methods, their rhetoric, their self-representation. The foreign teaching population is filled with self-loathing, alcoholism, sexual predation, illiteracy, and falsified credentials. None of these are so uncommon that we’re shocked when we learn about an incident. Teachers skip work when it serves them and breach contracts all the time. Sure, me and my friends, we’re dedicated teachers and work hard at our craft, but the schools and universities are also filled with teachers who simply don’t want to lose a good job and aren’t willing to do much to earn their keep. They’re in Korea for other reasons.
We have to deal with the complicated issues with care. And I don’t think these authors have ever approached this debate with anything other than a selfish sense of unearned ambition and desire to find ways to justify becoming more free and upwardly mobile within Korean society without having to actually do any of the social work necessary to transform the problems they purport to address.
Fiction is a renewable new—an actual rerun. Fiction is neither real nor fantasy but surreal and traditional. Fiction is at once overwhelming and underwhelming; it is in opposition with itself.
Fiction is a place you can return to. Fiction always feels like the first time.
Fiction is schizophrenic, repetitive, schizophrenic repetitive, ticked off and compulsive.
Fiction is not so much a nominalization as it is a thing. It never was a verb. Fiction is not an act nor is it acting. Fiction cries, “Action!” (not “Cut!” and definitely not “Print!”) It directs. It plots. It plays games and changes the rules mid-game. Fiction is a bad cheat with a bad temper. It has no poker face.
Only, the conspiracies come true. Fiction is a self-wish-fulfill-er.
Fiction is genius—the genius of “the place.” It refuses to wear a guise other than itself. Fiction is here and elsewhere.
Fiction does not fast: is not sober: reads anything: does not limit itself to a “look.” Fiction looks and is never bored with what it reads.
Fiction does not like what it sees in the mirror: is guilty about self-indulgence: often gorges on the details of everyday life only to purge itself of the minutia in overlong sentences that tickle and tease their way forth in awful impatient heaves leaving gaze, reflection, and criticism-before-the-fact on the floor. Fiction is a long time coming.
Aleatory is a funny word. Explicitly latinate as it comes from aleator for one who throws dice (alea). The word represents the person who throws the dice, not the event, not its duration, not the falling dice. As opposed to the word chance which comes from the old French and vulgar Latin. Chances origin derives from “that which falls out”, or the dice itself, the fall.
I like that Althusser sought to dwell in the nonteleological, no matter how much he is taken to task for it. Most significant, the notion that materialism is a means to achieve a theoretical practice rather than to define an ontology. I like it. A lot. As I’ve illustrated with the quick look at language above, he’s focused on the choice of words tells us something about what he was up to and, I think, the people who criticize the attempt.
눈치 (nunchi, pronounced noon-chee,) is a complex concept inextricably woven into the Korean everyday. You can go here to read a little about it, but it’s not much more than a gloss. I like that somebody mentioned paralinguistics in the post. However, I had to remove an idiot’s product placement in the first paragraph and citing himself from a stupid book about Korean culture. I hate when people do that—and, go figure, the link was dead anyway.
I’m only going to discuss my experience with nunchi in this post. It’s a post about my nunchi. And my nunchi should not inform you about Korean culture. It’s not a Korean thing at all because I am not Korean. I’m not an expert. I don’t know something key about Korea and Korean culture that will help you open a door to secret, exotic Korea. I’m learning something about myself and my place, my writing, my work, and how I am with other people. And I’m learning about these things here, in Korea, alongside all the millions of fellow Seoul residents. It’s that struggle I have in common, without language and culture. Though our common labor doesn’t do a damn bit of damage to an unutterable difference and distance I encounter when confronting myself in Korea. I can’t be Korean. To write this might appear ridiculous, but I have been educated to inherit the world as it is and for me or, as we so often here about it, a thing at my fingers, as if all I need to do is grasp it, take possession of it, use it for myself—again, the phrase appears, obscene with privilege, to inherit it. That’s my lesson contra the crooked colonialist legacy I’m encouraged to teach. It’s the only lesson a traveler should learn. That is, the world is not mine. I do not belong because I can afford to, not even because I want to. I have been hoodwinked from the start. I cannot see myself in others. And this is not their fault.
It hurts to address the pain my presence represents. I will do what I can to kill its image and that use value the world insists I embody. It’s why I chose the antifascist lifestyle, it’s why I even question my Marxist education. I must work in the street, so to speak, and not expect anything in return. I have abandoned so much worthless white nonsense, but I persist in spite of my countenance. I write. I am here. I digress.
I’m not going to go into tone of voice or social status and attempt to be objective about it. That would be impossible. I like to leave that sort of cultural anthropology for the colonialist social critics and tourists like Sarah Shaw who I wrote about yesterday. I notice that post has gone largely without notice, and I know why. There’s blogs-a-plenty of haters and fetishists out there who love to oversimplify the Korean everyday—white writers who revel in being foreign and being a foreigner while participating in a crude branding of Korea and Koreans that flattens the representation of life here, for all of us, into a useless one-dimensional object to be exchanged for credibility, identity, authenticity, expertise. Shaw’s memoir is striking for what she is most naive about her own behavior. She sees in others nothing more than an opportunity to express her self. It’s the height of nihilistic consumerism and its bankrupt intellectualisms. Moreover, there’s no need to address such things. When it comes to something like nunchi, some people have it and some people don’t. It need not be named and understood.
When I first arrived in Sillimdong, in Seoul, I lived in a neighborhood with few foreigners. That’s not true. I lived in a neighborhood with very few native-English-speaking foreigners living near me. My neighborhood had a diverse group of foreigners because Seoul National University is right down the street and a large Asian immigrant community has settled in the affordable housing in the surrounding neighborhoods. I spent most of the first two-months with my colleagues and neighborhood friends I played soccer with on Saturdays. I think I was so fed up with the United States I only ventured out for social interaction with other foreigners once or twice before meeting Praise. I made one friend, from Belgium. We’d hang out on the weekends. I hadn’t studied the language before moving here, so I relied on my wits and desire to fit in to get by. Many days were lonely trials. All this changed afterwards, when I became more settled. Though, I can still grow lonely.
One of the concepts I learned about was nunchi because I was praised for having it. I was happy because I felt out of place and it was nice to be recognized for something positive about me I didn’t have to express. And I was told you don’t want to hear nunchi eopda (눈치 없다) used to describe you and your behavior. It was good to not be told I didn’t have it. A lot of positive negatives for me, and I think this is part of my undoing, which is actually a rejection of the culture I have for a long time been learning to explicitly and ethically reject. (Un)fortunately, you either have nunchi or you don’t. I know many foreigners believe you can learn it. That’s problematic because it turns it into a performance that merely appears to address something in Korean culture, a performance that can expertly appropriated. Anyway, if you don’t have good nunchi, you can learn how to perform it, but nobody is going to be fooled about the difference between having it and performing it. If you have to perform it at the right times, you’re acting. (I’m hinting at this being my first lesson in seeing myself in common with Koreans without needing to insist I’m foreign and without needing to appropriate Korean-ness. In other words, a letting go of something foul about my own education and identity that is unnecessary though present.)
I first learned about what this meant after going out on my first five or six weekends with my team and with teachers to hike and to learn about the neighborhood. To be honest, I had a blast figuring out who to sit with, how to play with, how to eat and drink with my new friends. I first thought this was nunchi: doing the right things at the right times. I quickly learned that was not it at all. I think I first heard about my nunchi after a younger teammate who takes care of the club’s money insisted I need not contribute because I was a guest. I told him I wanted to be a member and shouldn’t receive special treatment and thanked him for taking care of me. He didn’t understand me and simply left me with my money. I succeeded a little later after we were all good and drunk. I simply paid. And from that day forward, I made sure I gave the team accountant enough money—my dues but also for my part. It’s important to note that I decided to pay without them hinting that maybe I should.
I believe to this day they’d permit me to play as a guest and without paying dues. I had to make the decision and be consistent. It was my choice. But to do that only would be a performance, wouldn’t it? There’s something about the way I am with them that they appreciate in addition to my decision to pay dues, and that’s much more difficult to convey right now. I can only compare it to what it was like being the oldest of six children in a close knit family with all sorts of problems who worked very hard at remaining in love and together in spite of all the whacked out shit that occurs in large families. One learns how to live with others in large families, let me assure you, or one checks out. I loved being with my family. I felt it liberated me from the loneliness of the alienating crowds so many other kids drown in before high school. Even my contempt for family members, at times, expresses my love as I never needed or felt the urge to distinguish myself from them. They might disagree, but maybe some of you will know what I’m trying to describe. I’ll have to work on this a little, I guess. You know, foreigners will often relegate what I’m getting at to obligation. That’s a problem. Obligation is often used by white expats in Korea, especially, to illustrate regressive conservative culture in Korea. And so, I want to highlight: I am not talking about obligation. The English word from the Latin obligare is bound up in English language culture with all sorts of things that make it ill-equipped to appropriately address Korean obligation.
The insistence to pay is one thing I think many foreigners simply do not understand and find easy to oversimplify, which is why I chose the above example out of so many. Another common and grotesque oversimplification in much writing about Korean life is the obligation to go out with colleagues (회식). There’s a lot of literature out there, many videos, many blogs about how to know when to pay and when to attend, but they’re almost every one of them over-generalized and stereotypical nonsense. I suppose this misinterpretation of complex social fabric is understandable. People want some concrete statements about what to do and what not to do. Yet, I wonder if it’s not much more representative of a general dread consumers experience in free market transactions that relates to an oppressive social order in capitalist culture. For example, Westerners love to understand others as a kind of purchase of a stake in the ownership of society that relates to a generalized sense of success and the possibility of success as individuals. Understanding others is part of our bigoted colonialist character. It’s part of manifest destiny for US citizens, for sure. I hate it. I disavow it. Nevertheless, I know the feeling; we get a kick out of saying we know what something means. And that knowledge is used in regulated exchanges within the market throughout our lives. We get a super-kick out of dominating foreign scenes as expats. I find it rather obscene, to be honest. I think this disavowal in connection with the way I want to participate is the key to my nunchi. I don’t have to think about it.
I’ll give you an example of what I mean. I was the first Native Speaking English Teacher (NSET) to teach at my school. Nobody at my school was good at English and nobody claimed to be, so don’t get me wrong. That’s changed now, the younger English teachers are quite apt and, frankly, I’m no longer needed there. I fully support the government’s decision to dismantle much of the public school NSET program even though I think it went about justifying it in the wrong way. But I get that, too. NSETs as a coherent community have never been very respectful guests. We earned our scorn. The first year, my co-teachers were substitute teachers who’d never co-taught before. However, I had one helpful, permanent co-teacher who went out of her way to try to accommodate me and advise me about learning to fit into the faculty and culture of the school.
My school is tough. It’s a poor school with poorly performing students many of whom will not attend university out of high school, many of whom will quit school before the difficult third year. And the school is not one of those that are improving. Generally, my students were not happy and not interested in my class. I didn’t blame them. My school is proof that Korea is hurting for educational reform that isn’t styled after something like the private reform movement in the US. My conversation class and speaking tests only added to students’ English-language study load. They’re already frightened about the future. I’d say 60% of the students liked me but felt oppressed when I entered their classrooms.
When I first arrived at school, the English faculty held many meetings to figure out my role and our roles together. Nobody spoke English, so everything had to be translated. When we disagreed, the translation could cause trouble because comments were often accidentally and, sometimes, willfully misinterpreted. I once said, “Let’s put the students’ needs before teachers’ desires” when referring to use of the only room with functioning technology and it was translated, I’m not kidding, as “Gary says we’re incompetent.” Several teachers wanted me out. If it weren’t for my excellent evaluation and my work with SMOE itself to stay, I would have been teaching elsewhere.
I had to be patient. I had to be willing to take some abuse. That willfully awful translation of my critique is what I’d call stubborn abuse, but after a little reflection, I recalled my experience as a faculty member in college and university English departments where such complaint is common, sometimes insulting, yet permitted as a way for colleagues to vent. It’s permitted there. Why should it not be permitted in Korea?
My closest co-teacher and I came up with an idea that we called “Korean Time”. We’d have our meetings. I’d appear in the first part and speak about my classes, lessons, complaints and/or questions. They’d respond. Then I’d leave and permit them Korean Time: time to talk according to their style about work and scheduling without my presence, which can be oppressive. After all, I never once had to shoulder the burden of administrative duties at the school because of my difference. Why should I insist I be treated as functionally equivalent to them? Imagine having to explain yourself all the time to a person who thinks differently about your tasks than you and your colleagues do. Why it’s like the government placed a white person in your school just to insist you justify your underpaid and overworked presence each and every day. I understand the contempt I often observed. I don’t like it, but I get it.
It might sound silly, but it worked. And that’s possessing nunchi. I think. I didn’t write about this crap, telling on my teachers, telling on their prejudice, expressing what it’s like to be foreign in Korea. I didn’t write nasty emails to my coordinator demanding justice as so many NSET teachers do. That’s horseshit and merely expressing anxiety about being different and an all too common dread about fitting in we learn back home. US capitalist culture is all about being coerced into a persistent individuality in spite of being one of many. It’s a paradox most Americans refuse to address. (See the entire American Libertarian movement, which exists merely as proof to insist being one of many is a coercion while being individual is natural.) They needed not for me to go away or take unearned criticism but for me to understand that my presence truly alters their working environment and, though it might pain me to admit, it wasn’t necessary and it wasn’t useful. They needed me to take my appropriate place without comment.
It’s sounds simple, but being able to publicly acknowledge that I’m not the center of their universe worked wonders. Not a statement, but a consistent behavior over the long term. And being able to do it without needing to be praised for it was key, too. And many NSETs insist as a rule that they are the center of Korea’s universe. Once again, see Sarah Shaw’s memoir “Riding the White Horse”. It’s all about her versus Korea. I know a lot of NSETs who’d disagree with my interpretation. I worked with a woman at a junior high school summer camp who routinely screamed at our Korean colleagues after common confusions. She didn’t and still doesn’t, I’m sure, possess nunchi. But she does have (as do her friends) plenty to say about Korea and Koreans. By the way, there is a time and a place for screaming in Korea. And I’ve had my fair share of tirades.
I originally wrote and posted this back in 2011. The year off to write has turned into a move to Cambodia and back to Korea and so longer than a year. Things change. Here’s my conclusion:
I don’t know why I’m thinking about this right now. Maybe it’s because I resigned from my position and will leave my school in August. I’m taking a year off to finish my novel and defend my dissertation before attempting to locate work in an English department at a university here, well anywhere. (Though I’m happy to say that Korean university folks have already shown interest. With a little patience, I’ll have a nice position here and I continue to study the language and live in the US when I’m not teaching. Home for vacation and Away for work is a nice proposition.)
I think I’m going to miss my school and my neighborhood, too. We’ll be moving to a different part of Seoul. Sillimdong and my high school were very good to me. It’s not the hip part of Seoul. It’s gritty and dirty. The working people around here are pushy, but I love it. They permitted me to fit in, which is more than I can say for the segregated neighborhoods I lived in back home where difference is shunned and severely beaten down as a rule of citizenship. For all the cries of nationalism I hear in foreigner discussions about Korea and Koreans, I’ve been welcomed much more sincerely here than in most place in the United States.
Of course, the reason I’m welcomed is that, for some unknown reason, I’ve got nunchi. I know how to act without having to perform. I know: I’m bragging. Fuck it. I’ve earned it.
I have to be honest about the security I likely felt writing the last few lines. How uncomfortable they make me. It appears to me to the one thing about myself I try to confront, a thing that lingers in spite of my best efforts to eradicate it. It’s the smug sense of having earned that I got so upset about while reading Sarah Shaw’s offensive dish about her Korean co-teacher and her self-aggrandizing discussion about her sexual liberation and prowess over Korean men.
I don’t like it. I’m trying to change. I’m not ashamed of myself or my work, but I do think it’s an appropriate place for me to address a problem I see within me that I learned from capitalism and being American, being a white American male.
[somehow I accidentally overwrote the original post with this text. i thought i copied the original and pasted it into a new text post. apparently, at some point, i switched back to the OP and worked from it. so, the original now basically looks like this new, revised entry. kind of sad. i wanted the original to remain.]
it’s likely that authenticity is always antiblack. it’s certainly a means to authority via transparent appropriation, a means to distinguish groups or individuals whose look or language originated somewhere else. authenticity camps in white power outposts. the authentic is a means to deny the other while distinguishing a self invested in the other.
While the electorate is becoming overall more diverse in the United States, Republican districts are becoming more white. It’s clear, partisan politics is racial politics in the United States. All you politics junkies who want to write about libertarianism, populism, history, law, and economics must permit an intersectionality that includes at every claim and turn of phrase a focus on race. Most of us focused on class struggle, poverty, and employees (labor struggle) have been aware of this for some time. Anyone who organized and marched in the 1990s can attest to this as a narrative, especially since 1994 when Republicans themselves overcame a decades-long engineered-dominance of Democrats in Congress.
Whiteness is now almost purely a reactionary organizing principle in American politics as “minority voters” have been increasingly actively sequestered from Republican districts. Racism is in demand.
Virilio’s arguments about the logics of perception…where the field of battle exists as a field of perception…where images, the movement of images via media, can start a conflict…
Reflecting about the liberal response to drones abroad moving to drones at home. Does this perception of war at home hurt the government? I don’t think so. It helps. It invokes a call from progressives and conservatives alike for proper governance within the current paradigm. It invokes what it seeks to distance itself from. Certainly, the masters of war know that it does.
Government gets discipline either way.
Crap on the Obama Admin all you want. I don’t know what you all expected from a centrist politician who praises bipartisanship and pragmatism. For a long time the US government has been working on technology for surveilling and prosecuting citizens and non-citizens alike. The theory on surveillance and weapons and militarization and policing is thirty years old now. Welcome to the real conditions of existence, ever-shocked liberals.
I always get frustrated when the mainstream gets upset about something that has always been true for minority segments of mainstream society. “Due Process”? I worked for the public defender in Colorado. I suggest you all go to your local county jail and volunteer, your local juvie centers, your regional prisons. They are full of poor people. They are full of black men. They are loaded with folks who bargained their way to lesser sentences because cops (police and district attorneys) stack charges against under-represented people so they won’t dare seek trial. And if they should, it’s really fucking easy to get a conservative jury. The maxim is: no money, no law.
Privilege is just waking up to a threat that millions of oppressed people face everyday.
And let me add. It’s not shocking that progressives are whining about this with Obama. He’s black. In other words, he’s not white. The “shock” and “being let down” with Obama is seated in white supremacist reactionary public discourse about privilege and freedom in the United States. Don’t be fooled. Certainly, Obama is not beyond criticism. Where has this outcry been. The technology, the surveillance, the criminal justice techniques have been around and been in development for decades. Looks bad when you put up a photo of the first black president who should know better, doesn’t it.
I fucking hate liberals.
These three films are often discussed apart (and the first two rarely at all,) but I like to think of them as a collective attempt at exploring certain themes and techniques. They belong together. They inform each other, I think, and represent a honing of not only a kind of critique of families, of observing violence, of ritual and pleasure, of families and their relationship to society and others, but of style (camera-work, editing, sound and image, writing for the screen). I think the capstone for this work on violence and style ends with Le Temps du Loup (The Time of the Wolf, 2003,) often completely ignored when discussing much of his earlier work. I do believe it’s an important rest in the composition, his body of work, that led to Caché in 2005.
Actually, watching Funny Games, Le Temps Du Loup, and Caché together is immensely rewarding and the middle film absolutely calls for a discussion of the first and the last together. It’s such an important work for him.
I’m re-watching Haneke’s films, beginning with Le Temps du Loup, with Praise. I was worried she wouldn’t like it. She loved it, as disturbing as it is, and was gobsmacked with the beautiful epiphany at the film’s end, something that is missing from his three earlier works.* I refer to the end of the film as an epiphany because, I think, we are presented with a striking solution to the problems the four films explore with the image of Ben, naked, collapsed, exhausted, in the stranger’s arms (this man is a racist nationalist who wanted to murder “the dirty Polack” immigrant in an earlier scene and so scared the shit out of Ben, and everyone else,) being cradled and reassured that he is brave in spite of his failure to sacrifice himself, to self-immolate, to bring about a crazy prophecy of salvation and end not only his pains, but his family’s suffering. There’s a parallel story with Eva, Ben’s sister, and a lone and family-less boy thief, but Ben gets the final scene with the stranger. The two in front of the fire, the camera dollying silently backwards over the rails. The final image of the film is an incredible symbol, arisen from the ashes, so to speak, of the three films I mention above, that end, simply and just as silently with nothing but the debris of death and destruction without epiphany. It’s a warm ending. It’s important to note that these endings are openings and reject closure, as violent as they are. In Le Temps du Loup, Haneke offers us a bit of closure, even if only thematic. For the narrative itself doesn’t provide anything we could think of as closure. After all, Ben is in the arms of a murderous thug who, though acting as a caring proxy-father, is capable of anything and has earlier proven to be rather self-serving and uncaring. It’s an unstable image, a radical image, potentially, violently, harmful, like the fire, both useful and harmful, like the family. Like society. We move away from it before anything else happens. Again, a rejection of closure.
Maybe it’s not a satisfying image: that we endure despite our failed attempts to maintain and to civilize; that we endure our violence, our rituals, our corrupt and unexamined roles in families and communities. At least it’s an image. And after this striking image, something much clearer comes out with his newer films: Caché, The White Ribbon, and Amour. You can tell he studied philosophy and drama. His films are terrifyingly rigorous, self-aware, quiet, composed. One of my all-time favorite directors. I can watch his films over and over.
*I realized that I’ve left out 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994) and Code Unknown (2000), but those two films seem to work together on a kind of narrative experiment that is distinct from the others. I’m not trying to say something definitive about Haneke’s oeuvre, just recognizing something many critics don’t see in their boring debate about cruelty and camera-work in his films.