Sunday, January 31, 2010

"A Continuous Exercise in Self-Defnition"

"Who am I, who are we--is that not the chorus of the moment? Perhaps postmodernism can be defined, after all, as a continuous exercise in self-definition" (Ihab Hassan)

In my Contemporary Trends in the Study of Society class (exciting way to start off the week Mondays at 9 am...), we've been talking about globalization in the context of modern and post-modern, with global being the next stage (or are these all different words for the same thing?). What a long in
tro sentence. Anyway, although most of the stuff goes over my head, some of the theories have really got me thinking...
  • we can't keep up with the speed of the global movement, so we try to hang on to identity (ie, national)
  • irony: in post-modernity and globalization, as things come together, they become more fragmented
I've been thinking a lot about this in relation to my "identity" as a Korean American (don't I always?). 250 years ago, an American (US) identity didn't even exist, let alone a Korean American identity. However, the growth of the Korean diaspora has led to the creation of a Korean American identity. For me, the points listed above reinforce the idea that identity is socially constructed and does not have a real basis. However, although identities may be socially constructed, this does not mean that they do not have real and direct impacts.
  • "As a culture we call ourselves Spanish when referring to ourselves as a linguistic group and when copping out. It is then we forget our predominant Indian genes. We are 70-80 percent Indian. We call ourselves Hispanic or Spanish-American or Latin American or Latin when linking ourselves to other Spanish-speaking peoples of the Western hemisphere and when copping out. We call ourselves Mexican-Americans to signify that we are neither Mexican nor American, but more the noun "American" than the adjective "Mexican" (and when copping out)." (Borderlands, Gloria Anzaldua)
Beyond the politics of a Korean American identity in America, coming to London has made me think about things on an international scale. It's interesting how I feel at home at a Korean restaurant in London but at the same time insecure about my Korean when speaking to the waiter. Meanwhile, the people I met here are often surprised to hear my American accent. Language, food, etiquette, this culture? Appearance? Blood? History? Geography? Can we choose the cultures that we are a part of? I've met a non-Koreans who are learning korean, watch dramas, and love bibimbap, but can interest in a culture make you a part of it? Or, for Korean Americans, is it more the interactions with non-Koreans and native Koreans that define the Korean American experience? I know I've posed a lot of questions (and can keep going), but what I'm trying to point out is how globalization may have increased the exchange of cultures and ideas, but this exchange has also revealed the instability of these cultures....and I ramble...

In conclusion,
"Anyone who isn't confused today, simply isn't thinking straight" (Simone Weil), but if you "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:26).


  1. haha, you're in such an international city yet people are still surprised to hear your US accent? crazay :O do you feel like you always have to explain why you're there?

    feeling home-y in a korean restaurant but uncomfortable when you open your mouth to speak sounds sort of...nerve wrecking but exhilarating. i hope you come home with a english-korean accent.

    anyways oh jackie i love reading about identity! your blog keeps me on my toes.

  2. I think the idea of a Korean American is new to them, so I have to explain that I'm Korean but was born & raised in America, and came to London to study...hahah i've heard much more complicated mixes at my school where its MAD international. I've actually met Korean international students who have English accents, which is very strange to me o.0

  3. continuous exercise of self-definition... that sounds pretty exhausting. if we live in a world that is always changing, then one's identity is never stable thus forcing the individual to always modify his/her perception of self based on how the world sees them (kind of reminds me of double consciousness). I wish I had something to say about the second portion of your post, but I'm drawing a blank. But one thing I will say is if globalization is supposed to be an eye opener to other cultures, the U.S. sure seems impervious to it. The U.S. continues to remain ignorant and chant they are number 1 when they clearly have fallen way behind in the race. But nice work with tying in Scriptures at the end. The knowledge and logic of the world is so backwards, lies passed as truths. It is this very knowledge that the world prizes that engenders more confusion. So then where do we look, where do we turn to for wisdom that will keep us sane and prevent us from chasing after lies? :)

  4. Jackie. Can you explain what the Bible passage means to you?

  5. BTW this is Peter jrn. Trying to figure out how to work this blog stuff (old man)

  6. i believe marx said that one of the problems with capitalism is the ever constant demand on the working class to adapt with the changing economic situation. this prevents them from breaking free of the position of production, always putting them behind and under the influence of the bourgeoisie. since people often identify their identity as their occupation, one might draw a comparison here.

    mid-life crisis then, according to "continuous exercise in self definition" just part of the process. it might be entertained as "acceptable" or "normal."

    as i said before, HOW and WHAT society thinks of us, will always change with time, location and perspective (academically, ethnographically, scientifically, medically, fashion industry-ly). BUT! just because "society" sees something different everytime it looks... does it have to mean that we have changed?

    or is it simply a way to assuage the discomfort we experience when the dominant discourse changes once again and imposes a new way of thinking of self; pushing us off balance, unsettled, unhappy, unfulfilled...?

    our IDENTITY does not really change. society's construction of it always does. so do we listen to the voices of society who bend identity to meet their own agendas? is there even an alternative?

    this is where we can begin a discussion beyond secular scholarship into faith. :D