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Colin Marshall

… is a Seoul-based essayist, broadcaster, and public speaker on cities, language, and culture.

On my new Substack newsletter Books on Cities, I write long-form essay-reviews on exactly that.

You’ll find my essays here. I write for outlets including the New Yorker, Guardian CitiesOpen Culture, the Times Literary Supplementthe Los Angeles Review of Books (including its Korea Blog), KCET, Boom: A Journal of California (and guest-edited its issue on architecture, infrastructure, and the built environment), Bookforum, Boing Boing, Put This On, The Japan Foundation, The Millions3QuarksdailyThe Quarterly Conversation, and Maximum Fun.

I’ve previously appeared on a Seoul urbanism radio feature on TBS eFM’s Koreascape as well as hosted and produced the world-traveling podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture [RSS] [iTunes], which evolved from the public radio program The Marketplace of Ideas. 

My video essay series The City in Cinema examines cities (especially Los Angeles) as they appear on film.

My public speaking, which I’ve done in places like Portland’s Hollywood Theatre, the San Francisco Urban Film Festival, Seoul National University, Yonsei University, Chapman University, California State University Long Beach, and the Seoul Book and Culture Club, usually covers this same suite of cities-and-culture-related topics.

You can also keep up with me on Twitter and Facebook as well.

콜린 마샬은 도시와 문화를 포함해서 여러 주제들에 대하여 에세이를 쓰는 수필가이다. 그 에세이들은 <뉴요커>와 <가디언> 그리고 <로스 앤젤레스 리뷰 오브 북스> 같은 주로 영미권 매체에 실리고 또한 그는 한국 문학 잡지 <Axt>에도 기고한 적이 있다. 모국인 미국에서 30년 넘게 살며 8년 동안 라디오 방송과 팟캐스트에서 인터뷰을 진행했다. 그 후에 로스앤젤레스의 한인타운을 거쳐 세계에서 제일 큰 한인타운인 서울로 이사왔다. 서울에 사는 동안 <콜린의 한국> 팟캐스트를 운영하며 작가와 교수을 비롯하여 건축가와 방송인 같은 다양한 사람들을 여전히 인터뷰한다. 척 번째 책 <한국 요약 금지>는 2024년 2월에 출판되었다.

동아일보: 온당히 사랑받지 못하는 공화국

미국인들에게 한국인들의 주요 특징이 무엇이냐고 물어보면 자주 말하는 대답이 ‘애국심이 많다’는 것이다. 애국심이 많은 미국인은 한국인의 애국심도 비슷하다고 여길지 모른다. 그러나 미국인이 느끼는 애국심과 한국인이 느끼는 그것은 같은 것이 아니라고 주장하는 미국인 북한학 연구자 브라이언 마이어스는 그의 신간 ‘사랑받지 못하는 공화국’에서 한국에 대한 충격적인 사실을 밝힌다. 적어도 10명 중 9명의 한국인이 대한민국이 언제 설립되었는지를 모른다는 것이다.

부산의 동서대에서 가르치고 있는 마이어스는 학생들과 이야기하면서 이 사실을 처음으로 알아차렸다. 학생들은 1987년과 5000년 전 사이 범위로 짐작하지만 1948년인 정답이 거의 들리지 않는다고 했다. 미국인인 나도 믿기 어렵다. 얼마 후에 마이어스의 책을 읽었던 영국 교수인 친구와 그의 옛 제자 몇 명과 같이 저녁을 먹었다. 친구는 한국인인 그 옛 제자들에게 대한민국이 언제 설립되었냐고 물어보자고 했다. 아니나 다를까 그 질문에 그들은 우리가 달에서 태양까지의 거리가 얼마냐고 물어본 듯이 말이 막혔다.

동아일보 사이트에서 이어지는 내용을 볼 수 있습니다.

Books on Cities: Tom Scocca, Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future

Tom Scocca has known difficult times of late. Earlier this year, he published an essay in New York magazine detailing his struggle with a fierce and mysterious — and, as of the piece’s writing, still unexplained — autoimmune disorder. This health crisis struck amid “some normal midlife stuff, some normal parent stuff, some abnormal and menacing stuff that I truly can’t even get into,” but also as the effects of the professional apocalypse in the journalism industry reached his own career. “I gambled on a job I wanted, as the editor-in-chief of a small magazine, and it ran out of funding.” (This seems to have been a short-lived, garishly designed, murkily blockchain-driven venture called Popula.) Another position was not forthcoming: “abruptly, all that my connections could offer were gigs.”

Despite only ever having had gigs, I’ve felt some of this myself; over the past six months or so, for reasons I still don’t understand, it’s become awfully hard to get a reply out of any editor. Being a dozen or so years younger than Scocca, without a family to support or a body suddenly bent on dissolving itself, this hasn’t put me into a much worse position than usual. Regardless, I can’t help but pay more attention to what I do have in common with him, especially when I consider where he was back in the mid-two-thousands. I mean that not in the sense of where he was in his career, exactly, but where he was in the world: Asia, and more specifically China, gathering the experiences that would go into his first (and, to date, only) book, Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future.

Read the whole thing at Substack.

Books on Cities: Jarrett Walker, Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives

In 2017, Elon Musk called consulting public-transit planner Jarrett Walker an idiot. This happened on the the social-media platform formerly known as Twitter, before Musk himself took its helm. It began with a criticism of public transit Musk lodged while promoting the notional Hyperloop: “Why do you want to get on something with a lot of other people, that doesn’t leave where you want it to leave, doesn’t start where you want it to start, doesn’t end where you want it to end? And it doesn’t go all the time. That’s why everyone doesn’t like it. And there’s like a bunch of random strangers, one of who might be a serial killer.” Walker tweeted that Musk’s “hatred of sharing space with strangers is a luxury (or pathology) that only the rich can afford. Letting him design cities is the essence of elite projection,” which in turn drew Musk’s blunt riposte.

This was a dispiriting exchange, not least for what it underscored about the conduct of today’s elites. (No matter how deep I get into the twenty-first century, I’ll never let go of my expectation that the wealthiest members of society should also be the most refined.) But like Donald Trump, Musk’s impulsive baseness and aura of deep eccentricity belies his ability to express the psyche of the American everyman. Real or perceived, the inconvenience and danger of public transit is — to use Musk’s odd phrasing — why everyone doesn’t like it. Even if that American everyman goes to certain cities in Europe or Asia and sees, let alone rides, bus and urban rail systems that are cleaner, safer, and more efficient than he’d ever thought possible, he’ll still believe that they couldn’t possibly work back home. And for all I know, he may be right.

Read the whole thing at Substack.

동아일보: 영어·한국어 모두 유창했던 한 원어민 강사를 기리며

1년 전 이맘때쯤 유튜브로 영어를 공부하는 많은 한국인은 제일 좋아하는 원어민 선생님을 잃었다. 그 선생님은 2011년부터 ‘잉글리쉬 인 코리안’이라는 인기 채널을 진행했던 미국인 마이클 엘리엇이었다. 잉글리쉬 인 코리안의 구독자들과 마찬가지로 나도 겨우 몇 살 위였던 마이클의 사망 소식에 큰 충격을 받았다. 물론 영어 원어민으로서 영어를 가르치는 유튜브 채널을 볼 이유가 별로 없어서 마이클을 선생님으로 아는 것이 아니었지만 지난 한 해 동안 그에게서 배운 것은 적지 않았다.

마이클은 내가 처음으로 만난 ‘한국에 사는 외국인’ 중 하나였다. 그의 이름을 처음 들은 건 한국으로 이사 오기 전이었다. 로스앤젤레스의 한인타운에 살 당시 매주 꾸준히 한국어 공부 모임에 참여하곤 했다. 모임에 참여한 사람들의 대부분은 나처럼 한국어를 배우고 싶어 하는 외국인이었지만 몇 명의 한국인도 항상 왔다. 그들 중 한 명은 나에게 마이클 엘리엇을 아느냐고 물어봤다. 유창한 한국말로 영어를 깊고 명확하게 설명해 주는 그로부터 영감을 받아 그는 유튜브에서 영어로 한국어를 가르치는 꿈을 가지게 되었다면서 말이다.

동아일보 사이트에서 이어지는 내용을 볼 수 있습니다.

동아일보: 외국인 혹은 외계인, 그 중간 어디쯤

여전히 미국에 계시는 어머니를 몇 년 전에 처음으로 한국 국립중앙박물관으로 모시고 갔다. 우리가 전시를 볼 때 주변에 있었던 어린 여자애는 우리를 가리키면서 “외국인이야!”라고 소리쳤다. 나는 그 말을 듣자마자 웃지 않을 수 없었고 어머니께서는 뭐가 그렇게 웃기냐고 물어보셨다. 내가 여자아이 말의 뜻을 설명해 드리자마자 어머니의 반응은 예상 밖에도 충격을 받으신 것 같았다. 그 당시 한국에 산 지 2년이 넘은 나는 외국인으로 여겨지는 것에 익숙해졌지만 어머니는 그 경험이 놀라울 뿐만 아니라 기분도 나쁘셨던 것 같았다. 그 이유는 미국에 평생 사시면서 외국인이라고 불린 적이 한 번도 없었기 때문인지도 모른다.

모든 한국인이 알다시피 외국인을 영어로 ‘foreigner’라고 말할 수 있다. 그러나 대부분의 한국인이 모르는 것은 미국에서는 이 단어가 거의 들리지 않는다는 것이다. 보통 미국인은 다른 나라에서 온 사람에 대해 이야기할 때 그 사람의 모국을 구체적으로 언급한다. 예를 들면 “반에 중국 유학생이 있다” 아니면 “러시아 사람이 운영하는 마트에 자주 간다” 같은 문장들을 자주 접할 수 있다. 이러한 언어 습관은 모든 언어적인 차이점과 마찬가지로 근본적인 문화 차이점까지 반영한다.

동아 일보 사이트에서 이어지는 내용을 볼 수 있습니다.

Books on Cities: Carey McWilliams, Southern California: An Island on the Land

In 2011, Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne launched into a yearlong book-blogging project called “Reading L.A.” The earliest of its 27 titles about the city was Louis Adamic’s The Truth About Los Angeles, published in 1927; the most recent was by Robert Gottlieb’s Reinventing Los Angeles: Nature and Community in the Global City, published in 2007. Between those books came a couple that I’ve since written about myself: Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, whose 45th and 50th anniversary I observed in the Guardian and at Archinect, respectively, and the late Mike Davis’ City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, a subject here on Books on Cities in 2022. Hawthorne’s inclusion of Holy Land by D. J. Waldie got me reading all of Waldie’s writings, and in 2021 I even reviewed his latest book Becoming Los Angeles for the New Yorker.

Hawthorne’s post on Holy Land inspired me to interview Waldie on my podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture, just as his post on Los Angeles Boulevard: Eight X-rays of the Body Public led me to invite on that book’s author, architect Doug Suisman. When I took the show to Portland, I even attempted to interview (but ultimately couldn’t pin down) Richard Meltzer, who wrote Richard Meltzer’s Guide to the Ugliest Buildings of Los Angeles and L.A. Is the Capital of Kansas, which I read on Hawthorne’s recommendation — a recommendation he gave me when he appeared on Notebook on Cities and Culture himself. I could go on, but suffice it to say that “Reading L.A.” had a considerable influence on me. Part of that owes to Hawthorne’s having done it the same year I moved to Los Angeles, but even now, in Seoul, I’m still reading through his selections.

Carey McWilliams’ Southern California: An Island on the Land came third onHawthorne’s chronologically organized syllabus,having been published in 1946. At the time, this put it outside my immediate field of interest: though obsessed with Los Angeles, then as now, I thought of the nineteen-forties as belonging to a period of the city’s history when the cultural and urban phenomena that interested me — Ed Ruscha, dingbats, Koreatown, the Bonaventure hotel, neo-noir movies, Jeffrey Daniels’ Kentucky Fried Chicken on Western, the subway — had yet to manifest. In a sense, I conceived of Los Angeles as beginning anew around the early-to-mid-sixties, which isn’t entirely out of alignment with McWilliams’ historical scheme: he regards Southern California as having been shaped since the late nineteenth century by a series of distinct booms and subsequent waves of migration, each of which had mostly, but not entirely, overwritten the one before.

Read the whole thing at Substack.

제 첫 번째 책: 한국 요약 금지

이상하게 들릴지도 모르지만 제 모국어가 아닌 한국어로 쓰여진 제 첫 번째 책인 『한국 요약 금지』가 이미 출시되어 있습니다. 외국인의 눈으로 보는 한국에 대한 다양한 짧은 에세이가 수록되어 있습니다. 예를 들면 영화와 문학을 비롯하혀 문화의 토대가 되는 건축과 생활 그리고 사고 방식을 포함한 신념 과 언에에 이르기까지 제가 관심 가지고 있는 분야를 소개했다.

제 관점에 너무 구해받지 마시고 재미있게 읽어 주세요. 전국 서점에서 온라인을 포함한 대부분의 오프라인 채널을 통해 구매가 가능합니다.

Books on Cities: Tim Cocks, Lagos: Supernatural City (2022)

About a year after its publication, Tim Cocks’ Lagos: Supernatural City received a positive review in the Los Angeles Review of Books with the unfortunate headline “When a White Man Writes a Good Book About Africa.” I call it unfortunate not because of its untruth — for indeed, Tim Cocks, a white man, has written a good book about Africa, or at least a part of Africa — but because of its tendentious clickbait-adjacency. That belies the nature of the review itself, whose author, a New York-based Nigerian journalist called Kovie Biakolo, concedes the potential advantages of Cocks’ “outsider perspective.” She also admits that he actually does know Lagos “more fully and better than I do,” in the face of the assumption to which fashionable lines of thinking tend to lead: “I am Nigerian, he is not, and therefore I should know Lagos better than he does.”

An Englishman with South African roots, Cocks has been (as his Twitter bio indicates) reporting from the “mother continent” for a couple of decades at this point. He now lives in Johannesburg, but previously lived in Dakar and before that in Lagos, where he worked as Reuters’ Nigeria bureau chief from 2011 to 2015. He makes that clear right at the beginning of the preface, shortly before stating that “this is not a book about my own experience of Lagos.” As a reader, I always find such a declaration somewhat dispiriting, though it’s also unsurprising coming from a writer of Cocks’ professional formation. For better or for worse, reporters get habit drilled into them of staying out of (or minimizing their presence in) the “story,” which, of course, should involve only their interviewees and the people to whom those interviewees are connected, a cast in this case 100 percent Lagosian.

Read the whole thing at Substack.

Books on Cities: Ray Oldenburg, The Great Good Place (1989)

In a 1991 episode of Seinfeld, Elaine frets over the potential consequences of breaking up with an older boyfriend who’s just had a stroke. “I’ll be ostracized from the community,” she says to Jerry. “What community? There’s a community?” he asks in response. “All these years I’m living in a community; I had no idea.” Though Jerry Seinfeld himself later named this episode as his least-favorite of the series, those lines still deliver one of the most memorable social insights in a sitcom known for memorable social insights. I’m no Seinfeld scholar, but from what I’ve seen, all its best jokes flatly reference conditions we seldom if ever acknowledge, but that all of us know, on some level, to obtain. Sensing that there is not, in fact, a community, we recognize the absurdity of our continued use of the word in the absence of its referent.

Two years earlier, the sociologist Ray Oldenburg published The Great Good Place. The book would become his best-known work, due not just to its unusual success by semi-academic standards, but also to its popularization of the concept of the “third place.” The first place is the home; the second place is the office, the plant, the store, or wherever else one may earn one’s wages. The third place, in Oldenburg’s words, “is a generic designation for a great variety of public places that host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work,” all of them endangered. More concrete categories appear in the subtitle: Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. Such places, to Oldenburg’s mind, are necessary — if not sufficient — to sustain public life.

Read the whole thing at Substack.

Books on Cities: Malcolm Harris, Palo Alto (2023)

Malcolm Harris’ Palo Alto is not exactly a book about Palo Alto. Or rather, you won’t come away from it having learned as much about Palo Alto as its 720-page bulk might have you imagine. I don’t mean that as a criticism, since the book has greater ambitions: indeed, its very subtitle promises A History of California, Capitalism, and the World, which the text does go on to deliver. If you were just looking to read about Palo Alto, you’d probably put it down after a couple hundred pages. I myself picked it up expressly to write about as a city book, but despite the square-peg-round-hole category fit, one factor that kept me reading (and taking what came out to nearly 20,000 words of notes) was both my and Harris’ being northern California-born millennial writers with an interest in the course of civilization.

In his first book, Kids These Days, Harris made a study of our generation and its tendency toward less-than-impressive personal and professional outcomes. I’ve been aware of him at least since it came out in 2017, when reviews made it sound intriguing if somewhat ideological and hyperbolic. (One oft-quoted line, perhaps taken out of context: “We become fascists or revolutionaries, one or the other.”) Palo Alto, his third book, was published this past February, but I only became aware of it in the summer, when he drew a wave of attention by tweeting about bananas. “Pro-growth lefties accuse their opponents of being out of touch with working-class preferences and focused on consumption instead of production but what do they imagine planning support looks like for, say, ‘fresh bananas at every American 7/11’ among the world’s banana workers?” he asks at the top of the thread in question.

Read the whole thing at Substack.