Monday, March 15, 2004

le parcours coréen

[TUESDAY UPDATE: Two things I couldn't let pass by: (1) Thoroughly disgusted with the fuckwitted service that is Blog-Shitty, Jeff has "gone Marmot" and moved his Ruminations in Korea blog to a new site: (2) Oranckay posts a piece that's music to my, uh, eyes-- North Korean defectors, mostly ex-military, are suing former SK President Kim Dae Jung for having made payoffs to North Korea and thereby aiding their nuclear program. HELL, YEAH! SUE ALL APPEASERS! Sunshine Policy, my ass. Stare into my hole-- I'll show you some sunshine. As for appeasers, there'll be plenty of them in the near future: this country's liberal backlash against the conservative-driven impeachment is going to push the national temperament Spain-ward. I blame the young folks who don't give a shit about their own history. I don't blame the young folks who do.]

First, a word of THANKS to all the readers-- friends and strangers alike-- who've expressed concern and/or sent some money to my parents (see previous post if you're wondering what this is about). You have my gratitude, on behalf of the folks.

Insurance assessment is supposed to happen on Monday, DC time. I don't think any of us is looking forward to the bad news.

Brevity is the soul of wit, they say-- a proper caution to us prolix Hominids. Unfortunately, brevity will have to become the order of the day because, as you know, my Real Job starts next Wednesday, the 24th. Yes, I'll have to bring a digital camera along at some point: I'll be teaching at Seoul Women's University, and male readers will want some PE (proof of estrogen).

For the horndogs out there: it's highly unlikely I'll be dating any of these women. First off, I'm 34 and they're barely in their 20s, which makes me Granddad to them, and try as I might, I can't be like Jerry Seinfeld, who thinks nothing of dating much younger women. Second, they're my students, people. I don't think it's a good policy to gain a reputation as a teacher who bangs his own students.

If it turns out, however, that I'm teaching down the hall from some slim and sexy prof who's 29 or older, well... we might have to arrange a private faculty meeting.

The upshot is that, since the blogging must needs be lighter in the coming months, I may as well start now with the self-discipline. So tonight's parcours will be brief. It's about 7:30PM right now; I'll finish this before 8:30.

The Marmot's got the goods on the impeachment aftermath, and presents us with a rather disturbing Photoshopped pic-- the anti-Harisu.

Check out the Yangban and Pythi Master for their impeachment takes as well.

Note to Party Pooper: I bought and ate two Triply bars. Yup. Just like Twix, but smaller. Most Korean-style Western confections are that way: same thing, but smaller. Save your penis jokes, lads, save them. Besides, no one conceives of the dick as a "confection."

KimcheeGI writes in praise of Gongja (Confucius); the Infidel (whose logo I've changed because I was unhappy with my own drawing) wants Gongja impeached.

This looks a lot like the internal (and eternal [sic]) Chinese dialogue between Gongja and Noja/Jangja (Lao-tzu/Chuang-tzu, arguably the two founding fathers of philosophical Taoism). The Infidel sounds a lot like Noja/Jangja when he offers his own conception of leadership:

My ideal leader works infrequently, mostly attending to diplomatic business, because ordinary citizens and other government officers can do most of the work. The more power invested in the leadership, the more despicable the government.

The Confucian point of view, at least early on in the history of Confucianism, didn't necessarily imply strong and powerful leadership. If anything, Confucian values had, to some extent, an interior focus-- ritual propriety, humanity/humaneness, etc., but always with the understanding that this was in the service of harmonizing oneself with Heaven or Tao, with nature, and with human society. The Confucian conception of personhood was that of a work-in-progress: one's life is about becoming human, and not, as in the West, about exploring and/or fulfilling one's personhood or personal potential.

Philosophical Taoism was in many ways a response to the calcification of Confucianist thinking: the Taoists espoused naturalness, harmony, spontaneity, and non-doing (wu wei in Chinese; mu eui in Korean), whereas Confucianists were (at least from the Taoist point of view) obsessed with ritual propriety.

The debate continues even today, I think, between the Taoist and Confucianist conceptions of how to be and act. The debate is also internal to Confucianism, because people have to strike the right balance between li (ritual propriety; yae in Korean) and jen (humanity/humaneness; in in Korean). Korea is considered "more Confucian than China" by many, but I think I see elements of that same Chinese debate going on here. Even in the West, we have our own forms of this debate as in, for example, the differences between literal, dogmatic religion and religion more liberally conceived.

[Side note: KimcheeGI's post shows a round, red dojang (stamp): the character li (yae in Korean), or ritual propriety. The left side of the character is the God/spirit radical; the right side represents some sort of altar and sacrifice-- one of the most primitive formalized conceptions of ritual around. Yae uses the idea of sacrifice to convey the meaning "ritual."]

One of my profs illustrated the battle between yae and in this way: Think of a handshake. This is a ritual gesture; in our Western culture, it's a gesture of greeting and goodbye. It takes place at specific, proper moments of social interaction; as such, it's a rule-bound gesture and very much controlled by yae, ritual propriety. But a handshake can be performed well or poorly and can, as a result, convey a good or poor impression: squeeze too strongly or too limply, and you imply something about yourself or your state of mind. Avoid eye contact while shaking hands, and here again you alter the content of the gesture. The gesture itself is still being used-- i.e., yae is still in play, but the content of the gesture, its humanity (its in), can vary. Yae channels in, but in also affects yae.

In the example of the bad handshake, we see what happens when there's too much yae and not enough in. The result is an empty gesture. Consider the opposite situation: what if I greeted you by bellowing in joy, ripping off my clothes, then running up to you and tackling you? In this case, my joy would be obvious (i.e., lots of in), but that joy, unchannelled by ritual gesture, risks misinterpretation and could even offend people. So we see that too much in and not enough yae also leads to problems.

Philosophical Taoism, as Ray Grigg argues, finds its deepest expression these days not in the magico-religious Taoism found in China, but in the hallowed halls of Zen Buddhism. Here, too, Noja/Jangja and Gongja are at war with each other. The talk with the Zen master requires Taoist naturalness and spontaneity-- ordinary mind. But the talk itself occurs in a ritualized context, so on some level you have to fight the fact that this talk, despite all the Taoist preaching, really isn't that ordinary a moment.

Maybe calling this a "war" is wrong, but in many cases, that's how these polar tendencies express themselves: as conflict, not as harmony. In the ideal, I'd say the best solution is a dynamic tension between ritual and spontaneity, order and chaos, stability and novelty. After all, from the nondualistic standpoint, these things are not-two.

Check Oranckay here and here for a protest update and more on his "find the violation" contest. Looks like some outright lying has been going on. As my Dad said, the whole thing makes Korea look bad on the world scene. Ridiculous.

And that's all, folks. Have a nipple-pinchingly lovely day.


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