[KS] Korean Tea Ceremony and other wonders

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at koreaweb.ws
Wed Aug 15 02:40:19 EDT 2012

In this re-written version, I am trying to summarize some minor issues, 
but also get to the essential issues later in this posting. For 
whatever reason the first version did not get posted. / FH

Quick question:

Professor Kim, the link you provide to the "original" of the poem shows 
it is written in Hanja, not mixed script?
That changes the grammar (no -porira ending), makes even Richard Rutt's 
translation with the more 'passive' last line also more appropriate. I 
thought that sijo were always composed in mixed script. Not? 

Second quick question to Professor Sun Joo Kim. You wrote:

  > The thached roof building is none other than the MyOnang-jong, 
  > MyOnang Pavilion in Tamyang, where Song Sun resided.

Okay, a "pavilion" then -- Myŏnang-jŏng -- but that seems a bit 
strange, as a pavilion, by definition, is a place to meet, to drink 
wine, sing, recite poetry, etc. That was such an intriguing concept 
that Prussian kings even imported that to Dresden 
(http://www.panoramio.com/photo/68305971 ), and others that really look 
like East Asian ones). You do not build a pavilion to then say, sorry 
it is too small, stay outside my friends, I am enjoying just myself, 
the moon and the mountains. For a photo of the rebuild pavilion, 
Myŏnang-jŏng, see the last pictures on this page: 
http://jungar.tistory.com/115  It makes much more sense if indeed the 
object referred to would be a small house (in a similar setting). When 
we read such "information" about allocations of places in literature 
and poetry to specific, existing buildings and places we should be 
suspicious. That pavilion may not have been a pavilion in the 15th 
century, and/or the writer may just have had some very generalized 
situational setting in mind when writing the poem. The reason I am 
pointing into this direction is again the already mentioned 
context--interpreting archaeological findings the way they seem 
appropriate to make up a good story (but what I saw and mentioned 
earlier did relate to tea ceremony). All this is, let me also note 
this, NOT at all a Korean-only phenomena. The famous Dresden Cathedral 
(Frauenkirche), for example, destroyed during WWII and finally rebuild 
and reopened in 2005, never existed. It never existed the way you now 
see it rebuild, not for a single day. (I just use this as an example 
because I am very familiar with the details of the reconstruction 
process, but this is a global scenario.) What you see when you visit 
the impressive building are (often idealized and beautified) 
projections of how various art historians and archaeologists imagined 
how various parts of the building and its interior looked during 
*different* historic periods. In many cases the rebuild version of each 
room or part of the room (and other details) is a clear reflection of 
current (1990s and 2000s) tastes, of what "looks best" and "most 
impressive" or most "perfect" to the visitor. You will often see the 
very same room at four different periods, each wall in the state of a 
different period, and with walls that did not even exist at the time 
the opposite wall existed. It is not a reconstruction of the 
Frauenkirche during a particular period in time. Nobody did cut the 
time, say in 1820, and said, well, that is the state of the building we 
now reconstruct. Doesn't matter where to you go … in Japan temples, 
for example, are being rebuild (please, Prof. Best help me out here), 
was it every 80 years? Or every 200, I forgot. But they ARE being 
rebuild on a regular basis, and they do change their looks with every 
rebuild, most certainly so, as the "taste" changes, the needs change, 
building construction techniques and economics change, and so on and so 
forth. In Japan that is perfectly in line with Buddhist concepts of 
life, of course (everything is always perfect in Japan). Maybe that's 
why today's centuries old Japanese temples get us the feel of black 
concrete castles modeled after construction plans from The Cabinet of 
Dr. Caligari and German Autobahn bridges.

Prof. Kim wrote:
> [I] do not want to (...) make any comment whether there was any 
> unique garden culture in Choson

What kind of question would such a comment have to precede, a 
whether-or-not question? All that points into a strange direction then. 
That should not be the issue. The EMPHASIS should really not be on 
"unique" (yes, of course were Korean gardens unique!)  One of the main 
questions is rather how important or how marginal gardens were in 
Chosŏn Korea for cultural production (and that can only be answered in 
relationship to whatever else was going on in Korea and what "garden 
culture" meant in neighboring China, Japan, and also in the West. 
"Garden culture" as we talk about it for these other cultures is not 
about just gardens! Garden culture is, as pointed out before, as a huge 
package of cultural production, in the arts, literature, and political 
and social life. In Europe and Japan and in early China it could have 
that role because it constituted 'high culture' and not 'low culture,' 
came from the top of the power base or, in the Japanese case, was 
instrumentalized to represent a new upwards moving merchant class. Now, 
in Korea (this is a question, not the final answer), if indeed as 
stated by Professor Sasse, garden design and architecture was informed 
by ('low culture') geomancy and not by (as in old China or in early 
modern Japan) Buddhist philosophy and related culture, and also not by 
neo-Confucian ideas, then we would already have a very major difference 
there to the neighboring settings. That is also expected, of course. 
But my doubts are that in a neo-Confucian state low culture geomantic 
practices can lead to a whole culture. See, again, this is not just 
about gardens … you would then see literature, philosophical 
discourses, you would see lots of ceramic wares and other handicraft 
production, changes of social life etc. all circling around the garden, 
and being reflected in garden designs. I have NOT seen that in Korea. 
And it makes NO sense to me, would not expect that with any low culture 
anywhere, not until the 20th century (or maybe the French Revolution, 
if we talk about Europe). In that context it then also makes sense that 
the few treatises by Korean scholars we do have come from early 
Chosŏn--still close to the Koryŏ period, a time where gardens were 
bound into philosophical concepts and were they still represented 
aristocratic culture, both in China and Korea. So, my second set of 
doubts is with all these over and over emphasized "geomantic" 
principles etc. when it comes to later period gardens in Korea. What 
that indicates that to me is that, all over, representatives of the 
upper class, scholars, etc., did not anymore care much about gardens, 
and that there was not much of a related culture left. Gardens could 
NOT s easily be bind into neo-Confucian concepts of thought (quite 
opposite to Buddhist societies, and also opposite to the European case 
where power structures and resulting aesthetics were represented in 
very direct ways … as e.g. in North Korea today). Bamboo and the 
flowers mentioned before … yes, scholars may have discussed those, BUT 
NOT within the context of garden, garden planning, garden architecture, 
etc., just the way that they do play symbolic roles and the way they 
appear e.g. in painting. Gardens themselves where, as compared to other 
periods and other countries, at a low burner all through the Chosŏn 
period, and if today you interpret their layout as geomantically 
influenced than that is an indication of exactly -- we do see no 
reflection of the ideologies of the state there, nor (!) was whatever 
was done in gardens handed down from the aristocracy to a wider 
population to again (a) propagate state ideology or ideologies of 
important power brokers, (b) and there was no imitation of upper-class 
culture either. The way I read Werner's description then rather means 
lower and upper class culture were the same when it comes to gardens 
(geomantic principles). That is an overly clear indication there there 
was no importance put to gardens whatsoever. I would, however, further 
extend my doubts to the "geomantic influences" part--it sounds too 
20the century Western 'esoteric.' Aren't geomantic practices always (a) 
very concrete? And (b) this is never an entire philosophy either, but 
the grand master plan such as Buddhist or Confucian models, but rather 
limited in that sense. That again means, when it comes to gardens, then 
there is no such "concept" of how to construct a garden, is there? 
Rules may have been applied, mostly rules of what NOT to do. But 
geomancy, although we use that term, was never anything like ONE school 
(or religion) that would provide a whole toolset (like Buddhism, 
Christianity) of symbolism; there are no grand master narratives that 
someone could have taken up, it cannot be utilized for the grand 
planning of gardens (for scholars and the upper class). 

A last note--let me come back to the issue of the "uniqueness" of 
gardens (or garden culture, which I would not use). Uniqueness is out! 
And right so, we should really stop talking about and thinking in terms 
of uniqueness when we discuss, describe, talk about national or local 
culture, even when we talk about individual cultural production. I know 
that there are still people out there at anthropology museums and 
museums that have East Asian art collections, and other such places, 
where efforts are put into providing proof of national uniqueness of 
this or that, but well, I think it has been at least two decades that 
adjectives such as 'unique' started to get disqualified and to be 
ignored at international contemporary art exhibitions. Although these 
mummy terms in wheelchairs were never declared dead and replaced by 
something else (but that's seldom the case with any cultural models and 
belief systems, they do not get replaced, they co-exist until everyone 
has forgotten), they were just disregarded and left alone in their 
isolated chambers to dream of the olden days when they had received so 
much attention. I see no reason why there should be any difference in 
how we discuss traditional art and how modern and contemporary art and 
art objects. Objects may have been produced under very different 
circumstances, but we do evaluate them and their meaning to us today. 
OUR concept of uniqueness and the still mainstream understanding that 
'good art' has to be 'unique,' that is basically a left-over from the 
early and mid-20th century art scene and the way modern art, and more 
specifically abstract painting and Informal, took care of propagating 
themselves through pamphlets and declarations, and how it was later 
advertised as the final and last stage of human art development by 
entire governments, as the final (or at least strongest) legitimate 
expression of individualism in the arts. All of that is yesterday's 
talk now, all that has been dropped. Uniqueness and originality, as 
concepts, are not even meaningful anymore for designers, as was still 
the case in the 1980s and maybe up until into the 1990s. Then we had a 
new emphasis coming in on "authenticity" and "the local" as a result of 
and parallel to postmodern movements. But now that's gone also, and not 
even corporate advertisement companies work with such concepts anymore. 
When we see Apple vs. Samsung in court over a cell phone design, then 
that is an expression of how far behind the court system is, not an 
expression where our society and artists are. Neither designers nor 
artists would care about "originality" and "uniqueness" much anymore, 
and if they are soon out. The very obscure part comes in when we remind 
ourselves that those engaged in East Asian art and culture have for 
decades tried so hard to explain that "uniqueness" and "originality" 
are modern Western concepts that traditional cultures in Asia did not 
go by. Look e.g. through all the literature from or about Japanese art 
of the 1970s, no matter if traditional or modern art. It's full of 
originality discourses, that is the main focus. Korea, a few decades 
years later, has these now, at least the official organizations 
(National Museums, ARKO, etc.) all reproduce them, is at the hight of 
it. So you see all these explanations on how and why "originality" 
concepts had not been enacted in traditional Korean art, and a few 
lines later it is explained to us how and why Korean national culture 
is the most "unique" and "original" one (AND that is not even wrong in 
the sense of factually incorrect). Be-au-ti-ful! So, while in 
traditional art almost everything relies on models, patterns, and 
repetition, all the modern national institutions in Korea never get 
tired to advertise nothing but national-level uniqueness and 
originality (Bauhaus and European modernism ideologies send their 
greetings!); all the while the international art scene has moved on 
into other directions. Try to explain that logic to your students, 
please. That will likely take you a full semester of intense 
brain-washing to communicate. But museum folks and other institutional 
representatives are usually really skilled at turning all these 
left-over approaches into a tasty pindaettŏk. And who knows, if you buy 
their coffee table book for your art and culture class, they might get 
you a free Samsung Galaxy S3 in unique Korean design right on top of 

I come to the modern Tamyang gardens later (maybe tomorrow) … and to 
the various very interesting points Werner made. But seriously, I thing 
the main disagreements are not about the actual gardens but about how 
and where to situate the discourse.


Frank Hoffmann

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