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Hi, I’m Colin Marshall

… a Seoul- and sometimes Los Angeles-based essayist, broadcaster, and public speaker on cities and culture.

I write for Guardian CitiesOpen Culturethe Los Angeles Review of Books (including its Korea Blog), and I’m now at work on the KCET series Los Angeles in Buildings, the crowdsourced urbanist-cultural-travel journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and a book called A Los Angeles Primer: Mastering the Stateless City.

I’ve also written for 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.

Each month I appear on a Seoul urbanism radio feature on TBS eFM’s Koreascape. Previously, I 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, 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.

Los Angeles Review of Books: Haruki Murakami, “Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa”

Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 opens in the middle of an unusually scored Tokyo traffic jam: “The taxi’s radio was tuned to a classical FM broadcast. Janáček’s Sinfonietta — probably not the ideal music to hear in a taxi caught in traffic. The middle-aged driver didn’t seem to be listening very closely, either.” His passenger, a young woman named Aomame, turns out to be not just a part-time assassin and one of the 928-page novel’s three main characters, but something of a classical music aficionado as well: “How many people could recognize Janáček’s Sinfonietta after hearing just the first few bars? Probably somewhere between ‘very few’ and ‘almost none.’ But for some reason, Aomame was one of the few who could.”

Not many pages later, Aomame has, at the driver’s suggestion, ditched the immobile cab in favor of an alternate route to her next victim: a set of emergency stairs built into the expressway that takes her not just to ground level but into an alternate reality. (“[P]lease remember,” the driver ominously cautions as she departs on foot, “things are not what they seem.”) Apart from the unrepresentative third-person omniscient narration, a device with which Murakami describes himself as uncomfortable, the scene, with its conspicuous reference to Western culture in an explicitly Japanese setting on one side of the boundary between this world and a mysterious other, neatly showcases some of the most often remarked-upon qualities of Murakami’s fiction.

The narration in Murakami’s earlier novels comes in the voice of protagonists something like himself, or his younger self: Japanese men in their 20s or 30s, individualist urbanites who enjoy cats, cooking, admiring women’s ears, pondering the depth of wells, quoting English-language novels and films, and listening to records. Though 1Q84 offers no obvious authorial surrogate, Aomame shares with Murakami the ability to know a Janáček — and to identify which Janáček — when she hears one. The Sinfonietta’s inclusion in a Murakami novel has ensured that many of the author’s countrymen now also know it when they hear it: world-famous Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa’s recording of the festive, elaborate, slightly maddening piece turned best seller in Japan not long after the book did.

Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

From my interview archive: comic artist Peter Bagge, creator of Hate

This year, I’m listening again to selections from the archive of long-form interviews I conducted on the public radio program The Marketplace of Ideas and podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture between 2007 and 2015.

On trips to the library growing up, I’d make right for the comics section — around Dewey Decimal 741, if memory serves. The selection didn’t change often, so I took out the same books over and over again: collections of early 20th-century strips like Krazy Kat and Popeye, which in the bland context of the 1990s seemed almost rebelliously eccentric; The Big Book of Urban Legends; plenty of Zippy the Pinhead anthologies; and more of often than most, The Adventures of Junior and Other Losers by a certain Peter Bagge. It offered everything I wanted at age eleven or twelve: clearly the work of one man alone (then as now, I don’t spent much time on teams), it had a highly distinctive art style, stories and dialogue that seemed “real” (as opposed to the words and deeds of funny animals and superheroes), and — most essential of all — absolutely nothing in it seemed aimed at, or rather down to, kids.

Only later did I find out that Bagge, a longtime resident of the greater Seattle area where I myself lived, was a comic-artist icon — or at least he’d long held iconic status in the field of “alternative comics,” a movement to which Seattle back then represented, or had recently represented, a Mecca. He’d made his name with the series Hate, which throughout the 1990s chronicled the life of a young slacker (to use the zeitgeist word of the time) named Buddy Bradley as he bounced between cities, between scams and quasi-legitimate jobs, and between frightening girlfriends and very frightening girlfriends. I first binged on it with a phonebook-thick collection of Hate‘s first few years purchased on a weeklong school trip to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The store, More Fun, had a slogan fourteen-year-old me certainly couldn’t resist: “Comic books for grownups.”

And though my own growing up has in few or no ways resembled Buddy’s, episodes of his thoroughly Gen-Xer life — some of which I’ve read through five, ten, fifteen times — still come vividly to my mind on a near-daily basis. On the way down to California, moving before college (not, for better or for worse, a chapter of Buddy’s still-rigorous education), I stopped in on More Fun again to catch up on Hate. Around that same time, Bagge began contributing, in comics form, to the libertarian magazine Reason, a development that delighted me: somehow I felt relieved that he didn’t hold the Standard Pacific Northwest Liberal suite of political views, even though my own might lean slightly closer to those of the SPNL than those of Reason. And Bagge himself has, over these past fourteen years of Reason work, revealed himself as hardly an ideologue — again to my relief.

Given all Hate and the rest of Bagge’s oeuvre has undeniably done to shape my very psyche, I knew I had to find an excuse to talk to him as soon as I got into the interviewing game. The first opportunity came in 2008, when a book about him and his work came out — not a book by him, but close enough for me — and the second came the next year, on the publication of his first bound collection of Reason pieces. The third took over half a decade to line up, but it made perfect sense, since I’d ended The Marketplace of Ideas and started the more place-oriented Notebook on Cities and Culture. Recording another interview with him in Seattle when I next happened to be there, I then used it to promote the Kickstarter fund drive for Notebook on Cities and Culture‘s Seattle-oriented sixth season. In the event, the money came up way short, but I did have what seemed, at least to me, a pretty ideal guest with whom to end the show.

EPILOGUE: I went back to to More Fun on a West Coast road trip taken between ending Notebook on Cities and Culture and before moving to Seoul. Naturally I stocked up again on Bagge material once again, making the transaction with the very same proprietor who’s stood behind the counter on every single one of my five-ish-yearly visits — a little grayer than the first time, sure, but then I don’t exactly look like a teenager anymore myself.

Korea Blog: The March of Fools, a College Comedy Darkened by Dictatorship

Mixers, sports matches, drinking contests, brushes with the law, anxiety about the future — Western audiences have come to expect all these elements from college comedies over the past half-century, and they’ll recognize them all in The March of Fools (바보들의 행진), a movie that belongs to essentially the same tradition. But it renders its college-comedy tropes a few shades darker to better reflect the reality of mid-1970s South Korea, a time and place caught between the demands of a very old social culture and the equally rigorous ones of the relatively new dictatorship intent on developing the country’s economy and keeping its people in line. Its hapless freshmen protagonists may get into as much trouble as the denizens of Delta House, but those guys never had to look into quite so deep an abyss.

At first glance, the Korean college life of the 1970s portrayed here seems to combine several conditions that never simultaneously obtained in America. Though The March of Fools‘ protagonists, a couple of casually philosophy-studying freshmen named Byeong-tae and Yeong-cheol, seem to lead pretty freewheeling lives, they also complain of having gone completely dateless up to the beginning of the story. “I’ve never chatted up a woman other than my mother,” says Yeong-cheol, in a line that at once underscores his misfit nature: he also tirelessly insists that his bicycle is a car and dreams, after retiring on the fortune to be made from selling miniature umbrellas to facilitate cigarette-smoking in the rain, of going out to sea to catch one particular, probably imagined, “beautiful whale.” But it also underscores the traditional, sometimes suffocating closeness of family relationships, especially with mothers, that can give rise to complications down the line.

Potential relief from their lifelong dry spells appears to Byeong-tae and Yeong-cheol in the form of a large-scale double date (an activity known, then as now, by the Konglish term 미팅, miting) between the men of their philosophy department and the much-coveted women of Ewha Womans University’s French literature department. After managing to scrape together the small entry fee, the two friends thrill to the prospect that “we could meet our future wives” on this, their very first date. But on the day of the event, after they’ve put on their finest suits — or rather their only suits, and ones a little stylistically outdated at that — they run afoul of an officer from the “hair squad,” one of the policemen then charged with dragging just such shaggy college boys as our heroes back to the station for sensible haircuts.

Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

From my interview archive: disgraced science writer Jonah Lehrer (2008 and 2009)

This year, I’m listening again to selections from the archive of long-form interviews I conducted on the public radio program The Marketplace of Ideas and podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture between 2007 and 2015.

About a decade ago I came across an ad for a book called Proust Was a Neuroscientist. Intrigued, I looked it up and found that it dealt with the pre-modern-neuroscience neuroscientific revelations made by not just In Search of Lost Time but the paintings of Paul Cézanne, the writing of Virginia Woolf, the music of Igor Stravinsky, and the cooking of Auguste Escoffier. It struck me as the perfect kind of two-cultures material to discuss on The Marketplace of Ideas, which I’d just launched, so I asked for a press copy of the book and scheduled an interview with its author, a 26-year-old science writer by the name of Jonah Lehrer.

Six or so years later, Lehrer made what remains his most recent tweet, saying, “I’m deeply sorry for what I’ve done.” What did he do? I still don’t quite understand it myself, but it involved changing the occasional quoted word, lifting someone’s blog post, making up facts about Bob Dylan, acts of something called “self-plagiarism” — the sort of thing that shakes one’s confidence in a writer’s work, no doubt, but in this case it made Lehrer a pariah. He got in trouble for his book about “how creativity works” in 2012, by which time I’d ended The Marketplace of Ideas but also interviewed him twice already: about Proust (later judged as “without significant problems” and spared) and then about his next book How We Decide (judged as tainted by the revelations, and thus recalled and pulped along with the principally offending new book) the next year.

I’m not going to front like, in the grand total of two hours we talked, I could sense something “off” about Lehrer, an intangible tip of the iceberg of deceit below. In fact, I liked the guy and I liked his books — or at least I liked his first one and can’t remember much about the second. (He also once wrote a blog post comparing the structure of Los Angeles to the structure of the brain, which over a few years of my own early attempts to explain the city I sent around to more than a few people.) That doesn’t mean I don’t believe he deserved what he got, although I don’t really believe in desert at all. In a way, I can’t help but see the whole situation, this making an example of one sloppy writer by knocking him off the pedestal we put him on at such a young age, as a paroxysm of bad conscience in popular science writing as a whole.

Lehrer has long tended to attract the adjective “Gladwellian,” very seldom as a compliment. I suspect that he and Malcolm Gladwell’s circles of haters — those who champion hard, inconvenient facts over pat stories, or at least those who like to see themselves as doing so — overlap significantly, and it doesn’t surprise me that Gladwell has mildly defended Lehrer now and again since the latter’s fall. At least Lehrer doesn’t seem to have had it as bad as his fellow Angeleno Stephen Glass, who as an equally young journalistic star made up whole articles at The New Republic. That scandal even became a major motion picture, Billy Ray’s Shattered Glass, though I think far more often of Anthony Lane’s review than the movie itself:

Glass may be a rotten apple in the barrel, but the contention of Ray’s film is that the barrel itself, the noble calling of the reporter, is as sturdy and as polished as ever. Give me a break. On second thought, give me “His Girl Friday.” Five minutes of Howard Hawks’s speedy and cynical view of hacks in sharp suits, as they themselves bend the world to fit the shape of their own cynicism, is a more bracing sight than ninety-four minutes of Stephen Glass and his tragic slide from grace.

From my interview archive: economist and Marginal Revolutionary Tyler Cowen (2008 and 2009)

This year, I’m listening again to selections from the archive of long-form interviews I conducted on the public radio program The Marketplace of Ideas and podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture between 2007 and 2015.

I don’t remember exactly how I first found Marginal Revolution, but I’ve read it longer than nearly any blog in existence. Part of that owes to the fact that, unlike many if not most of the blogs I used to read, it actually remains in existence. More of it owes to my unflagging interest in the distinctive mind of one of Marginal Revolution’s two founding bloggers, George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen.

As you might expect, Cowen writes primarily about economics, and I discovered his work just as I started getting into that subject myself, but you don’t really need to care about economics to get a return on keeping up with his blogging: over this past month alone, he’s also posted about George Steiner, new Italian fiction, artificial intelligence, tennis, grip strength (unrelated to tennis), spiders, the appeal of Ireland, robot stage actors, empiricism, emotions, how to give a talk, Indian curry stain removal devices, American sexual frequency estimation, satellite-radio payola, Monteverdi’s madrigals, a rising chess star, and the political effects of self-deception.

That list might make Marginal Revolution sound like one of those projects “about everything” that you’re not even supposed to think about launching in the 21st century’s hyperspecialized #content landscape. Usually that kind of generalism indicates a fatal lack of focus by its very nature, but Cowen has somehow always matched breadth of subject with clarity of thought, which creates its own kind of high consistency. That may owe to his tendency to see the world thorough an economic lens, especially in his signature “Markets in Everything” posts, and it comes in for especially good use in his writing about food, whether on his Washington, D.C.-area Ethnic Dining Guide or in a book like An Economist Gets Lunch.

That one came out a bit too late to record an interview about on The Marketplace of Ideas, but by that point I’d already talked to Cowen, who now hosts an interview podcast of his very own, twice on the show. Both conversations got into his methods for consuming and thinking about culture, in edible form or any other. Not long after the second, I borrowed another of Cowen’s signature post formats, the recommendation-soliciting “bleg” (blogbeg), to prepare for a visit to New Zealand, my first trip — and really, really not my last — off the American continent. One of the comments in reply came from the Marginal Revolutionary himself:

Eat fusion cuisine in Auckland and Wellington, Malaysian and Burmese food, fish and chips (of course), lamb, forget the beef and chicken 100 percent. Don’t order them once.

I very much like Napier. Do “quaint” things, like shopping for tea cozies. Try to rent a cabin for a day or two away from a city. Drink their wacky fruit juices. Go for walks. Don’t expect too much culture or good art to look at. The Pacific materials in the Auckland museum are superb, however.

Good advice, it turned out!

Though I haven’t had another chance to interview Cowen since (Notebook on Cities and Culture never having made it to a D.C. Season), I’ve done my best to adapt his habits of mind when traveling, eating, watching, and reading elsewhere. Anyone who has come to the conclusion that Los Angeles is his “favorite city in the whole world” and that Apichatpong Weerasethakul is “the most enduring director of our time” will, at least for my purposes, come to other highly relevant conclusions as well. He’s only written a little about Korea (“There are so many coffee shops here.  But why?” he asked in 2012), though he has undertaken a longstanding quest for the ideal bibimbap. Next time he gets here, I’d be glad to introduce an additional data point or two.

Seoul Urbanism on TBS eFM’s Koreascape: The Destruction of Bamgol Village

Each month I join Kurt Achin, host of Koreascape on Seoul’s English-language radio station TBS eFM, for an exploration of one of Seoul’s urban spaces. This month we join urban explorer Jon Dunbar of Daehanmindecline for a walk through an old neighborhood called Bamgol Village — or what’s left of it. Urban redevelopment never stops in Seoul, and when it happens it scrapes whole communities off the map, usually in order to replace clusters of low-rise buildings with another set of the high-rise tower blocks that have increasingly characterized the city since the 1970s. Bamgol Village’s bid to save itself with by filling its walls with colorful murals didn’t pan out, and as in all such condemned neighborhoods, some residents haven’t had an easy time leaving: amid the heaps of rubble stand half-demolished houses still strewn with possessions, and at least one may even remain occupied.

Stay tuned for further explorations of Seoul’s architecture, infrastructure, and other parts of the built environment. You can hear our previous segments here.

KCET Movies: Alfred Hitchcock’s (Non-Existent) Los Angeles

The defining quality of Alfred Hitchcock’s Los Angeles is that he didn’t have one. Or rather, he had a Los Angeles in his life, but not in his work. By the time he passed away in his Bel-Air home in 1980, the Leytonstone-born director’s filmography had grown to include more than 50 features across a career spanning six decades. He made roughly half of them in Britain and half in America, the latter period accounting for the bulk of his reputation as the 20th century’s undisputed master of cinematic suspense. And though he embraced well-known American locations with the bravado of a thrilled new arrival – even those who’ve never seen “North by Northwest” know it features Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint hanging off Mount Rushmore – he set not one of his films in the American city where he lived.

“Movies aren’t about places, they’re about stories,” says Thom Andersen’s narrator in an early passage of his documentary “Los Angeles Plays Itself.” “If we notice the location, we are not really watching the movie. It’s what’s up front that counts. Movies bury their traces, choosing for us what to watch, then moving on to something else. They do the work of our voluntary attention, and so we must suppress that faculty as we watch,” allowing the filmmakers to do their emotional work on us. But “what if suspense is just another alienation effect? Isn’t that what Hitchcock taught? For him, suspense was a means of enlivening his touristy travelogues,” though Andersen names him as the greatest of the “low tourist” directors, a group who “generally disdain Los Angeles. They prefer San Francisco and the coastline of northern California. More picturesque.”

And indeed, with 1958’s “Vertigo,” Hitchcock made what the latest Sight & Sound critics’ poll named the greatest motion picture of all time, and therefore the greatest San Francisco movie of all time as well. Sixteen years earlier, Hitchcock did set the first ten minutes of the less well-regarded “Saboteur,” the story of a framed airplane-builder on the run, in Glendale and elsewhere in greater Los Angeles, but as Andersen writes, “it could be anywhere in America where there is an aircraft factory. The scenes were shot in the studio, and there is nothing distinctive to the region in the sets.” At that time, the director had lived in America for only about three years, but according to Hitchcock scholar Dan Auiler, he felt the film failed to re-create “the real America he had been discovering on weekends.”

Read the whole thing at KCET.

From my interview archive: Charles Murray (2008), Jay Caspian Kang (2012), and “the Great Liberal Freakout of 2017”

This year, I’m listening again to selections from the archive of long-form interviews I conducted on the public radio program The Marketplace of Ideas and podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture between 2007 and 2015.

This week I enjoyed an essay called “The Great Liberal Freakout of 2017,” and while reading it I realized I’d interviewed both its author, journalist and novelist Jay Caspian Kang, and one of its subjects, political scientist Charles Murray. (If ever I need an example of my range as an interlocutor, I guess I know what to point to.) In the piece, Kang deals with the fallout of a recent incident in which Murray’s very presence at Middlebury College, where he’d been invited by the school’s conservative American Enterprise Institute Club, caused such a fuss that the scheduled on-stage debate, for the safety of all involved, had to be relocated to a closed room and live-streamed instead.

The clash drew incensed responses, incensed responses to the incensed responses, and incensed responses to the incensed responses to the incensed responses (with the next layer surely coming soon). Me, I just feel relieved that when I conducted my own interview with Murray on a college campus, I did it at a radio station over the phone rather than in front of an implacable chanting mob. He shows a sense of humor about the reactions he gets (Twitter bio: “Husband, father, social scientist, writer, libertarian. Or maybe right-wing ideologue, pseudoscientist, evil. Opinions differ”), but to this day I do wonder whether it wrong-footed him to take a call from someone at a university-based public radio station in California who didn’t proceed to attack him.

We talked about his then-new book Real Education, a critique of what Murray sees as the dominant form of less-than-real — or anyway less-than-realistic — education in America. I don’t remember particularly disagreeing with anything he wrote in it, and I often complain myself about the American (and increasingly international) practice of ramming as many students as possible through college and hoping for the best. We only talked a little bit about The Bell Curve, the book he co-authored in 1994 that his critics frame as a kind of jerry-rigged pseudoscientific justification for treating some races better than others due alleged differences in their innate intelligence level. How many of those critics, I wonder, read the book? And as Kang asks, does it even matter whether they did or not?

I, incidentally, did read the book. It’s pretty long and dry, all the controversy turned out to have centered on one chapter in particular, or at least the various floating interpretations thereof, and I can’t say I came out much changed by it. (If you’re looking for a fun reading experience, I recommend Kang’s novel The Dead Do Not Improve instead.) The conclusion that people of different races get significantly different scores on IQ tests — and I’m not sure to what extent it’s even true — would mean more to me if I gave a rat’s ass about IQ test scores. The charge of racism made against those who make such claims seems to me premised on a sort of “IQ-ism,” the unspoken assumption than someone with a higher IQ test score is better than someone with a lower IQ test score, and that, therefore, to ascribe a comparatively low average IQ test score to a race is to malign that race.

Personally, I’d rather submit to the rule of William F. Buckley’s first two thousand names in the Boston telephone book than that of the highest standardized test-scorers (known, in some quarters, as “meritocracy”), but that’s just me. Some of my fellow liberals disagree. And whether or not Murray’s own research holds up, I do think that Paul Graham had it right when he recently tweeted that “the people saying ‘Eppur si muove’ in our time are those studying the effect of biology on human behavior” (though sufficiently advanced research of that kind might not even have any use for the concept of “race”). Some of my fellow liberals disagree with that as well.

And though the Middlebury incident doesn’t strike me as any special threat to free speech in itself, I do believe that we have a problem with the concept overall, one deep enough that we may lack the tools even to acknowledge it. As David Bromwich put it in “What Are We Allowed to Say?”, for my money the most important essay of the past decade (the previous decade’s most important essay being Graham’s “What You Can’t Say”),

The heroic picture of the individual heretic standing against the church, the dissenter against the state, the artist against the mass culture, has been fading for a while and we have not yet found anything to put in its place. Asked in a late interview how he fell away from his belief in Catholic doctrine, Graham Greene said he had been converted by arguments and he had forgotten the arguments. Something like this has happened to left liberals where freedom of speech is concerned. The last two generations were brought to see its value by arguments, and they have forgotten the arguments.

Still, none of my fellow liberals have started a brawl with me over any of this. Civil discourse lives, I guess!

I talk about Seoul’s Ikseon-dong Hanok Village on Monocle 24’s The Urbanist podcast

Not long ago I sat down with reporter Jason Strother at a tea house in Ikseon-dong, a hanok village in downtown Seoul, for a conversation about the neighborhood’s development, revival, and future. He used it for a segment on Monocle magazine’s podcast The Urbanist which they describe as follows: “This week we head to Seoul to visit a neighbourhood that’s beaten the odds. Ikseon-dong was the country’s first real-estate development project back in the early 1930s – but there’s not much left in the city from that period.”

This follows up, in a sense, on the Ikseon-dong segment I did on TBS eFM’s Koreascape last year. Back in 2013, I made my first appearance on The Urbanist to discuss Los Angeles with host Andrew Tuck, and the year after that, I went to London and interviewed him for Notebook on Cities and CultureGiven that Monocle played an instrumental role in raising my own professional interest in cities in the first place, I suppose it makes sense that I’d subsequently have these encounters with it over over years in a different one each time. Where, I wonder, will the next one happen?

Korea Blog: Eating Korea, a Search for the Culinary Soul of an Ever-Changing Country

Koreans I meet for the first time tend to draw all their questions from the same well. What they ask starts out basic — why I came to Korea, what kind of work I do, how did I become interested in Korea in the first place — and then gets more culturally revealing. Having asked how long I’ve lived here, for instance, they often follow up with, “Until when will you live here?”, I question I wouldn’t even imagine asking a recent arrival in America. When the subject turns to matters of the table, as in this food-centric society it always does, they almost invariably ask not “Do you like Korean food?” but “Can you eat Korean food?” — a matter not of taste, they imply, but ability.

If Korean food is indeed a challenge, Graham Holliday can certainly rise to it, as extensively demonstrated in the new Eating Korea: Reports on a Culinary Renaissance. This eating-driven travelogue, which comes branded as “an Anthony Bourdain book,” has something of the swagger (a word now associated with that wisecracking, peripatetic celebrity chef with an admittedly wearying frequency) that name suggests. Holliday likens eating Korean soups to “entering a boxing ring. Red pepper arrived as a right hook, garlic a blow to the torso.” The stir-fried chicken dish dak galbk is “a violence, a mess, a mistake that works.” A soup, “thick, fiery,” and “bood-red,” drips “delicious violence.”  He observes his order of live hagfish as they “convulsed violently as they sizzled on the grill.”

Of his most gruesome dinner he writes that “ovaries, intestines, blood, cartilage, guts, and stomach smiled up at me like Carrie on prom night,” but elsewhere Korean food proves equally suited to metaphors of concupiscence as to those of carnage: a strong tofu dish is a “nuns and whores slutty swingers’ night,” a famous version of the rice-and-vegetable dish bibimbap a “nipple-tassle-wearing, cigarette-holder-flicking glamour puss.” After all that, a “hangover stew with clotted cow’s blood” strikes him as “an attractive-sounding proposition.” This language brings to mind Korea’s explosion onto the international cinema scene around the turn of the century, when Western distributors pitched Korean film, not quite accurately, as the next big source of the sex- and violence-saturated Asian “extreme.”

Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.