Fleeting Update

Let’s see:

Personal Stuff

  • Lime got a job today! Short term (till mid-September), but she wanted that, while she studies for the Neverending Huge Giant Evil Big-Boss (for you arcade game fans out there) Exam. For two months she’ll be working part-time in a hospital near our home.
  • We’re going to Hong Kong next week. Just for a few days, because Lime won’t be able to travel the rest of the summer. I’m bringing my computer and writing on the plane, and for at least an hour a day. But travel is still travel, right? Theere’s a Korean expression I ran across in some book that goes, “I went to Hong Kong,”  where a Westerner might say, “I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” or “I was happier than a pig in shit.” So I guess going to Hong Kong use to be a very good thing. I hope it still is, anyway.
  • I met a kid today who plays like a young, not quite McCoy Tyner, and I was like, “God, let’s jam!” He was playing piano in one of the big lecture halls equipped with a piano, just playing by memory along with his iPod, some Michel Petrucciani solo, but the touch was more Tyneresque. Maybe I can actually have some duet jamming going on next semester. Maybe even a gig if we sound good together. Somewhere. Sometime.


  • I am totally finished grading, which makes me happy happy happy.Not that I get to relax so much this summer: I’m still doing several story-collaborations for the Clarion West write-a-thon (top of the sidebar, link! Sponsor me! Please?), working on a couple of articles that are generally about SF in Korea, exercising as much as I can, co-writing a textbook, perhaps (hopefully) co-translating one of those Korean SF-stories, and, if there’s actually time, busting out my saxophone. Why? Because I would indeed like to jam with that guy I met.
  • I came very close to requesting Campus Security to escort a student out who would not take no for an answer when asking me to change his grade from F to D, despite his having not decent excuse for not doing crucial parts of homework that lost him enough marks to fail my class. And then the other guy in the same situation turned up and said, “But I didn’t know I had to do homework in my classes!”I ask you…
  • One of my best students asked me to recommend some books that would be of interest to her and help her find new ways to talk about the Korean political issues she discussed in an essay this semester — basically, the relationship between the notion of minjok and the cruddy policies that exist for dealing with foreign laborers and mail order brides in Korea. I decided to recommend books that are totally about politics in other societies, and came up with these two off the top of my head:
    • The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon. I’m discomfited by some of his ideas, but at the same time, when I explained the basic idea to my student — “he figures that societies that fail to violently expel colonial occupiers kind of end up emasculated and unable to psychologically decolonize; they are continuously semi-colonial and are crippled by their inferiority complex for a long time. Though I made it clear he was talking about cases in Africa, my student’s jaw dropped and she said, “That’s us!” So that sounds like a good recommendation, especially since the library has it in translation.
    • Reflections of a Siamese Twin: Canada at the End of the Twentieth Century, by John Ralston Saul, not the whole thing, just the parts where he discusses the idea of “negative nationalism” and its political uses in another postcolonial society, that of Québec.

    Anyone else have a book to recommend that is not “about Korea,” but is nonetheless useful in understanding Korea better? I’m thinking of compiling a list, and I have a few more in mind, but I’m curious what readers will recommend.


  • Word is Saturday night will be a big night down in Gwanghwamun. I’ll be making an effort to be there and see what’s going on with the protests.
  • I am also totally going to PiFan later this month, but the website is screwed up in a couple of ways. You can’t download the program booklet PDF from the English version of the site, only the Korean pages (how freaking clever is that?), and the navigation is atrocious. (In fact, it seemed to be gunking up our internet connection, and apparently I’m not the only one finding this to be the case.) The ticket reservation system is also mucked up, so I hear anyway. If only web-designers were hired on the basis of being competent. (Hell, if only competency were a bigger consideration when hiring for any position in this society. I mean real competency, not TOEIC score and course grades.) Argh! The damned websites only really work for Windows anyway, so how hard is it to make it actually WORK for Windows?

Worthy Reading Material

  • For those not reading comment sections: there’s a big fat cache of original Korean-language SF at a site named Crossroads. Check it out, if you’re so inclined. (And if you arrive at the  English language version of the site, click on Korean and you’ll see a SCI-FI link.)
  • Nearing the end of Brian Aldiss’s Billion Year Spree, and am even less respectful of C.S. Lewis than I was before, and even more so of Stapledon and Wells. Does anyone know whetherthe updated version, Trillion Year Spree, contains so much that I ought to hunt it down immediately, or what? Mostly, I just wanted to see what Aldiss had to say, and he had a lot of interesting ideas, though disagreements on my part are inevitable. But I do like the overview of the explosion of pulps and it’s helping me think about what I need to look for in the history of SF in Korea (see below), when I finally do get to check out the Seoul SF archive or talk to someone who runs the place.
  • I read some Yang Kwi-ja the other night. “A Vagabond Mouse” from A Distant and Beautiful Place. Damned fine. Shall have to dig in more, and hat tip to Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling for recommending it repeatedly till it sunk in.

Upcoming Posts

Sorry to those anticipating them, but my Gin Lane/Soju-ro posts will be waiting till August, I suspect. This month, I’m going to be cutting back and focusing my posts on the stuff I’ll be working into my paper for the Congress this fall (about the general failure of SF (not speculative fiction — fantasy and horror are quite popular here, but I mean science fiction — in Korea, as in, its failure to be adopted into Korean popular culture, be retooled for specifically Korean anxieties or concerns, and attain popularity anything like what we see in the English speaking world, Japan, Europe & the former Soviet Union, and (arguably, but I need to research this more) Taiwan and China. It’ll be some analysis of the use and significance of science-fictional tropes in the following Korean SF movies:

  • The Host
  • 2009: Lost Memories
  • Yesterday
  • Save the Green Planet
  • Wonderful Days
  • The Resurrection of the Little Match Girl
  • Cyborg She (which will be showing at PiFan later this month)

I suspect I’ll start with The Host, since it’s the one film in that list that was a critical success, and because it was the one that started me in on this inquiry. Plus I have my thinking about that film in order and won’t need to re-watch it again in order to put my post together.

As for soju and gin, I wanna do that subject justice, and to do so, I need to do some more reading and also to get some other stuff out of the way. I may start a series sometime, but for now, if you’re interested, two other bloggers are exploring similar terrain right now: James at The Grand Narrative is looking at the role of military conscription in what I’ve (cleverly?) termed the Ajeoshization of Korean men, and here’s a good place to start with that. Meanwhile, The Joshing Gnome has been laying down some wisdom on the concept of jeong (humane feeling toward other human beings) and the role of this concept in a society that is, on basic operating principles, a society of amoral familialism. Start here, and then catch up: post 4 should be up soon! (And, I’ll be back at those comment threads soon!)

I’ll be referring back to both of those series of posts when I do get to my own Gin & Soju series, so you can tell they’re mining worthwhile ground. In fact, of late I’ve felt kind of excited, as if, despite all this activity being outside the academy, there is a kind of network of people evolving who’re asking related sets of questions about Korea, and building up a kind of view that synthesizes personal experience, academic knowledge, and speculative theories.It’s a cool time to be reading Kore-related blogs. Well, as long as you’re not just reading the nitterings of the Fleas that plague the Marmot’s comment sections. Marmot’s Fleas, they’re experts on everything… except on not pulling random claims out of their own backsides.

(Though I should nicely thank Robert for linking me in his sidebar and from time to time in posts, and his generally nice demeanour toward me personally. I’m criticizing the fleas, at this present moment, not the mammal on whose back they ride.)

PS: Stephanie, I’ll try knock that Lost post out soon, but it’ll be a while yet. Got one article for a magazine pitched and needing to get done before I even think about it.

6 thoughts on “Fleeting Update

  1. On the concept on minjok, if your student is looking for any academic work, Henry Em (formerly of the University of Michigan, but teaching at Koryo University recently) has written on the concept of minjok here:
    “Minjok as a Modern and Democratic Construct,” appears in Colonial Modernity in Korea, Shin and Robinson, eds. (Harvard University Asia Center, 1999)
    If you want any more info or his contact information you can e-mail me.

  2. Jennifer,

    That’s great, thanks! I’ll pass that reference on. If she wants to meet him, I’ll put her in touch with you, but I’m sure she’ll be as glad to read the book instead.

    I’d like to look at the book myself, too.

  3. I’m criticizing the fleas, at this present moment, not the mammal on whose back they ride

    Consider yourself lucky — half the time, I’m afraid to look at what’s in my comment section in the morning, and I pay US$100 a month to Media Temple hosting for the privilege.

  4. Mark,

    Yes, and it’s my personal favorite, but as far as I remember it also wasn’t a box office success in Korea. The DVDs are out of production here, indeed — I had to order one from the US. I’m remembering that right, am I not? I remember when I saw it first (in a DVD-방 in Jeonju), we’d asked whether they had any Korean SF in their collection and the proprietress recommended it, saying most Koreans either hated it or had refused to see it because their friends hated it (and that it had bombed domestically), but that it was absolutely brilliant and a must-see movie for an SF fan. (And indeed it was. It’s a bit fast and loose in bits, but there’s such abandon, such wicked glee, that I can’t help but be swept away by it.) I also remember editing a student article about brilliant films that had bombed in Korea but were getting a second life on DVD, and the students mentioned Save the Green Planet second, right after Please Take Care of My Cat, another worthy film, though not SF, but which I’ve bubbled about here before.

    Definitely The Host was the most popularly successful of the bunch, both here and abroad; I think, though, that it’s not hard to see why Save the Green Planet would appeal more than The Host to non-Koreans; The Host simply has too much stuff that non-Koreans (or those unfamiliar with modern Korean history) won’t really get. And I suspect the deeper historical resonances in The Host (about which I’ll be posting later) were lost on a lot of the Korean audience, too; I say this because I presented my analysis of the film to my Popular Cultures course as an example of how knowing some history and culture can help you unpack all kinds of layers of meaning in even a film that looks like fluff. My students were mostly shocked that anything in terms of an allegorical reading could even be found in a monster movie. (Oddly, since it’s so obvious in, say, King Kong or Godzilla.

    I’ll say more about all that when I’m discussing The Host, which I’ll be doing sometime in the next couple of weeks. Maybe even in a few days, if our gambit to get tickets to Hong Kong fails. (I didn’t know it was a maybe thing, but it turns out it is.)

    By the way,. I’ve added a film to the list I’ll be examining and discussing, the indie film Teenage Hooker Became Killing Machine in Daehakroh, which I’d once heard of but forgotten, but which definitely belongs on this list, even if it is a total B-movie.

    But I am leaving out some other films which could be fit into genre, the way Alice in Wonderland seems to be an honorary SF text: films like Oldboy and Arahan, though they’re more comic-book or fantasy respectively, which is why I’m leaving them out. Likewise, no horror gets in unless it’s technohorror. I’m being pretty tight about the limits of the SF genre for this paper I’m writing, out of necessity. I can always attack Korean horror or fantasy later, I suppose. The focus, for me right now, is the general failure of the SF genre to take hold in Korea, and horror, fantasy, and manga-styled films (of a non-SFnal type) seem to be doing relatively well here, compared.

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