Saturday, June 07, 2003

studying for finals is hungry work -- the apartment is mostly empty but we have an abundant supply of junk food and one bigass armchair. i sat in that armchair reading for three hours this afternoon without realising it. and then i promptly fell out of it when emily came back and i tried to get up. hmm.

question: what is a civilisation? this is the third quarter in a row where i've had to tackle this question, and i'm sort of glad that the notes from previous quarters are currently somewhere in the boxes that are slowly piling up in my new bedroom on 55th street. because that means i sort of get a clean slate with this quarter's question, particularly re: Korean civilisation. do the Koreans have a civilisation that is distinct from the Chinese civilisation? after all, it is clear that the Chinese influence on Korean history and society and culture was all-pervasive in the early times of countryhood. another question we have to ask ourselves is if the act of creating a civilisation is one of dividing yourselves from outsiders --the creation of an inside and an outside, and therefore does a civilisation require an 'outside' to exist?

Korea is the 'Hermit Kingdom': the rest of the world was firmly repudiated. but it was not so much a rejection of the outward than a turning inward, a focus on the Korean self and the Korean social identity, rather than seeking to wall out the Outsider, the Other. after all, walls in Korea were made of clay -- not the strongest material in the world to keep people out. they were symbolic, symbolic of the desire to be left alone, in peace, to contemplate its own existence.

what precisely is a 'civilisation' and who came up with the idea? we have to struggle with the notion that 'civilisation' itself is an idea coined by those who have to keep those who have not below them -- the West's way of differentiating themselves from the barbaric East they encountered in the great imperialist expansion of the 1800s. they were a 'civilising' influence on the barbarians -- i have to constantly remind myself not to fall into that trap with the study of 'civilisations' -- to stay on the fence between insider and outsider however tempting it is to come down on the side of the insider all the time. i'm beginning to think of objectivity as the Holy Grail of historians, and i would like to believe that i can aspire to be some kind of decent historian one day.

anyways, since i'm studying for finals, no real deep thoughts: just a couple of things to leave you faithful readers with -grins-:

Faustus: Where art thou damn'd?
Mephostophilis: In hell.
Faustus: How comes it then that thou art out of hell?
Mephostophilis: Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it.
Think'st though that I, who saw the face of God
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
In being depriv'd of everlasting bliss?

i too have forgotten my Tempest, and remember only this:

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
(IV.I)

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