L’enfer, c’est parmi nous. [2]

“I suppose hell is not a place. People may think it is because of reading Dante, but I think of it as a state.” (Jorge Luis Borges, 1982)

The warp and weft of politics in the digital age

Just came across the above article, right after reading about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak at today’s briefing. This is truly a surreal time to live in and I am barely processing.

As I already confessed on this blog a few years ago, I don’t like all my writings equally. The 2015 Eonsoju paper is among the ones closer to my heart, and I have been thinking a lot about the following passage this evening.

[…] Moreover, [Friedmann (2011: 127)] poses a further question as follows: on the one hand, civil society may rise up in protest against the state and its agents while, conversely, the state’s helping hand is needed, for example, for improving life in local communities. How is this contradiction resolved in both theory and practice?

A possible resolution of this contradiction can be found in Maffesoli’s (1996) work, where he identifies two different aspects of social order and labelled them as ‘the social (le social)’ and ‘sociality (la socialité)’. As an aspect of modernity, the social is based upon a mechanical structure of political and economic organisation. Consequently, it is constructed by social leaders and ‘imposed from above’. Individuals, therefore, need not play any particular part in this vertical structure. Sociality, on the other hand, is the order of post-modernity and is inherent in the social interactions of everyday life. Sociality requires individuals to perform social roles and cooperate with others in a horizontal flow.

An example of the social would be accessing educational institutions as the principal source of knowledge. If people exchange knowledge among themselves in preference to formal education, they are inclined to sociality. Likewise, if citizens expect their state to compensate each individual for a natural disaster, they are dependent on the social, whereas those who choose to rely on helping hands within their immediate communities are depending on sociality.

The tension between the social and sociality is ‘not new but has always existed with each one being more or less prominent depending on the character of the epoch’ (Kidd, 1999). […]


Not only does Maffesoli highlight the competing yet coexisting dynamics between the vertical threads of institutional structures and the horizontal threads of networks of individual citizens and groups, he also points to how people now seem to turn their backs on the former and instead look for meaning and the ability to survive in the latter (Kidd, 1999). […]

In other words [2]

Been thinking a lot about the “untranslatables” lately. A few months ago I came across a mini discussion on Twitter criticising the popular belief that certain Korean concepts, typically han, jeong, and nunchi, are so Korean that they cannot be explained to outsiders. That discussion led me to realise such beliefs often have a nationalistic, ‘self-othering’ undertone, wittingly or unwittingly.

Having said that, as someone who needs to switch back and forth between English and her native language continually throughout everyday life, I do occasionally feel what Anil Dash describes as “a linguistic equivalent of phantom limb pain” when my best English translation of an idea that I first have in Korean is still “a muffled approximation of [that] idea”.

One of such expressions that I seem unable to precisely convey is “사람을 갈아넣다”. Its word-to-word translation, “grinding humans in” [to keep the system running], would pretty much do the job. My “phantom pain” has more to do with the fact that in English it might strike as an overdramatic metaphor while Korean speakers would all know it is as literal as it can get.

I am witnessing on social media waves of awe about the Korean government’s response to the corona outbreak: e.g. demonstrating the unparalleled testing capability, mapping every citizen’s movement trajectories, offering the convenience of drive-through tests (taking about 10 minutes each), ensuring the tests are free to everyone including undocumented workers, and sharing the progress transparently with the rest of the world.

I am glad that the government seems to stay on top of the matter. It’s just that I can’t get the news out of my head that a Jeonju city official died last Friday of overwork while being on emergency duty in response to the outbreak and pulling consecutive overnighters. I can’t even begin to imagine the physical and mental strains that the CDC and health officials must be under over the last two months.

((c) Yonhap News)

Politics of counting [3]

To count or not to count (e.g. Japanese authorities’ decision to exclude cases detected on the Diamond Princess from official statistics; a dispute in Lombardy over how much testing is too much); to count independently or comparatively to other outbreaks; to focus on velocity of spread, fatalities, absolute proportions, or relative proportions; to do the counting in the open or not; …

Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) resources (The American Society for Microbiology, 5 February 2020)

I live in South Korea where coronavirus cases are rising. Not much has changed. (Robert E. Kelly, The National Interest, 22 February 2020)

Coronavirus: A visual guide to the outbreak (BBC, 23 February 2020)

Déjà vu, déjà entendu [10]

BBC Question Time slammed for platforming anti-immigrant hate (Sam Bright, 21 February 2020)

Every time I witness an instance of “bothsidesism”, I think of this clip. A lot.

(1:01) “[It’s] this kind of notion that everyone’s opinion is equally valid. My arse! A bloke who’s a professor of dentistry for 40 years does not have a debate with some idiot who removes his teeth with a string and a door.”

(4:25) “[After talking to a guy from NASA], for the sake of balance, we must now turn to Barry, who believes the sky is a carpet painted by God.”

Once the red pill is taken

There is an in-joke at my university that we have to mention “decolonisation” at least once a day. But the joke aside, it is true that I have become a lot more conscious of the issues while working here. As the internet saying goes, once the red pill is taken, there is no unlearning.

Why I am saying this is because the following article is a year old but I have only recently stumbled upon it, and I can’t get it out of my head since.

You’ll never see the iconic photo of the ‘Afghan Girl’ the same way again (Ribhu, Wired, 12 March 2019)

See also:

Starving Child and Vulture (photo by Kevin Carter, 1993)

Into the Heart: One Man’s Pursuit of Love and Knowledge among the Yanomami (Kenneth Good, 1991; crossposted 3 January 2017)

Natalie Portman opens up about experiencing “sexual terrorism” after starring in ‘Leon’ at 13 (Luke Morgan Britton, NME, 22 January 2018)

Decolonise science — time to end another imperial era (Rohan Deb Roy, The Conversation, 5 April 2018; crossposted 10 December 2018)

The disturbing story behind the rape scene in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, explained (Anna North, Vox, 26 November 2018)

A perfect Hollywood moment

A perfect Hollywood moment. A perfect #softpower moment. And a perfect #국뽕 moment.

In the meantime, the City of Seoul wastes no time.

Yes, come and see for yourselves banjiha and other sites of capitalist inequality.

Déjà vu, déjà entendu [9]

These two stories have showed up, literally one after the other, in my timeline.

Transgender student withdraws after getting accepted to Sookmyung Women’s University (The Korea Herald, 7 February 2020, via @koryodynasty and @BBC_Hyung)

This awful new app for ‘girls’ uses dystopian tech to identify gender and people are baffled (Independent, 7 February 2020, via @degendering)

I can’t stop wondering if there will ever be a reconciliation…

See also:

The controversy over Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and trans women, explained (Vox, 15 March 2017)

JK Rowling in row over court ruling on transgender issues (The Guardian, 19 December 2019)

Transphobic trolling scandal on the MLA’s CFP site (2020, via @VadoKarina)

Amia Srinivasan on What is a Woman? (Philosophy Bites, 1 January 2017)

Kathleen Stock on What is a Woman? (Philosophy Bites, 21 May 2019)

Sheila Jeffreys on Korea’s (non-existent) anti-discrimination law (Yeoldabooks, 6 February 2020)