Every man 'seen distinctly enough is abnormal, for the normal is only a name for the undifferentiated, for a failure to see the inescapable nuance.' - Edwin Muir
Another trip to Seoul today, on the express bus, to the crowded area where the three storey music arcade happens to be—
On the way, a defining trait of this country revealed itself, amidst the endless flow of salary-men, secretary-women, students in uniforms and funny glasses, in sparkly suits, heels, in this better part of Korea, where unlike Incheon, dust from construction is actually prevented by enormous walls from scattering across into traffic, often into one's eyes; such atrocity that plagues my neighbourhood—dust everywhere; mountains razed, butchered—such lamentable sights; in Incheon, of course. What is this trait I mentioned? Homogeny—in this nation, they don't say 'my mother.' She's 'our mother,' they say, which is to say she's the nation's mother. "Your mind is my mind" is a catchphrase one hears here, often. Differences between persons is treated with suspicion, if not scorn or utter xenophobia. There is an old Confucianist saying: "the nail that sticks out gets hammered in." But where is the divine hammer today? Surely not in the impotent Buddhist temples, nor the raving lunatic Churches. One hammers oneself in, but how could one, without the aid of one's family? But there is no honour in families today, anyway. If there's honour in yours, count yourself lucky then.
A herd of school girls huddle around an aloof puppy confused by such attention during midday on the sidewalk (it is exam week), and the girls are giggling the same giggle—everyone seems happy. One feels justified in stereotypes, prejudices, here. And it's no surprise that communism thrived in Confucianist nations whose monarchies became weaker by the rise of industrial classes who challenged them. Confucianism justifies the natural hierarchializations that occur in an equalized community whereas Communism masks it under the so-called "dictatorship of the proletariat."
Confucianism without a monarchical framework, or centre, of symbolic power (as in Japan for instance), appears prone to corruption in the middle and upper classes, whereas it tends to keep the lower classes spirited and content—or at least, it helps them to believe. I find myself giving only half-bows to most of my elders, in the school for instance, because I'm sure they know as much as I do, there is no real or authoritative basis from which they actually derive their rank.
A venerable age may trump the younger, but the heart of the Confucianist ideal, one surmises, was laid such that the inferior always bends to the more powerful. The wheat in the field, when past its prime of life, will bend too for the young—such is nature's law. The clash of democratic liberalism, with its nauseous clamouring for (economic) equality, with that of Confucianist hierarchy—without a monarchical centre—is bound to prove worthless. Without the affirmation of natural rank (as opposed to societal, professional rank—a bourgeouis invention), the Confucianist ideal is already mired with the uppity values that characterize the aspring rabble. There will come a day here, as in the West, when social status will mean nothing with respect to the hierarchy of Being which is the more real as it becomes invisible. South Korea remains today a hermit nation, and this was echoed by my vice principal when he said at dinner one night: "Why should we speak English here? This is Korea!" (what a pathetic parody it would be!) I didn't answer to him that English is first of all the contemporary distilled language of the multitude of European languages of at least the past millenium, and the late bearer of the values of Western civilization, which is responsible for the very fashioning of his daily material life. There is no point in trying to aid a buffoon whose very job is to conceal ignorances, injustices, anyway.
Regarding art—my thoughts on art and on necessity are finally seeming to bear fruit. I oppose Rilke's letters entirely, there is no necessity in creation, simply put. Desire suffices, and what—oh—what now, is a human need, essentially? What else is it than a kind of secondary, extrapersonal, disowned desire—twice removed—hypostatized, reified to the exacting law of a binding servitude; a projected desire whose aim is a higher but subterranean desire, whose object one dreads for fear of knowing, or masks from the gaze of oneself, so as to disown an action and thereby attribute responsibility for it on something else than oneself?
No, that is cowardly; no action is purely selfless, no action is devoid of desire, no matter how one fictionalizes a self-consistent account to rid one of the burden that such, if it happened to happen that way—given the circumstance—is what one really desires, in the form of a wish. When one dreams of a world but accedes it to an unreality of the imagination, then necessity begins to bind, the fiction produced and kept to safeguard us from ourselves. We must return to this world, yet once again, and perhaps again after that.
My take on a Vedic riddle: "Why should he desire eternity, whose soul is the world?"
A note on the cosmopolitan versus the doctrine of cultural relativism: cultural relativism assumes the existence of singular forces, and moralizes that each singular force must be preserved, and respected, for the sake of human values. Whose values? Singular or universal? If this is a singular value then which can't refrain from imposing itself upon the totality which is not a count (therefore not at all a ONENESS), a natural rule then comes to surface, which unsurprisingly happens to be the rule of the powerful. Is it more powerful then to have to hide one's suppositions, or perhaps rather to affirm, and declare by poeticizing them—with persuasion!—perhaps even as a secondary effect even to weed out the buffonery that masquerades as the Good? Not because we need to, but because we desire the elusive cause and the source of it, not necessarily its ends. Would you rather be someone who is needed by someone, or could you live with just being one with the power to stir desire in another? Re-echoing the cosmopolitan versus the insular:
"Where force is, there becometh number the mistress: it hath more force." - Zarathustra
It is true that Korea's lack of knack for the English language, in part, 'protects' it from Western culture; but tragically, in the process, this land ends up anyway adapting Western ways simply through unconscious osmosis, which is to say, through the body and its nonverbal desires, on shopping networks, inane comedy shows, 'K-pop' and otherwise, which are near unbearable. Korea ranks 1 in the world today in terms of its funding of English programs and teenage suicide, or so I've been told. My job for now, so it seems, is to work on these national problems, perhaps so as to not allow the former to have any sway over the latter. (They really should be paying me a lot more than this.)
PS - I bought a new 12-string guitar today, and my fingers have recalled the song I was working on just before I left Canada, instantly. And so it's so far been a good night.