Mid-flight digression on racism (8:15 a.m.)

The next poem from Yoon Yong, you can read the 1st poem here.


Mid-flight digression on racism (8:15 a.m.)

…I think it might be racism.
Am I a racist?

Is it racist not to feel
an aesthetic pull to another race?

Can Asians even be racist to white |
middle (age) class | English men

just because they find them | on the whole
“ugly buggers”? as my landlady

in Birmingham often described others.
Can you learn appeal | like digesting dairy

or coping with the aftermath of spicy food?
“Once nature was tabulated | the idea it could took hold

& we wriggled inside reality’s appearance |
with a microscope | becoming

deceptive in the act
— thus the grammar of modernity began…”

Flight to Jeju (Friday 7:45 a.m.)

This poem is the 1st of a series of poems making a single long poem, which i have called Yoon Yong. I don’t know what to do with it, so I might put a few up here now & then, to see what people think.
The basic outline is that Yoon Yong is a 30 something Korean woman on a weekend trip to Jeju, alone. She works as a translator & is married to an English man. She is conflicted culturally. The poem is a mix of her soliloquies, Jeju scenery & conversations or just quotes from people in her past. Yoon Yong is nothing like my wife.

Flight to Jeju (Friday 7:45 a.m.)

Rising out a futurity of turbid cloud | pulpy buboes
the airplane lances to the sound of applause.

“It baffles me | in spite of the countless daily flights
that take off every hour & break through barricading smog |

that there is not a larger sense of urgency to fix the sky.”
I’m getting out— “we’re nowhere near…”

I’ll sweat it out | not get abroad myself
—i should not spend this time from Seoul | nullifying

myself with psychometric tests | but spend it frivolously
on remembering who I am | spotting the difference

—playing “eye spy with my little eye something beginning with… 유…”
my own interior sister & mother for playmates.

Nor fall in line with the cultural stereotype like
young couples taking in-flight selfies | nuzzled

in the crease of one another’s elbows | dressed
in couple-clothes & silly hats—they look inter-bred |

arms numb with romance.
Yoon Yong is glad to be spared that rigmarole

: I’m not photogenic (“attractive in maturity”)
& he sure as hell isn’t with his serial killer chin

& bitten off gawp | his nondescript hair like a winter lawn
& nose shaped like a syringe—we still look strange

with faces in the same frame | locked smiles |
pretending we’re sooooo happy. “& for whose benefit…?”

The end in sight…

Last night, i went with a friend to the beach.
The few squid boats that sailed out were returning early, around 8ish.
We’d found a low bench outside the perimeters of society’s light & with a bottle of soju, a box of kimchi & veggie pancake, talked our tired into something productive & admired the uncommon sight of a few printed constellations.

We somehow got onto conspiracy theories & my friend, not knowing much about them, asked “why do they believe in such things.” Being Korean she’s had little exposure to what is, to my mind, a very Western phenomenon.

i outlined (roughly) Foucault’s power-knowledge: holding & creating the codes & keys to knowledge; there is no power without knowledge.
But, what is the control conspiracy theorists have? It is that they know something important, have tirelessly awakened to something we don’t understand, or more accurately can’t see as it is “hidden in plain sight”. They do what they do for our benefit, turning them into a conduit of truth— they’re on a moral track; fulfilling a duty to the survival of open, free society.

Going off the subject it dawned on me how erroneous we are to assume problems, with such wide reaching, immense scales can have any end in sight.

Let’s say for instance that every system of governance, politics, philosophy, religion,ideology is in itself a timeline, plotted, deterministically, in progress, towards a fateful moment in the lives of the collective that follow it & by extension (through survival of the fittest) compelling everyone else to fall in line to this track, seeing the benefit (as the adherent or faithful would see it).

Isn’t this ridiculous? It brings into sharp focus all our reasons behind why we cherish ideas, why they become personal, character shaping.
i’d say a good many people believe that what is an all encompassing process for them, seeing as, in reality, it exits in tandem with other processes, means it is unlikely there is a singular destiny. Numerous processes, always in motion together, has been the vital matter of man. Ideologies conflict with ideologies.

Our history, our ideas, are not necessarily a process of trial & error to eventually discover suitable methods for going forward to some fateful day when everything is corrected to a set of tracked demarcations. We have no destiny.
Things happened, but not for a reason.

Even peace is an ideology. There will never be peace. Never. Nor will there be a day where evil triumphs & nothing but war fills the world.
The liberal, the conservative, republican or democratic agenda will never win over an entire population. The likes of dystopian fiction will never be realized in their total form.
i’ll go ahead & wager the same for ecological issues, the world won’t end with a bang or whimper, it’ll hobble on, inconceivable moments of change may occur, but what ever volume of human content stubbornly rises against the back hand of its own stupidity, will adapt & humankind will plod on, forgetting, then becoming the mythopoeic madmen we all are, at heart & do best with our easy hearsay.

What does it mean to realize this?
For me, this is not about persuading anyone. This will not enlighten you.
i once believed, years ago, that the logical end (all evil would need to play out for this to happen) of humanity’s crises, was to just end up fully, organically understanding good; this was the only method of living that made sense. There is no waste in good, except the loss of bad.
Evil, corruption, always sacrifice something, create hardships & pain, which is wasted energy.
If there is peace & prosperity, would we really be more human by denying our coarser, more violent natures? i don’t know if this is cogent or an easy thing for good people to accept, i doubt it.
i know for me, this realization of no end in sight, emancipates me from the track of that end.
i can, with George Saunders, be free to just like everything; or not so much like, as accept it being outside my influence yet remaining within my control; if only the control is an alteration of the context of my capacity to influence. This comes frightfully close to sounding like ignorance of the difference between right & wrong, but in reality is it is a realization of limits.

Would i end world hunger, the deaths of children, the slavery of teenage girls if it meant i had to kill a single man, even a room full of evil men with the click of a lever? Sure. Sorry fellas, you’re for the chop.
However, that is a foolish thought experiment & life just isn’t that simple. The exception to the rule seldom becomes the rule.

Why this public act initiates me into some personal collusion with myself, i don’t know, it feels necessary somehow; sort of like the symbolic act of cutting the Gordian knot.
i think Wallace Stevens’ final line from his poem Parochial Theme “Piece the world together, boys, but not with your hands.” sums up what i am trying to say here. To build something with your hands means an end in sight, the mental world is always going to get revised & emotions are not built with your hands.
Oddly, i’ve never been happier with chaos. The next step is deciding what that means— i suspect, it doesn’t mean anything other than i am finally human.


(Remember, what follows is opinion, as always in these essays, it is not an incontestable truth.)


The following passage is from Robert Browning’s Red Cotton Night Cap Country or Turf & Towers:

Have you, the travelled lady, found yourself
Inside a ruin, fane or bath or cirque,
Renowned in story, dear through youthful dream?
If not,—imagination serves as well.
Try fancy-land, go back a thousand years,
Or forward, half the number, and confront
Some work of art gnawn hollow by Time’s tooth,
Hellenic temple, Roman theatre,
Gothic cathedral, Gallic Tuilleries,
But ruined, one and whichsoe’er you like.
Obstructions choke what still remains intact,
Yet proffer change that’s picturesque in them;
Since little life begins where great life ends,
And vegetation soon amalgamates,
Smooths novel shape from out the shapeless old,
Till broken column, battered cornice block
The centre with a bulk half weeds and flowers,
Half relics you devoutly recognize.
Devoutly recognizing,—hark, a voice
Not to be disregarded! “Man worked here
Once on a time; here needs again to work;
Ruins obstruct, which man must remedy.”
Would you demur “let time fulfil his task,
And, till the scythe-sweep find no obstacle
Let man be patient?”

In short Browning is saying, the ruin obstructs the progress of time, & in consequence, life; the work of man— the shell-of-what-was worked for prior generations & it is in its nature to continue to be of use. In its disused state, “picturesque” yes, but as he says “little life begins where great life ends.”
Browning’s protagonist Monsieur Leonce Miranda, renovates an old priory inherited from his father, called Clairvaux. Rather than live in a comfortable Paris apartment on the Place Vendome, Monsieur Miranda opts to renovate the ruin & house his love Clara de Millefleur there.
There are scenes in which Monsieur Miranda ascends the tower & surveys the land; the tower at Clairvaux becomes a metaphor of self-mastery, of working on oneself, of noting the inner mechanics of self, as if the labour expended on the task compensated for the stain of sin.
The tribulations of Monsieur Miranda make the renovation of a priory ironic; what was Browning saying about religion, owing that Monsieur Miranda’s efforts fail? Browning has some interesting speculations in religious matters, which i may go into in another post.
(Aside: Though the poem is by no means one of Browning’s most popular & can prove a difficult read, it is worth the effort for his diverse, unexpected speculations & the strength & ease of his line. Moreover it is an interesting approach to a long poem, being a conversation between Browning & his friend Anne Thackeray. The critic C.H.Herford called the style of the poem “special versified correspondence”. Browning borrows some of the journalist’s methods in the telling of this story. Browning is an overlooked Victorian in my opinion, worthy of more devotion, with a much more interesting vocabulary than say, Tennyson, who is a lesser poet.)

Why leave a ruin to the ravages of time? i can only speak for England (but i’d hazard to say the same concerns most cultures): we do it because we suppose in the ruin is relic & relic is a matter of identity, it connects us with an authenticity, a chapter of our history that we take pride in, that we amalgamate together to compose our cultural identity. Why we venerate periods of time few really understand, & even with such scant understanding, find indomitable commonality, becomes stranger to me as i get older— nationalism is built on such monuments. Why we have made family fun out of dungeons is very peculiar. It discombobulates to think the largest exodus from a war torn nation, since WWII is taking place across the continent of Europe, & idle landmarks are preserved for passive Sunday outings & the country is deemed full.
England is full of ruins. i remember some outrage about Tesco (a supermarket chain) renovating an old church & people were saying how disrespectful it was, yet they don’t care when the chain-pub Wetherspoon’s turns a stone masons or cinema, or any other 2nd grade listed building, into a pub. The church was idle, a business moved in, employed people, provided a service to a local community, made a use out of it: “vegetation soon amalgamates.”

Roger Scruton made a documentary some years ago called Why Beauty Matters, for the BBC. His concern, that “we are losing beauty, and there is a danger that with it, we will lose the meaning of life.” because, he continues, “[beauty] is not just a subjective thing, but a universal need of human beings.”
i don’t entirely agree with Scruton. He relies heavily on a spiritual dimension that establishes the talent & vision in the artist, suggesting that in tandem with talent, there is an element beyond the will of the artist.
He oscillates between examples of modern ugliness, starting with Duchamp’s urinal, & what tend to be irrefutable examples of high art, often Renaissance works that people don’t usual have a leg to stand on when criticizing, part-of-the-canon art; such as Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, which, if i am honest, i think a horrible painting. When he says things like true art (& beauty) “show the real in the light of the ideal” he just shoots himself in the foot. i don’t see how this isn’t subjective, which he says true art isn’t, it is revelation & realization of a universal, irrefragable truth expressed through the aesthetic.
What is the outcome of such a upholding? Does art not fail to change in response to the ideas that we fall prey to?
In his hometown of Reading, Scruton tours abandoned offices & a bus station built in the 60s, on the premise of Louis Sullivan’s edict “form follows function”. The buildings are plastered in graffiti, a wrecked eye sore. “No one wants to be in them” he explains; they are ugly. However, he takes us to a relic of the past, an old forge turned café, lovingly restored, full of people. You get the picture.
i see much the same in Jeju where i live. The old native houses sell without struggle & people, though they take a great deal of hard work to restore, put the effort & capital into the endeavor. However, we might contest, that our beauty is informed by what we are told is beautiful & that demolished, disused buildings, whatever their history, don’t have to remain so, if we only alter our perception of what is generally regarded as beautiful. Is a structure aesthetically valuable because of its history & decoration, or can the use it is put to, the cause it works for, not be the object of its beauty? Surely a worthy endeavor with enough effort can elbow an aesthetic leaning into the renovation? If a ruin can be renovated then surely an ugly factory built under Sullivan’s tutelage can be beautiful in its usefulness?
The historical landmarks Browning asks his friend Anne to picture, are not languishing unwonted due to ugliness, they need only reformatting for a new purpose, they need less attention & could have maximum effect. Imagine Buckingham Palace, rather than packed with paying selfie obsessed tourists, full of refugee families. Instead of Saint Paul’s Cathedral serving up the diatribe of Christianity, imagine if it housed the homeless on London’s streets; same goes for the numerous cathedrals across the whole of Europe. Idealism, yes; but this is what Scruton thinks high art does to us.
Do we really have the space available in this overpopulated world, to be as finicky as Scruton is saying our sense of the aesthetic is? i am not challenging beauty’s importance, but that it isn’t a matter of what Scruton determines is important based on art that is canonized as high art by an elite. i don’t particularly wish to defend Duchamp or Damien Hirst, why do i need to— i certainly don’t think Scruton sees the whole picture though.

Interestingly, a short sub chapter of George Santayana’s The Sense of Beauty is titled The Influence of the Passion of Love. In this chapter Santayana expresses something deeply profound that “If any one were desirous to produce a being with a great susceptibility to beauty, he could not invent an instrument better designed for that object than sex.”
But sex is not constricted to the act of copulation, the effect of our desire for it is the same effect that instigates our sense of beauty for things or devotions, it becomes a blanket term: “If the stimulus does not appear as a definite image [a lover], the values evoked are dispersed over the world, and we are said to have become lovers of nature, and to have discovered the beauty and meaning of things.” Including art.
Returning to Scruton’s question of why beauty matters? We have an answer. Beauty endows things with a sort of “sexual passion” (as Santayana puts it) thus we are attracted to them & give them value. This is probably just Plato’s Eros termed differently; i think Santayana goes into more depth though.
It may be a monstrous thing to say & i may risk making myself very unpopular, but beautiful people, models or actors & the like have an advantage over others when they walk into a room, they are responded to with our gaze, a mark of value that jumps ahead of any knowledge of who the person is— don’t judge a book by its cover we say. We don’t aim to but sometimes we slip up with the parapraxes of our attentions.
I have always thought it a genius move on nature’s part to make the infants of any species, cute. What is cuteness if not a sort of evolutionary reaction to the possibility of neglect or loss, designed to elicit the cooperation of the environment; to get people to care for you, educate, feed etc? How many times do we see in a film, someone who hates kids take the kid under their guardianship?

i always like to get something about how the poet fits into this & we do of course. We poets & writer-types are all mining each other in some way. i acquiesce to the charge, it is probably called learning.
i’ll read a poem, it jolts something in me enough to want to make use of it; there is a theme or subject the poet raises & i think to myself “i like that, it’d fit snugly in something i’ve been working on, but i could make it more in my aesthetic register.” The thing extracted feels so connected with something we would say but never got around to thinking yet, it feels natural to borrow it for our own circumstance. No compunction necessary.
What would be the opposite of this? A sort of inverted aesthetic, where the poem is so terrible we ache to set the balance straight. Would this reaction still begin from an aesthetic point? Does the bad aesthetic of a crap poem teach us how not to write a poem & in the negative influence retain some aesthetic if only indirectly?
Eliot as we know was a great borrower, the greatest i’d say. His borrowing was a sort of renovation of the towers of the past, giving them a lick of paint & some new curtains.
i don’t think it necessary to borrow from that towering past, i’ll take what i can learn from it, then alter that new information. This is more interesting & cogent, not spraying graffiti over it, more noting it & writing what it left in the gaps, which is pretty much everything it isn’t & could never be; in that way it doesn’t only get re-contextualized it gets a new format too, enough so it wouldn’t recognize itself. My sense of its beauty is in the “sexual passion” for it, masked as my attention, my respect to still let it take me under its wing, even if the influence ends in challenge. It is partly our challenge of the past that enables us to keep our feet firmly in the happenings of the present.

Next time you’re out at an art gallery or buying pottery in an antiques shop, reading a poem or even about to eat a cream cake, i hope your hounded by the feeling of a “sexual passion” for the object; however, remember it may not be an idea, but mechanism— the trigger of beauty.

Our HD nature

(There are probably a lot more i could have talked about, some of it left out purposely, some not. i want these piece to be, ideally, between 500-1000 words, i failed this time, but i am trying. i want them to be diving off points for extended dialogue with those interested. It is odd though that as these ideas for think-pieces arise, a whole synchronicity of material unfolds & tidally moves toward me, making it hard to ignore & so the pieces expand.)

Our HD nature

There was not long ago (i think it is still played sometimes) an advertisement on TV, here in Korea (& perhaps elsewhere; maybe you know it) for a new fandangled HD-flat-curved-screen-Oled-TV.
Much to my embarrassment, i don’t recall if it was Samsung or LG, the model or any of that stuff i neither need, watch nor have the money to buy. i tried to search Youtube so you could watch the advertisement & i could prove its existence, but i failed so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
What interests me, is how the company tacitly express a lot about the relationship between nature (or what Tim Morton would term the symbiotic-real, which i’m quite fond of) & man (or maybe culture might be a better dichotomy)— perhaps not even tacitly, as the indelible aplomb of marketing attempts to sell the product by illuminating the crossing triumph of man’s organic threshold with technology.
The advertisement’s music is a piece i recognize, on the tip of my tongue, but for the life of me… It is rooted in African tribal chants & drums, it has an epic, authentic sweep to it, but not quite, there is something just slightly off about the authenticity.
This music plays in tandem with wide vistas of various terrains: the dorsal fins of sand dunes, rain-forests dripping in beads of rain just after rainfall & verdant valleys goose-stepping into snow-capped mountain ranges. Among these grand landscapes, a solitary figure gives the spaciousness depth, complementing the mass of saturated colours & naturalness: a Masai (i think) warrior searching distances; a Native American on horseback riding away from us; a Peruvian profoundly opening their eyes (i made this one up)— people whose authenticity means they’d never be able to afford such a technical feat as a convex TV; they’d have nowhere to plug it in for a start.
From the comfort of suburbia, white, rich people, with houses seemingly made of nothing but glass which opens out onto a curated nature— even those cooped up in expensive apartments— taste authenticity, they become endowed through their attention of authenticity, more authentic themselves, through a sympathetic effort, so long as they own this TV. Dressed in their purified white linen & cashmere, matching their mother of pearl teeth, they are an embodiment of betterment through symbiosis with authenticity.
Woven in this woof of superficial authenticity, is a leopard in its natural environment, which walks across the façade of the TV inexplicably planted there, paying no mind to it, until it flicks on suddenly with an image of a leopard almost identical, if not the same leopard, causing the leopard to jet out a terrified, defensive roar.
The TV is set into the natural environment, a picture of the environment on its screen, camouflaging it, symbiotic in its relation; an inevitable outcome, man’s emergence from the organic, via his technological triumph; boasting a clarity the eye can see but not replicate itself. There are no borders on the TV, suggesting no borders with nature (the symbiotic-real), freed from the demarcations of technology, yet containing nature, creating new demarcations, or rather toppling old barriers, long overdue a kicking. We can have it all.
But it isn’t symbiotic with nature, nor is it the symbiotic real realized in an object that entertains & informs. The TV’s commercial & the TV itself, tacitly boasts the besting of nature, because it functions, through its crystal-pristine-pixels, its HD-fat-saturation, to be an improvement on the quality of what the eye perceives. This damages our expectation of what reality delivers, it is a divorce from what the eye perceives; it is like arriving on that beach in Bali you saw in the tour guide, or on that travel blog & finding the susurrus waves scrumming beer cans & condoms.
The tech is not imitating nature, it is taunting nature to catch up with it, else risk obsolescence.
But we are, vicariously, the eyes for & of nature: nature substitutes a consciousness that is aware of itself (for itself) & allows us to maintain exclusivity of that consciousness & with this, as we stack our limits for advancement, have gotten around to creating what the eye cannot itself do. This is a form of evolution, i suppose. If we cannot improve the function of the corporeal, let tech do it; even in the minor annex of entertainment. The microscope enables us to peer into the microscopic as the telescope does the opposite. Tools are one thing, entertainment is quite another. Are these companies telling us they can sell us a reality realer than reality because we don’t have the technology, in the flesh, to see as well as their technology can?
That is what i am saying.
It is the technological boast of an advancement, missing the mark because, the purpose, the selling point—that the TV can give us an accurate, if not better appreciation of our environment through greater pictorial clarity— is, simultaneously, deriding the environment & even our tools of perception (our eyes) as inferior compared to the product’s achievements. A result of this is that our expectations can never match what the TV is alerting us to. The TV is representative of a significant amplification of authenticity, yet in the process it devalues, through excess, the authentic. It has shit where we sleep.
We see something similar in tourism. Foreigners want to escape to an ideal of paradise they have resolved themselves to, erroneously, from what they are told constitutes a paradise, which is in fact not the actuality. However, the reality is sustainable so long as the illusion, the amplification, persists. But if one understands the realities of a paradise: the excesses that strain the local populace, access to water being one; the buildup of unrecycled waste, due to the stretching of a paradise’s limits in answering the call of foreign desires; the lack of prospects for locals other than crap jobs in the tourist industry; the exorbitant increases in rent & land costs, owing to hoteliers with huge capital moving in, meaning locals can’t afford to live comfortably, having to secure second jobs to make ends meet; sometimes, a large percentage of facilities are tailored for tourism, locals uncomfortable or simply seeking a rest from the touristic, find it difficult to do so— i think i read that there was only one cinema in Venice.
Paradise under these considerations, becomes more problematic & less appealing.
What i can’t resolve is, if an artist or poet is guilty of the same mistake, or if this even is a mistake or simply imminent? i don’t know if i want to be judgmental & risk hypocrisy. i am being deliberately ambivalent as to how i feel about all this.
In painting a landscape or depicting it in language, there is distortion, there is a stylistic element brought in to form the content of the work, to elevate the thing in itself to artistic expectations.
If we were to be simply, natural, organic entities, existing without attachments, in our environment, we’d find less usage for technique or technology. Yes, it exists, it is of use, it is even essential, but has fundamentally practical necessities. It is not abundance but need that the tool or the artifice provides for the integrated, practical human. The artist in this system would observe & leave it at that, it would be enough, wouldn’t it?
Well, probably not. Because to see is to test the instinct to reproduce. The artist isn’t just content with mimicry, it is the skill that it takes. There is always a certain egotism between the artist & their subject.
So what of the cave paintings found across the globe? Is the authenticity in the primitivism of the style? Were their reasons any different from our own? Was there egotism in their endeavor, a quest for a transference of mortality into immortality, or just an attempt to quell boredom? As we come closer to more absolute correction of the thing itself through style, do we actually inch further away from accuracy because we are over-compensating, in an ego tousle with the organic, as with the exorbitant saturation of TVs & digital cameras?
The poet is under similar pressures. The word in itself is a poor replication of the thing it represents. Take any word & line it up with its object or subject & it has little substance without the a priori knowledge that comes with knowing the semiotics of the language the word comes from. If i write the word 사랑 & ask you to, from the physicality of it, determine its meaning, it would be but a guess, unless you read Korean & have a basic vocabulary set. This word is an emotion we all know, all struggle to interpret or rather, interpret based on the context of our experiences— it is the word love. Yet we receive it as an ambiguous symbol because we are ill informed by the physicality of it in space.
But none of this matters: humanity is the great anomaly from the offset. As soon as we attempted the replication of that which we witnessed, we parted ways from nature, in some sense, because it became a form of domination over our environment; a form of taking the environment with us where we move & reproducing it through memory into art.
Any imbalance has been countered by the very act of replication. In our replication, in the evolution of representation, we remain tethered in some way to our origin, to that which delivers us from starvation & gives life meaning. Just as our dreams, when we give them our attention, are founded on very old symbols & stories, so our attention to representation through art & tech & whatsoever, is an attempt to maintain a bond with something inching further away in actuality, but maintaining a hold subjectively.
We cannot escape the hold the ecosystem has on us, because, taken for granted or not, we know sustenance comes of the soil, all the ignorance coalesced into its most disastrous form, cannot separate use from this truth; it is pushed deep down at an instinctual level, where the will cannot touch it.
i imagine a distant, dystopian future, where there is no longer a nature, or rather, it is so removed from the city it is unknown to its denizens who have become nigh digitized. Children, inexplicably, doodle extinct animals & plants, even flowers they’ve never seen on the new iPad & show them to their dumbfounded parents who remember something & call them beautiful.