[KS] Romanisation

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at koreaweb.ws
Tue Apr 28 00:46:29 EDT 2009

Some afterthoughts -- seeing how this debate goes:

Benjamin Joinau, I think, put it very well when bringing in locality 
and calling it a "schizophrenic situation" we have to continue to 
live with. The further away from (South) Korea and its institutional, 
political, and financial structure, the more likely one will continue 
to use the McC-R system. Yet, South Korea is very close now, and 
Korean Studies is hardly done anywhere without financial support 
coming from Seoul. It then comes all down to the changing power 
structures and world system changes.

Kirk Larsen mentioned that all too often his students would only 
consult the "almighty Wikipedia" on the Internet (which uses the new 
government system). That would mark my second point: To someone 
outside the traditional educational institutions -- with the 
universities at the top -- the Internet and its stunning 
possibilities to search for and access knowledge freely and without 
the need of any group association (church, academic institution, 
nationality, etc.) or geographic locality, and with Google and the 
Wikipedia as two of the best and most popular proponents, is the most 
important and most wonderful invention of the past century. That at 
least is what one of my older brothers tells me, who experienced 
institutional education mostly as bi-weekly encounters with the 
school teacher's stick, and after that with the village pastor's 
stick, and in between with our father's stick. He is one of the 
nicest and most intelligent people I know, only his interests and 
ideas did not quite fit into the institutional hierarchies of 
knowledge and power. With globalization these structures of knowledge 
have changed and continue to change -- or, as Immanuel Wallerstein 
puts it: "The structures of knowledge have entered a period of 
anarchy and bifurcation" (2006). This happens at many fronts at the 
same time. On the one hand, the concept of Orientalism which Asian 
Studies (in Europe at least) has been build upon, has largely 
disappeared, together with the whole concept of scientific 
universalism with its believes in universal values and universal 
truth. On the other hand, there are many indications that 
universities are loosing their place in society at the top of the 
hierarchical pyramid of production and reproduction of knowledge. 
Attempts to better connect to the market by introducing a control 
system similar to the industry (e.g. at British universities) are 
chasing away many independent minded scholars while it does not go 
far enough for others. Jobs at Google or elsewhere seem to offer 
better possibilities for forward looking young scientists.

I would even extend this evolutionary historic process to the fine 
arts: in the Renaissance, for example, we had the great well trained 
masters who did perfectionize their handicraft skills while being 
scientific inventors and researchers all at the same time (think of 
Leonardo), thus creating our image of 'the artist'. From the 1920s to 
the 50s, maybe 60s, we saw artists being "avant-garde" by proposing 
all kind of theories about politics and society (all very 
universalist and therefore totally outdated today) and/or criticizing 
social and political circumstances. But have you seen any art work 
recently that did really blow your mind away by addressing current 
issues. Not that there aren't any, but in general artists are behind 
the times, having a hard time following up, and commercial MTV clips 
are often more analytic and provocative than contemporary 
installations in museums. Art has lost/changed its role in society 
more than once over the past hundred years, and has now gotten from 
avant-garde to just-a-little-too-late-garde.

The world system is at a very crucial historical state of transition 
now, one that seems as crucial as the transition from late medieval 
to modern. Institutions change, contents is changing, means of 
communication changes as well as the meaning of communication itself, 
global power structures change -- and all this certainly also changes 
our concepts and values. All That Is Solid Melts into Air: With the 
center gone -- not shifted elsewhere but gone -- any concept of a 
universal value system, universal aesthetics, a universal (or better 
'universalist') authority is also gone. This is true for the role of 
institutions, universities, scholars. It may all come back some day, 
in different ways, after the world system has been restructured. 
Right now it seems like the beginning of a "period of anarchy and 
bifurcation" (Wallerstein), a state of reality that has not really 
been digested intellectually and historically by those institutions 
and individuals that "traditionally" (in the modern world) would be 
expected to do this ... scholars, artists, etc. And this is then the 
exact historic millisecond where I see our romanization debate being 
located. The issue seems not so much a better or worse linguistic 
system, it is a problem of lost authority in a world system that as 
of today has not replaced that authority with anything else. That 
authority has not shifted elsewhere, it just melts into air. 
"Schizophrenic situation" -- indeed.


Frank Hoffmann

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