Languages are dangerous

We can’t live without them.

They are so incomplete, so imperfect, but they are the only tool we have to express even a fraction of what we desire to share with others.

Word vomit.

It’s funny, that. We cough, hack up and spew mountains of sounds that are somehow supposed to make sense.

Think about it. I dare you to suppress your howl of frustration.

Language games, Lyotard said. Yes, with our sanity on stake.

You forget, you slip, whooshing toward the unknown, and if there is no net of words to catch you, you continue to fall until you don’t even notice it anymore.

I am greedy. I could cling on to the sturdiest rope, building on it and repairing it, but I am greedy. I hop and panic between several strands, unwilling to let go of any.

There is no answer. It’s a slow walk to madness, anyway. There is only one thing that does not belong in this journey, and that’s fear. Fear, Angst, 두려움, 恐れ, страх, vrees, peur.

Decide to leave them behind.
버려라. 그딴 거 필요 없어.

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독서

예전에 나는 독서 하는 게 아주 간단했다. 그냥 집에 있는 책 중 한 권을 책장에서 끄집어내 읽기 시작하면 다였다. 초반부에 몰입이 잘 되지 않아도 집중해서 읽다보면 나도 모르게 이야기 속으로 빨려 들어가는 느낌이었다. 만약 정 몰입이 안 되면 읽고 있던 책을 다시 덮어 버리면 끝이었다.

어쩌면 나의 독서생활이 그렇게 순조로웠던 것에는 내가 그 당시에 읽던 책이 그만큼 소와하기 쉬운 책이었던 걸지도 모르겠다. 고등학교 무렵에는 솔직히 내키는 책만 읽었고 (솔직히 이건 아직까지 변함이 없다) 영어를 늘린다는 핑계아래 몇 시간 안에 해치울 수 있는 청소년 소설을 주로 즐겨 읽었다. 그렇지만 지금 생각해보면 그 때의 나는 이야기에 굶주려 있었고, 서양 (특히 미국) 문화에 큰 궁금증을 품고 있었다.

심지어 대학교에 입학하고 난 뒤로도 나의 독서양은 줄지 않았고, 오히려 소설을 현실도피 도구로 사용했다. 그러다가 무시하려야 무시할 수 없는 ‘representation’이라는 개념을 알게 되었고, 현신을 잊기 위해서 읽던 소설 속에서 나 자신을 찾으려고 하다가 나와 비슷한 사람은 주인공은커녕 조연급으로도 나오지 않는다는 걸 알고 갑자기 흥미가 뚝 떨어져 버렸다. 갑자기 책을 읽으면서 내용을 습득하기보다는 그 책의 문제점 먼저 집어내게 되었다. 옛날부터 책을 읽으면서 공감할 수 있다는 게 무척 좋았었는데, 자꾸 밖의 시선을 의식하다 보니 공감의 문이 닫혀버리면서 독서를 해도 도무지 즐겁지 않았다. 책을 읽기도 전에 작가의 출신지, 성별, 성적 정체성을 분석하고 있었고, 이 책이 과연 고전 혹은 현대문학 중에서 클래식에 속하는지 따지고 있었으며 책을 읽으면서도 캐릭터가 혹은 서술자가 정치적으로 올바른 (politically correct, PC) 묘사를 하고 있는지 더 큰 신경을 썼다.

그렇게 특히 영문학 공부를 시작하면서부터 삐걱거리던 나의 독서생활은 올해 3월쯤 완전히 무너져버렸다. 워낙 독일에서 유학하기 시작한 뒤부터 흔들리기 시작했던 정체성이 급커브를 돌면서 내 뇌가 한동안 영어를 거부하기 시작한 것이다. 참 영문학도로서 여간 낭패가 아니다. 하지만 한창 사춘기 때 한국어가 그토록 싫었던 것처럼 갑자기 영어, 독일어에 거부 반응이 걸리면서 한 두 달 동안은 아무 독서도 하지 않게 되었다. 옛날에 매달 스무 권 넘게 책을 읽던 걸 생각하면 참 놀라운 진전이다. 솔직히 지난 3달 동안 읽은 책 12권 중 7권은 전공 혹은 부전공 과목을 위해 읽은 것이고, 나머지 다섯 권중 두 권은 한국어로 된 소설이었다 (에쿠니 카오리, 한강).

아직도 독서는 힘겹다. 별 생각 없이 술술 읽어 내려가는 독서 방법으로는 더 이상 돌아갈 수 없을 것 같다. 그러기에는 소설 자체에 떨쳐버릴 수 없는 의심을 품기 시작했기에. 그렇지만 앞으로도 천천히, 가끔은 고통스럽게 책을 읽어가게 될 것 같다. 자신이 발견하고 싶은 게 무엇인지 알지도 못하면서 끊임없이 그 무언가를 찾아가며. 그렇지만 기분전환으로서는 아직(?) 너무 버거운 과제이기 때문에 현실 도피로는 만화와 아니메의 힘을 빌려야겠다.

Dit en dat (practice)

Ik ben al bijna twee jaar begonnen het Nederlands te studeren. Omdat ik al Duits konde spreken toen ik met mijn studie begon, was het makkelijker voor mij de Nederlandse taal op te nemen. Maar ik moet ook bekennen dat het niet makkelijk is “in het Nederlands te denken”. Wat ik daarmee wil zeggen is dat ik vaak in mijn hoofd een zin van Duits naar Nederlands vertaal, juist omdat de twee talen overeenkomstige zinstructuur, woordenschat enz. hebben. Bovendien is mijn hoofd toch al vol gevullt met talen en soms moet ik een woord meer dan een keer vertalen om op de juiste taal te komen, zoals Koreaans -> Engels -> Duits -> Nederlands.

De Nederlandse taal- en literatuurwetenschap is mijn bijvaak en dat betekent dat ik er niet zo veel cursussen voor heb. Dus – en dat weet ik ook – is het waarschijnlijk dat ik de taal snel zal vergeten als ik er niets tegen doe. Deze blogpost, zo kun je denken, is mijn poging me meer ermee bezig te houden. Deze semester heb ik alleen één literatuurwetenschapcursus waarvoor we vier Nederlandse gedichten en twee Nederlandse boeken lezen. Ik ben nu aan het lezen van een van de twee boeken, Oeroeg van Hella S. Haasse, en ik vind het een beetje moeilijk te lezen omdat het boek geen kapitteltjes en weinig (of helemaal geen) dialogen heeft. Maar het meest problematische aan deze verhaal (zo ver) zijn de stereotypen van Oeroeg en zijn familie, die Indonesiërs zijn (anders dan de verteller die een Nederlander is). Ik reageer een beetje (?!) geprikkeld als het over “othering” gaat en om eerlijk te zijn heb ik genoeg van de stereotypische beschrijving en karakterisering van niet witte personages, vooral in de literatuur over de voormalig gekolonialiseerde landen.

Wilted Yellow Rose (creative translation)

Note: Original in Korean

Hibiscus has bloomed *
Expectation, a silent, crunching step,
slides down my spine
As I shudder at its moist fingertips,
with a whisper it enters my mind

Flowers droop, whirling, squashed shadow
A crumpled piece of paper left behind in the ribcage
A hole in the Hanji ** by the wet tongue
bruise, slithering through, paralysing the whole body

Softly licking the frozen lumps of blood
and placing a kiss on the subsiding wound
I pour another cup of flower alcohol
and seek sleep in the eye of the vortex

 

Annotations:
* Hibiscus syriacus is the precise translation of the Korean national flower, 무궁화. “Hibiscus has bloomed” is the name of a game for children in which one person turns their back on the other players, and while covering the eyes, that person chants out loud “Hibiscus has bloomed”. During that time, the other players can advance from the starting line. Once the chanter finishes the sing-song sentence and turns their head, everyone must freeze. The goal is to get near to the chanter and to tap that person’s back while it is turned.

** Hanji is a traditional type of paper from Korea, which has been produced and used for close to 2000 years. Among other things, it also used to be applied to the frames of doors and windows, because Hanji offered a good protection against the wind. However, because it was made of paper, a bit of wetness could easily tear through it.

시든 노란 장미

무궁화 꽃이 피었습니다
어느새 사각사각 다가와
척추를 타고 흘러내리는 기대
차가운 손끝에 움찔하는 순간
속삭이듯 내 마음 안으로 들어온다

꽃이 지고 팔랑팔랑 짓밟힌 그림자
흉곽안에 남은 구겨진 종이 한 장
축축한 혀가 뚫고 간 한지 사이로
남겨진 멍자국이 온 몸을 마비시켜

얼어붙은 핏덩어리를 할짝할짝 삼켜서
사그라드는 흉터에 입을 맞추고
꽃술을 한 잔 더 따라
소용돌이의 눈 안에서 잠을 청하네

We are brittle, ashamed, and human

When you live in solitude long enough, there comes a time when you recognize who you truly are. “True”, in the sense “unobscured by others”.

I am not used to taking care of myself. I have more to do since I have to do everything. I am lonely.

In the beginning you could use the solitude as an excuse. But one day you will realize… this is who you are when you are on your own. When everyone has been hidden away from you. When you don’t have anyone to rely on to give you a role, a script, a mask. When you are left alone, vulnerable.

This is who you truly are.

Without any imput from the outside, you become both numb and overly sensitized. With the hard shell holding everything together stripped away, inside the crumbling mess you find pieces of yourself you had hidden away so that no one can see it. Weaknesses. Embarrassment. Shame. Disgust. Surrender and hopelessness.

Fall apart.
So easily… fallen apart.

No one can know. Because if they knew, and they rejected you, you couldn’t live with the pain. Because if they knew, and they embraced you, you will fall apart into pieces. Even now, you are waiting for someone to pick you up and tell you that they love you the way you are. Even now, when you have hidden yourself away from everyone.

Hide. Don’t hide.
Give up. Don’t give up.

Empty. A corpse is so empty and so cold. A lifeless thing. No pain, no pleasure. Give the knife in your pocket a reassuring pat and gather up. Go on living… because life is whatever you think it is. Find comfort in life, in death – wherever you can, however you can. According to your own compass that you build and take apart, build and take apart…

Alone… Together.

What it means to write poetry

*Translation below

시를 쓴다는 것은 자신의 머릿속에, 마음속에, 심장 박자 안에서 존제하는 그 느낌을, 혹은 그 이미지를, 그 기분을 자아낼 수 있는 그 하나의 단어를 찾아가는 것이다. 그 허우적거림 속에서는 수십개의 표현이 손가락 끝을 스치고 지나가는데, 그중 자신이 찾는 그 하나의 단어를 위해 끝없이 손을 뻗어나가는 그 동작이 마치 시인의 춤 같다.

Writing poetry is like searching for that one word that exists in that feeling, image or mood inside your head, mind or heart. This frantic movement towards that one expression that eludes you as dozens of words slip by your fingertips – this neverending stretch of arms is like the poet’s dance.

돌아왔습니다 (I’m home)

Spread, spread your wings
Dancing along the wind
Sailing through the currents

Close, close your eyes
Listen to your heart’s string vibrate
A clear mirror of lake of pulse beats 

Pour, pour your life’s blood
With fervor and ice-cold determination
Into the flash point – your passion lights the flame of soul – intersects with life – a moment of pure beauty

Yes I’m home
And I’ll leave
And I’ll return
This is the only way I know how
Through the hearts

帰りたい

How convenient
it would be
if I could name my emotions
if there was one logical explanation for my actions

How easy
it could be
if I only needed to learn more, learn the correct things
for my life to make sense

하고 싶었지만 다 못한 말을
솔직하게 정직하게 진심으로
말할 수 있다면
고함칠 수 있다면
속삭여도 좋으니까

帰りたい

I was built to endure
but so fragile
oh my heart
encased in glass
in the name of: Education. Flexibility. Better chances. Better human.
When you get lost
listen to music
My heart shuddered
and the glass cracked

Tränen
Heiße Quellen des Lebens
Eine Reihe leerer Flaschen
Kein einziger Tropfen bleibt
für mein Herz

Dead petals gathering dust
That’s my heart
A useless thing
yielding to Reason, to Logic, to Ideal
Do my captors realize
a dead heart is soaked in poison
oozing toxic blood
in the name of love?

부러진 날개
아무리 날갯짓을 해도
돌아갈수 없어

帰れない

When we carry our wounds
do we become stronger?

thoughts on queer visibility from intersectional point of view

Hi. I am an Asian-looking woman in her 20s who’s been living in Germany for the past 11 years. And I’m also queer.

I wasn’t born knowing I was gay. In fact, being anything other than heterosexual simply wasn’t a concept in the country I grew up in. I started questioning my (hetero)sexuality when I had already been living in Germany for six years, and it took me another five or six years to the point I am at today.

But by the time I first started noticing my attraction to girls, I was already familiar with racism and the feeling of being the “other”. It’s a disconcerting feeling, like a bucket of ice-cold water being thrown over your head every day when you least expect it. It’s also a constant companion, because you can never escape it as long as you are among white people. It’s the feeling of alienation and isolation and paranoia. It’s Du Bois’ double-consciousness and estrangement from yourself.

This feeling of otherness has accompanied me every single day for the past 11 years. One of the reasons why it’s inescapable and such a huge part of my identity is because of my appearance. A race visibility, if you will. I recently learned that an adult needs only 120 milliseconds to register another person’s skin color. Only after that you notice the gender, age, etc. I can’t change the way I look, even though during my teenage years, I would have scraped my skin off if that meant that I’d turn into a white-looking girl. I don’t know how to explain the crushing – and this feels literal – sense of alienation, of isolation. The desire to jump out of my skin, only literally.

So when it comes to being an Asian, a foreigner, I was thrust into the battlefield way before I was ready, and it’s a battle I take up every day. Because being a person of color is a visible thing, sometimes painfully so. But how about being queer?

Admittedly, the majority of the years I spent in confusion about my sexuality (which will come and go, I am sure), I did so in my head. It was an internal battle, and even when I did first come out as bisexual (because that’s how I identified myself as for that period of my life), it was only to a handful of closest friends, plus my mom and my sister. Most of them were like, oh okay, and the topic never came up again. Because how do you portray your sexuality?

In our heteronormative culture, most of us are assumed as being straight unless told or shown otherwise. I am dead sure that I pass as straight for 99% of the time, benefiting from straight privileges. This experience of passing – it’s so different from my experience as being an Asian that I am flabbergasted. On the one hand, it’s so nice not to have to spend the time and energy on trying to diffuse the feelings of otherness. On the other hand, though, the otherness doesn’t disappear just because they are not visible. What’s more, this invisibility might even have a further consequence, and that’s questioning the legitimacy of my identity.

Being queer is something I had to establish first. Because it isn’t tangible, I tried to ignore it, run away from it, trivialize it. And most of the time I did so by keeping quiet about it. Even now, heteronormativity is so pervasive that I catch myself thinking that I am not really gay, of course I am straight, I’m doing all this just to get attention! (And then I imagine myself in a heterosexual relationship and hit myself on the head. Of course I love women. Duh.) You know what helps against this constant questioning of yourself? Talking about it. Talking with others about your experiences, their experiences, your feelings, their feelings. Connecting with other people and sharing stories help me realize that confusion is normal. Feeling conflicted is normal. Best of all, all forms of loving is normal: same-sex, different-sex, non-binary, pansexual, asexual…

In order to have these conversations, though, you have to find other queer people, and “out” yourself in the process. (The only way I can think of is to go about wrapped up in a giant rainbow flag, so if you have any ideas about how to display queerness, please let me know in the comments.) I realize that being out is not something that every queer person can safely choose. We all have to decide for ourselves when and how to come out. To be very honest, I myself am not sure whether I am prepared to be confronted with the subtle (and not-so-subtle) homophobia every day.

But here’s the thing: I won’t have to confront homophobia every day, because, compared to being a person of color, being gay is less visible, especially if you are not in a relationship. At the end of the day, I am torn between wanting to be visible – to own that part of my identity – and my desire for a less exhausting life. Because it does drain you of energy, this constant awareness of being the “other”. There’s no easy solution for this, only personal choices.

Stay safe. Be brave.