Here are the walls around the desk where I do most of my work in McLean, Virginia, these days.
(from upper left) Photo with my mother Marie-Louise Rouff, my friend Neil Katkov, and my friend Eric Marler, summer of 2003. Historical entry for Zhu Yun of the Han Dynasty, photo of me sitting with Yu Hui-seok (유희석) and Chung Byong-sol (정병설) at a cafe across from Yonsei University for a discussion about literary theory in 1996, photo of Benjamin building a boat at Houghton Academy (2017), and poster for Daejeon, Korea, that I designed in 2010.
(Top) calligraphy of Seolsong, the greatest calligrapher in Daejeon reads “these is a great treasury in a book” (书有金屋) (bottom from left) photo of me walking in Mt. Auburn Cemetary taken by Eric Marler (1993), quote from the Analects “If the nation loses its way, wealth and status are something to be ashamed of,” The original design I made for a poster for Buam-dong district in Seoul where we lived for five years from 2016 (with photo of me and Rachel), text from the Analects on the “rectification of names,” phrase from Analects, “Virtue is never alone; there will always be those nearby” (includes a recent sketch).
Close-up of Daejeon poster and picture from Mount Auburn Cemetary.
My design for a sticker for my neighborhood Buam-dong (부암동) has been completed and is now available for 500 Won. Buam-dong is named for a cliff which was attributed with spiritual powers where those seeking help would paste magic spells written on paper. “Buam” meaning “a boulder on which paper has been pasted.” The area was popular for excursions by the yangban from the 19th century and the powerful politician Hongseun Daewongun 흥선대원군 built his residence here Seokpajeong (석파정). The logo can be interpreted as the meeting of Inwang Mountain and Bukgak Mountain, but there are several other locations where a similar valley is found in Buam-dong.
I had an opportunity to attend an exhibition of calligraphy at the Gyeongbok Gung Station in Seoul last month that featured work by Korean, Chinese and Japanese artists. One Japanese woman produced this remarkable piece which features a version of the characters for “Earth” (地球）in which that latter one, 球, is shaped like the Earth. She told me that it was based on a Zhuan script version (篆書）version. I am afraid that I did not get her name. But here is a photograph.
This concert brings together a group of masters of Korean traditional music in a musical offering for peace on the Korean Peninsula and hope for all people in an age that war clouds hover ominously on the horizon. Do join us in our prayers for a better future. June 25 marks the 66th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean war and serves as a critical moment for us to gather together our spiritual strength.
I visited the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park recently during a seminar about the April 3 incident that I attended on Jeju Island (October 30, 2015).
The monuments in the peace park are extremely subtle, but grow upon one over time. I would say you must spend at least an hour walking among the spaces there before you start to appreciate the symbolic power of the grey stones and solid masses that are placed in the midst of green rolling grass.
I knew a few details about the killing of tens of thousands of people on Jeju Island starting on April 3, 1948, and how the incident was actively suppressed for decades in Korea. But I had never spent any time thinking deeply about the significance of that event for Korea, and specifically the psychology required to keep killing people for weeks and months, not just for a few hours of rage. I do not think that I understand that psychology yet, but I do feel strongly that the first lesson about the 4.3 incident has something to do with human nature itself.
I was deeply impressed by the sculptures at the 4.1 Peace Park and I feel that unlike many modern monuments that abound in Seoul, this one will survive the test of time.
There was one work that I thought was haunting that was entitled “flying snow” (飛雪). It is built on the exact spot that a young woman by the name of Byeon Byeongsaeng (변병생), 25 years old at the time, was shot in the back during the counterinsurgency operation by police sent down from Seoul. Byeon Byeongsaeng was hugging her baby daughter when she was shot by the officers chasing her and fell over into the snow and froze there. Read more of this post
I had a chance to watch, Jeremy Corbyn, the new head of the Labour Party in Great Britain, deliver a talk about his proposal for an “Arts for Everyone” policy on YouTube today. I was deeply impressed by his commitment to the arts and humanities and his vision for how they are critical to our society. I have felt that humanities are essential to a healthy society for a long time, but many around me seem mystified by this idea. The assumption being that the arts and literature are meant only for those of means to enjoy when they have free time. For myself, it has seemed to most people around me that it was somehow a strategic mistake to have studied literature.
I think that perhaps we are for the first time in a long time entering an age with real leaders. Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders (for all his flaws) and Pope Francis seem to be sincere about their desire to move forward towards a better world without concern for their own power. I am not sure they will succeed, but that does not matter. After decades in which there were no such leaders, decades of choosing between one form of hypocrisy and another, this development is simply unprecedented in my lifetime. Granted the severity of the challenges we face, it is not a moment too soon.
Jeremy Corbyn’s speech on the occasion of the announcement of his “Arts for Everyone” policy proposal
“I am very proud that tonight we’re launching this policy document on the arts.
There is an artist in every one of us.
There is a poet in every one of us.
There is a novel in every one of us.
But unfortunately, because of the process of very elitist funding, because of the underfunding of local arts projects, the insufficiency of facilities in schools for music and other forms of creativity it gets snuffed out, ignored and forgotten.
If we don’t fund local theatre, if we don’t fund regional theatre, we don’t give those opportunities to young actors, then where are the West End actors of tomorrow? Where are the film actors of tomorrow?
Fully funding the arts council and encouraging the arts council to fairly distribute its money, not just to the national institutions, but to local theatre, regional theatre and local galleries is something that is very, very important.
I also think that there has to be direct funding into local government and it should be ringfenced so that local government has to spend it on promoting and supporting local culture and local entertainment ideas.
When you give everybody that opportunity to write, everybody that opportunity to discover themselves, give them that space, and as a society,
Don’t look down on poets!
Don’t look down on authors!
Don’t look down on painters!
Don’t look down on dancers
So that our theatres, our opera houses, and all our music establishments are open absolutely for everybody so that we can all enjoy the great creativity that is there in all of us.
And when you unleash all that creativity, you never know where you might end up. You might end up in a more equal society.”