Hacks, Pruning, and The Point of This Blog

The change in my sidebar — a few unused modules pruned away, plus the addition of a feed listing recent publications and sales — is only the most visible one on this site.

I’m particularly proud of that hack, though: the stories listed are in order of their entry into the system, so forthcoming and published are mixed up a little, but the feed is displaying excerpts, which means I only need to make one update — to the Stories feed, in the header nav above — to update the sidebar feed. (It uses the excerpts function.)

I also hacked together a separate template for the Stories feed,  so that the whole post shows in the “archive,” and finally, I went and hacked my main template so that posts in the Stories template don’t show up on the main page. That way, I can post my gleeful news about the sale to the main blog, and add my serious write-up about the story to the Stories log.

(This all shows up mixed-together on the RSS feed, though, I think. I will sometime get around to hacking together a Stories feed for those who just want to know when I publish or sell something.)

There’s another change I’m considering, which is to partition the site into separate subpages. My reasoning is that finally, the word seems to have gotten out among my students that I have a personal webpage. While most of what’s posted here is the kind of thing I don’t mind students (or my employers, or future prospective employers) seeing, there are a few things about which I previously relied on being pretty much unnoticed due to the effective anonymity of being one voice in the mob online.  In other words, when nobody knew I had a website, I didn’t have to be so careful how I posted.

Lime thinks I don’t need to worry so much about this, but personally, I’m not so sure. My discussions of Korea, especially, tend sometimes to concern touchy subjects, and I also occasionally post about classroom occurrences — though never with students’ names.

But this isn’t the issue — it’s not whether students can pick themselves out of my writings, even if they are unnamed. The issue for me is that this blog’s intended audience is, in some ways, smaller than the audience that is beginning to accrete — or, rather, not smaller, but somewhat different from the audience I imagined.

Reading about Ezra Pound last night, I found a comment or two that reminded me of this issue. Pound was rather hasrh in print, but at least in his younger days, he was less dismissive and nasty to people in person — in fact, he could be quite personable and even kind. I don’t think I approach even the lowest level of mania that Pound infused so much of his prose with — mania in the sense of boundlessly heedless of others, arrogant, energetically mad — but I do think that I come off rather differently in writing than I do in person. I am a harsh critic when feel something strongly, and sometimes the compassion that motivates my complaint doesn’t come across.

This, combined with the image-conscious nature of the way Koreans regard representations of their society and nation to the world — image-consciousness that we Westerners would more often call “overblown hypersensitivity” — it seems to me that I tread a very fine line, one so fine that on occasion it becomes a knife’s edge. I’m not sure I want to end up with cuts and scars on my feet.

Yet I also don’t want to stop writing about Korea. The beginnings of this blog were all rooted in my becoming an expatriate — in the disconnection from friends and family, and the realization that my emails, sent too often, were a bit of an overload. This blog was never really about Korea, the way pages like Scribblings of the Metropolitician or The Marmot’s Hole (or, more recently, The Grand Narrative) long have been.

Rather, this blog has been about living on the periphery… in fact, about living on the periphery of a peripheral place. This is what life has long been about for me — though in a radically different way.

In Saskatchewan, I was peripheral in how alien the local culture seemed to me. Not because I came from somewhere else, really, though Northern Saskatchewan was indeed both more unusual, and indeed more violent, than where I’d lived in Nova Scotia. No, the alienness was rooted in a combination the of rather stark differences between me and the people around me — one that spanned not just interests like gaming and art and music and science, but also something deeper, my essential sensibility about the world, which was gotten from parents of a far different culture than the people around me — and in the peripherality of Saskatchewan itself. Me, I always had little patience for the idea that nothing good can come of Saskatchewan, just because it’s Saskatchewan. But that idea — the self-defeating lameness of accepting peripherality — is exactly the spirit that people in my home province present as a good thing: knowing one’s place, having a place to call home, being free from the arrogance and grand aspirations of them durn Torontonians: the simple, quaint provincialism so beloved of self-defeatists.

In Montreal, I was peripheral in a peripheral community for that is what Anglophones are in Montreal, within a peripheral province — for that is what Quebec seems to feel itself, though perhaps the word “marginalized” would be used to highlight that sense of it being imposed from without. And of course, all of this was within Canada, a whole nation of peripherality to begin with. So I lived in the periphery of the periphery of a periphery, if you can imagine that. It was a very conscious sensation, this, for me at the time. I lived on the far edge of what can be considered Greater Montreal, and existed mostly in a rather closed circle of English-lit fanatics. I attended poetry readings, I read at a few, I published a few things, and after working largely in isolation, I found many (not all, no, Jean-Louis, not all, but many) of my closer friends within the circle of transitory residents, those who were from somewhere else and were headed elsewhere too. And as the only SF author in my department of creative writers, I was even more peripheral there — a periphery of one.

And then I came to Korea, which shares with Canada a long history of being peripheral — to China, Japan, and finally to the Western world and, in Koreans’ minds at least, America. So much about this is familiar, in a way that American expats I know here seem to be less irked by than I am: the constant anxiety about representation in the public sphere; the endless references to the greatness of Korea; the constant comparison of things, places, and people to their more popular American equivalents (as with comparisons of Hyori to Britney Spears, for example). All of these issues are familiar because they speak to an anxiety, deep-seated and difficult to move beyond, of a nation that has been peripheral. Just as with Canada, Korea’s tendency to over-celebrate its profile on the global scale can make Koreans (like Canadians) look like fools. Canadians tout the successes of their literature, and suddenly second-rate novelists are “national bestsellers.” In Korea, the “Korean Wave” is celebrated and overblown to the point where people actually believe that a star like Rain could achieve popular success in North America. He might be big in Singapore and Taiwan, but so many things about him, and about North American culture, preclude his ever being “big” in America. The Korean wave — the cultural export of Korean media to the rest of Asia, which may or may not be currently on the wane — might be an economic boom, and it might be stimulating the rest of Asia to take an interest in Korea, but realistically, it’the stuff being exported is hardly more significant than the kinds of Olympic events I’ve seen people here roar in nationalistic pride about: ping-pong and volleyball, for example.

It would take an infinity of perfect ping-pong matches where Korea slams China or Bulgaria, an endless number of volleyball matches where Korea comes out on top, to outweigh the kind of negative press that someone like Dr. Hwang Woo-Seok brought on his country, and on Seoul National University — because biomedical ethics in cloning and stem-cell research matter to the world, and volleyball and ping-pong sadly simply do not. I know, any port in a storm: but why the storm? Why is it constantly necessary to seek reassurance, to find evidence that Korea’s image on the world stage is improving? Why is it, indeed, so necessary that people are willing to take pride in sports they otherwise wouldn’t care about, that they’re willing to buy insanely unscientific claims about kimchi curing or preventing the spread of SARS, that the exportation of soap operas and romantic comedies to the rest of Asia is seen as some kind of major coup?

The same reason Canadians — especially Canadian expats working with Americans — always point out that Leonard Cohen (and Shania Twain, and John Candy, and…) are/were Canadian. They go pretty silent when you point out that all these people had to leave Canada to achieve a modicum of success: that issue is simply verboten. The same reason Canadians snipe about the American government even though their own is just about as noxious in its current leadership. The same reason Canadians can be heard to say, “I don’t like America,” or “I don’t like Americans,” just before settling down with the (bloody poor) Canadian beer for an evening of American TV programs and American pop music and so on.

It all boils down to insecurity… the very same kind of insecurity that predisposes people to react emotionally when they see any criticism of their nation-state — as if nation-states are something more than abstractions at their base, as if citizenship were inborn or inherent and not just an accident of birth and history. This is the biggest difference: in my experience, when someone (even an outsider) criticizes Canada, the response is usually (not always, but usually) a reasoned response. There might be an emotional reaciton, but reacting purely in an emotional way is somehow undignified for a Canadian, or, rather it’s somehow unreasonable. But Koreans tend for a complex set of reasons to be very emotional about this sort of thing. Criticism is, in many cases, unwelcome. There’s an online club that goes about correcting “misconceptions” (ie. unflattering depictions) of Korea on the Web. Professors get fired sometimes for espousing unpopular political or historical viewpoints, even when they don’t promote them in class.

For all these reasons, I’m beginning to think maybe I should make a Korea-related annex on my site, with disclaimers as to the nature of what’s there. That’s not wholly satisfactory, since a lot of my daily experience here, and a lot of what I end up writing about, is related to my experience of Korea — and given my own nature, and the way my mind works, things always come around to criticism, attempts at deeper understanding, and reconsideration of issues from multiple points of view, including some unpopular ones.

The other possibility is that I just mirror the Korea-related stuff on the LJ and leave it unpublished here. Or, lastly, that I give my archives a judicious look-through and amend my approach to writing about Korea. The problem is, you can eliminate the stuff that is likely to offend, but you can’t eliminate everything that will offend. Humans are unpredictable, and there’s always someone in a position to take offense at any old thing.

And lastly, the fact is that sometimes I vent here. This is worth thinking about — sometimes my venting is not something I intend to leave up for ever. Kind of like a note on my office door — just because I wrote it, and hung it there once, doesn’t mean it needs to stay publicly visible forever. That’s an argument for rendering parts of the archive unavailable, or at least unavailable to people who haven’t registered and be promoted to a higher-access status.

Anyway, lots to think about here.

4 thoughts on “Hacks, Pruning, and The Point of This Blog

  1. Interesting post about being on the periphery and insecurities of a country. Have you read anything about Third Culture Kids (TCK)? Long ago, a colleague suggested that I read about studies on TCKs. I finally picked up a book and am reading it over the holidays. TCKs often feel rootless and on the periphery.

    Korea and its insecurities… I totally agree that Canada is the same. Norway is also the same. I think small countries (small in terms of international reputation not physical size) often feel insecure. I find both Canadian and Norwegian media to be obsessed about international rankings /comparisons. Best place to live? Best education? Safest in the world? Hell, maybe the best toilet design? Who cares?! This insecurity breeds a kind of inferiority AND superiority complex. I don’t know how else to describe it but that’s how I view it – extremes of inferiority and superiority complex!

    My only visit to Korea was in 2004 or 2005 (can’t remember). I was essentially chauffeured by our Korean partner for 2 wks all over the country while we did business. As much as I like our partner, I swear I wanted to scream after less than 24hrs in the car with him. I felt like I was being forced to listen to some kind of national propaganda that only a commie party could produce. INCESSANT. Not only that, but also very direct jabs at Taiwan (my homeland) to prove that Korea was clearly more advanced and better. OY, spare me! I think national pride in moderation is great, but when that kind of pride comes at a price of putting down another country, then it’s just bullshit! Ditto with Canadians always priding themselves on how Canada and Canadians are so much BETTER than Americans. I can’t tell you how much garbage I had to put up with when our family moved from USA to Canada. Even though we were never American citizens, I was teased endlessly about “being American”…including high school teachers who made really inappropriate remarks about me + USA in the middle of the class. As I often say, Canadians pride themselves on being multicultural / open-minded EXCEPT when it comes to the case of USA/Americans.

  2. Zocalo,

    I hadn’t read anyrthing anything explicitly about TCKs but it sounds familiar to me. I don’t think they’re all like that, necessarily: my sisters are, to varying degrees, more at-home in Canada and especially the prairies than I ever was. And I should say that I find my views more like that of my friends with foreign parents, than people who grew up all over the place. Juggling parents’ cultures with the local one, and developing a hybrid of both, might be analogous, but it’s not quite the same. (Though I find some of the stuff in the Wikipedia entry on TCKs quite familiar.)

    Canadian inferiority and superiority complex — got it in one. They’re codependent, those two neuroses, one compensating for the other.

    As for the going bananas with the Potemkin onslaught of your Korean host, yes, it is maddening. I actually explained to my class once how Westerners tend to find discussions focused on Korea somewhat tiresome, since most of us aren’t so particularly wrapped-up in comparing nation-states and certainly don’t feel like we can answer in an honest way — positives and negatives — to any question a Korean asks us about Korea, for fear of people overreacting to any bit of criticism. And it gets tiresome handing out the requested praise constantly.

    I think there are things to be proud about in Canada — health care still hasn’t quite collapsed, we’re a little more enlightened about gay marriage and drug laws, our politicians are slightly less corrupt than in the US, and we’re relatively free of foaming-at-the-mouth anti-science nitwits. (Relatively.) But these aren’t the kinds of things people tend to take pride it. Rather, people seem to want to find validation in how many goals some hockey player shot last week, or, even more pathetically, how much less bad our kleptocrats are than the American ones.

    As for Canadian multiculturalism — it may differ in Vancouver, but multiculturalism in Saskatoon is a once-a-year festival where you go to different spots in the city to see those funny people in their funny clothes and eat their funny food and drink their funny beverages. For like three days a year. When Indian musicians show up in town, the only people who attend the concerts are Indians (and, a few times, me.) Afro-British jazz octet? Audience of twenty. It’s very sad, but many people in my hometown — a city of 300,000 people, really — really do think country music and bad beer are the biggest, best pleasures in life. On that count, I do agree with my mother’s pronouncement when we first moved to Saskatchewan: I don’t remember her exact words, but the basic gist was:


  3. One of the few things I’ll miss about Canada is the literature – we have a very literary scene, and you don’t have to jump on the Yann Martel/Margaret Atwood bandwagon to find something you’ll like. I came to it really late in life, but hockey is another thing I learned to appreciate. Just looking at your list, your “Canadian pride” depends too much on government services or policies. There is a lot more to life than just politics!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *