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Notebook on Cities and Culture’s Korea Tour: Assume the Impossibility with Laurence Pritchard

laurencepritchardNotebook on Cities and Culture‘s Korea Tour is brought to you by Daniel Murphy, David Hayes, and The Polar Intertia Journal, an outlet for artists and researchers documenting the urban condition.

In Seoul’s Gangnam district, Colin Marshall talks with with Laurence Pritchard, writer, teacher, and enthusiast of Korean literature. They discuss the Korean phenomenon of the “English gentleman” and the presence of English culture in the country; the idea that westerners “are all incredibly promiscous”; the expectations of an Englishman; the constant hurry of Seoul; his experience in France versus the Korean France of the imagination; the importance of swirling with the biggest wine glass you can get; the “disaster” of Korean bread the better part of a decade ago, and how it comes up against the English refusal to mix the sweet and the savory; what exposure to Korean culture he had before meeting his Korean wife in Paris; how he tuned into Korean film’s tendency to mix styles; what literature has taught him about the central idea of han; Dalkey Archive’s library of Korean literature; how he has come to get a handle on Korean class distinctions and intergenerational conflict; how his unhesitating decision to move to Korea came about; when he realized the true strictness of the hierarchies here, especially through how they manifest in novels; the greater importance of the president of Samsung than the president of South Korea; what it’s like teaching English to high-powered executives; the drinking habits in Seoul (such as going straight to hard liquor and falling down escalators) versus those seen in English pubs; the failure of the “hipster” or “bohemian” idea, let alone irony, to penetrate Korean dress; the expatriate tendency to demonstrate they know more about the culture than you do; the ways that people in Korea don’t connect; the parallels between attitudes toward Park Chung-hee and Margaret Thatcher; the default business of the fried-chicken shop; the difference between getting into French culture with French literature and getting into Korean culture with Korean literature; what goes into a “Gangnam novella”; the advantage of writing about Seoul rather than writing about Paris; what he gains by having a life and family established in Korea, and the prospect of doing a language exchange with his own daughter; how you don’t go up to someone in England and say, “Hey, I’m from England”; the promising Korean literature translations of Deborah Smith; whether you can work with the “great truths” imparted by literature when plunged into a foreign culture; the necessity of assuming the impossibility of knowing about the foreign culture you plunge into; and his experience in a Seoul “bullet taxi,” just like the ones Kim Young-ha describes in I Have the Right to Destroy Myself.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

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