Friday, October 17, 2008

My First Couple Months

Have I written much about Korea?

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I Wonder What I Mean by Real Name

At the school where I teach, none of the kids go by their real names. I have a list of their real names somewhere, but I couldn't tell you what any of them is. Every once in a while, I'll look and call them by their Korean names, and it blows their minds. For the most part, I don't know my Korean coworkers' real names either. It's kind of cool in a way, like a club or something. Another identity. I'm a little jealous. I keep asking my kindergarten class to give me a Korean name, but they always write something on the board, laugh hysterically about it, and then erase it without telling me what it means. Transliterated, my name in Korean is ("Teem," thus "Teem Teacher").

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Check out Jane L. Carman's "Crow" in the new elimae.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More on Yorick

All I blame him for—or rather, all I blame & alternately like him for, was that singularity of his temper, which would never suffer him to take pains to set a story right with the world, however in his power.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Phrase True Story Is Useless

Two things continue to bother me about the photographs of my students. The first is their presentation as THE TRUTH. What I love about postmodern art is its tendency to admit its presence as construction/constructed: effective at effecting effects, yes, but nonetheless not THE TRUTH, whatever that is. Play in the footlights, Shklovsky says. Disrupt the performance in order to call attention to its presence as performance. What's going on with the pictures is an attempt to sell the school. No looking at the camera. Don't give away our awareness of the recording process (I use that last word lightly).

Fuck capital-everything the truth.

The other thing getting at me is the emphasis on perfection. No mistakes, we're saying, means a mastering of English. Smiles automatically mean a willingness to learn. "Fuck it up," I want to tell my students. "Do anything but be afraid of language."

Sunday, October 5, 2008

English in the Foreign-Language Section

The language is conjugated according to whom one is talking. Forget the subject.
[E]nough of this cursed first person,…I'll get out of my depth if I'm not careful. But what then is the subject?… Bah, any old pronoun will do, provided one sees through it. Matter of habit. To be adjusted later. Where was I?1
"한국에서 무엇을 합니까?"


1 Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable.
2 All politeness:
"What do you do in Korea?"
"I write."

More with Adaptation

While looking for this,


I serendipitously found this,


From the looks of this preview, it seems that the movie focuses on fans' adaptations of the Harry Potter series and on Warner Bros.' reaction to these so-called violations of copyright.

What makes art exciting and culturally valuable is adaptation, its continued reevaluation and incorporation or rejection. No art lasts unless somebody finds it useful.

By the by, if you haven't listened to Brad Neely's Wizard People, Dear Readers while watching the first Harry Potter movie on mute, I highly recommend it.

Apology (?)/Defense (?); Video As Though to Say, "Shut the Door"; Pedagogy of Deception

I'm not sure why I've delayed posting. After Wallace's suicide, I felt depressed—not enough to prevent my writing, but. I'm not exactly sure what I'm doing in this space. With this so-called push-button publishing. It fascinates me, this never-intended-for-a-book space (though I have no book yet). The exposure makes me nervous, actually, but at the same time, I'm attracted to the fluidity of it, the construction, as it were, of some kind of online identity, as though such an identity somehow correlated to an extratextual persona or event instead of merely hinting at a mélange of possibilities or discrepancies between the person you know and the person as he recognizes or deceives himself.

On September 10, I had my first encounter with the photographers who come to the school every once in a while. Two at a time, my students sat with me, and we acted out scenes as though I were reading to them or helping them with their homework. Neither of these situations is unusual, but the shots had to be very specific, with everybody's smiling face assuring the parents that all was well. The students didn't know what was going on. I was talking to them in English while all the other adults in the room were yelling at them in Korean. To make matters worse, the photographers kept yanking the kids by their wrists in order to pose them. "Don't fucking touch my children!" I wanted to snarl. On top of this, all the September birthdays were being celebrated. Every month all the children with birthdays have parties, and the photographers come and shoot candles being blown out. The shots are never of the children enjoying the party; rather, the kids are posed and have to wait till the photos are shot before they're allowed to open presents or eat. (Yeah, I'm using the passive a lot, because there's no agency for the kids, and I want to acknowledge the adults as little as possible.) Fine. Whatever. But the school forgot to take pictures in February and March, so instead of letting it go, the kids who had birthdays in those months were posed, party hats on their heads, candles in front of them. One of those kids was my Bert (aka Dracula), who asked me, "Teacher, why am I here?" I didn't know what to tell him. Instead, we both smiled for the camera as I hugged him and he blew out candles on a cake he wouldn't be able to eat, presents spread out as though they were for him. As soon as the photographers were finished, I told Bert to take off the stupid birthday hat and run for it, to enjoy the lunch hour they'd pulled him and me from.

And so I've been wondering since then why all this shit bothered me so much. The old question "Well, isn't an image supposed to represent truth?" is ridiculous. Photography is not representational, nor are children inherently innocent (or inherently evil or inherently anything), yet there was something disgusting here. It was the everything's-fine, this-school-works, your-child-learns-a-lot bullshit of it all. The ceremonial imperative. Not to mention that it interrupted most of the morning, during which my students could have learned something.

Also, for the past few weeks, each class has been videotaped so that the students' parents can watch what goes on. The only problem is that everything is once again staged. Whenever a child gives the wrong answer, the camera's shut off, the child is coached to give the correct answer before the camera rolls again, and the mistake is edited out. Each class was supposed to be filmed only once, but because there are too many "mistakes"—that is, in pronunciation, grammar, anything—in the videos, everybody is being reshot. Fuck, man, my class works because the students are allowed to make mistakes. Language is not a script. Learning is not perfection. My kids (yes, by September 10, I was already possessive and protective of them) are stressed enough about having to speak a foreign language all day—at five and six years old, no less—and I worry that the emphasis on perfection will make them hesitant to speak or write in English at all.

It's tempting to tell you to check out the videos I shot on September 9 to see how the kids really are, but those videos don't capture the truth either. There is no capturing, no observation without alteration, but at least the kids had fun that day.