Monday, October 03, 2005

attack of the Breen!*

I've been reading Michael Breen's The Koreans, and have found it to be a fascinating book overall. It is, however, often paternalistic in tone, and I have to wonder whether a Korean translation of the book has been drafted and published. Does such a version exist? I'm morbidly curious what the average Cho thinks about Breen's view of Korea.

One strike against Breen is his admittedly "limited"** Korean ability. While many of us in the Koreablogosphere dare to make pronouncements about Korean people and culture despite our lack of Korean fluency, I think it's incumbent on those who presume to write at length and in (some) depth about a culture to have more than a limited grasp of the language.*** So much is missed when you don't have, at least to some degree, the "insider" perspective.

I think that Breen's insights are pretty perceptive (I found myself nodding vigorously during several passages), but he occasionally seems out of touch with Korean realities. I'll get into this again later, after I finish the book.

*The Breen are a nasty alien race in the Star Trek universe.

**He doesn't say how limited, but I get the impression, from one chapter in particular, that his ability is somewhere in the high-intermediate range.

***This goes without saying when Americans write in depth about Europeans. An expert in French history, for example, would be ridden out of town on a rail if he presumed to make pronouncements about France without demonstrating, through linguistic fluency, a fair degree of insight into the French mind.


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