- Waking to Global Capitalism in Seoul: Situating Korean Studies in the World*
Turning and turning in the widening slime, the cyborg cannot tell the television set from the ideological-state-apparatus. Objects fall into mute commodification, becoming profane-illumination or junk food, acid trips into the loco-local where the Suzy Wong Hotel falls back into the transnational critiques of Ackbar Abbas. More ‘social text’ is loosed upon the world. Cyber-space euphoria leaks forward, the business news turns into morning ceremonies of Friction-Free Capitalism generated from a designer sneaker in Seattle or café in Seoul.
The best lack all prediction, while the work is full of passionate intensity and rage without pension plan, contract, or future:
comrades dying into motor dust on the Rim [End Page 371]
In this reflection offered here as a revised and updated intervention into US Pacific Rim poetics that I first wrote and published with Minumsa Publishing Co. over two decades ago called Waking in Seoul, I will start by examining the contradictory enframings of the Pacific Rim, Korea, and Inter-Asia as sites of contemporary cultural production and, at the core of it all, the US global displacement and de-centering now taking place in sites like Hong Kong and Taiwan and, all the more so, South Korea. In so doing, I will be pressurizing the contradictory and capacious meanings of “Pacific Rim” as a cultural-production framework, and the whole meaning of American poetics as a project or work in such sites of trans-area studies where the centrality and impact of American culture have been regionally transformed.
My own contribution to “Situating Korean Studies in the World” as such must necessarily be anecdotal, wry, speculative, emergent, poetic: I was not trained in Korean or Asian studies but my ties to Korea began at UC Berkeley and the University of Hawai’i back in the 1970s, and this fortuitous connection has proved crucial and transformative to the kind of poet-scholar I became working in and across the Pacific and Oceania, from Honolulu and Seoul to Taipei and Hong Kong, and now back in the greater San Francisco Bay Area at the UC Santa Cruz. Korea, akin to Taiwan as a site or “method” to track de-imperializing forces as Kuan-Hsing Chen, Leo Ching et al. have elaborated, has become a force field of global-local and Asia/Pacific energies and contradictions helping to reshape me and remake what I take to be an anti-imperial poetics and a more “worlded” cultural studies. I did my undergraduate and graduate work in English and American literature on the Berkeley campus, and the first job appointment I received with doctorate in hand was to the U of Hawai‘i at Manoa, where my poet-scholar mentor Josephine Miles had been a visiting teacher of creative writing (along with James Wright) in the summer of 1976. There I had begun this trans-English re-orientation towards Asia/Pacific as a research assistant for Masao Miyoshi, as he worked on a presciently pre-Saidian study [End Page 372] of transcultural poetics and politics called As We Saw Them, dealing with the first Meiji ambassadors to the United States, when Japan/the USA saw the “us/them” binary across the entanglements and differences of global modernity and shifting geo-regional power configurations that would impact the world.
Before I left for this far-flung postcolonial site in a decolonizing Hawai’i nobody in UCB’s English Department at Wheeler Hall seemed to have heard of except her, Professor Miles told me to look up Peter H. Lee working in East Asian Studies at the University of Hawai’i, whom I had been admiring from Wallace Stevens’ portrayal of him in his essay “The Whole Man.” Stevens had portrayed Lee (then studying at Yale in New Haven) as a multi-lingual world-poetics seeker embodying a kind of cross-cultural “wholeness” of humanities studies across the linguistic and generic divides, somebody who helped Stevens get interested in Asian landscapes and quasi-Buddhist figurations in Cold Warera Connecticut.1 The proto-New Historicist scholar Brook Thomas and I soon discovered that this...