북 리뷰: 잠실동 사람들

“소설은 현실을 반영하는 것이 아니라 현실을 먹는다. 이를테면 거울이 아니라 위장이다. 이 점을 간과할 때 오해가 발생한다. 어떤 음식을 먹었는지 충실히 보여주는 위장이 좋은 위장이 아닌 것처럼, 당대적 현실의 세목들을 충실히 반영하고 있는 소설이 꼭 좋은 소설인 것은 아니다… 좋은 소설은 늘 현실보다 더 과잉이거나 결핍이고 더 느리거나 빠르다. 좋은 소설에는 ‘현실 자체’가 있는 것이 아니라 ‘현실과의 긴장’이 있다. 그래서 현실을 설명하는 2차 담론으로 완전히 환원되어 탕진되지 않는다. 그것이 소설의 깊이고, 그것이 소설의 ‘현실성’을 구성한다” (p24, “몰락의 에티카,” 신형철저).

IMG_2615“현실과의 긴장”을 기다렸는데 끝까지 “현실 자체”를 고수한 책, 잠실동 사람들. 너무 많이 들어 이제는 특별할 것 하나 없는 과열된 사교육과 학벌주의가 이 소설의 중심에 있다. 소설 안에는 감정이 고조되는 소용돌이도, 소설을 관통하는 큰 이야기 줄기도 없다. 없는 것은 그 뿐만이 아니다. 서로 얽혀있는, 아는 듯 알지 못하는 여러 캐릭터들이 등장해서 자기의 이야기를 늘어놓지만 그 중 어느 하나도 내가 마음을 주고 싶은 사람이 없다.

소설 마지막 챕터에 초등학생 지환이가 다친 비둘기를 집으로 데려온다. “겁에 질린 표정으로 자신을 쳐다보고 있는 한 어른 [과외 선생] 의 얼굴”을 쳐다보며 지환이는 “마치 자신이 커다란 어른이 되고 선생님이 작고 작은 어린아이가 된 느낌 (p438)”을 받는다. 지환이는 하나도 무서울 것 없는 것에 잔뜩 겁을 먹은 것이 어린아이라고 정의하나보다. 그래서 두려운게 없어지는게 어른이 되는 것이라 믿을지도 모른다. 그러나 지환이의 주변에는 하나같이 자신의 욕망을 채우지 못할까봐 안절부절 겁을 내는, 타인에게 보내는 따스한 한마디조차 자기방어에서 나오는 겁쟁이 어른들만 있다. 어쩌면 이 소설에서 다친 비둘기를 안았을 때 그 따스함에 우와!하고 탄성을 지른 지환이가 제일 어른일지도 모르겠다.

 

“당신이 없는 것을 알기 때문에 전화를 겁니다”

전화

마종기

당신이 없는 것을 알기 때문에
전화를 겁니다.

신호가 가는 소리.

당신 방의 책장을 지금 잘게 흔들고 있을 전화 종소리. 수화기를 오래 귀에 대고 많은 전화 소리가 당신 방을 완전히 채울 때까지 기다립니다. 그래서 당신이 외출해서 돌아와 문을 열 때, 내가 이 구석에서 보낸 모든 전화 소리가 당신에게 쏟아져서 그 입술 근처나 가슴 근처를 비벼대고 은근한 소리의 눈으로 당신을 밤새 지켜볼 수 있도록.

다시 전화를 겁니다.

신호가 가는 소리.

책 <정희진처럼 읽기>의 저자 정희진은 위의 시를 ‘간절한 외로움’이라고 소개했다. “읽고 또 읽노라면 외로움이 몸에 가득 차서 손목이라도 그어 몸 안의 외로움을 빼내야 할 것 같은 느낌이 든다.”

하지만 이 시는 내겐 수줍은 이의 사랑표현으로 다가왔다. 상대의 ‘여보세요’ 한마디에 순간 얼어붙을 것을 알기에 그사람이 없을 때 맘 놓고 전화를 한다. 대화는 없다. 하지만 목소리가 듣고 싶은 마음, 그래서 수화기를 드는 설렘, 반복되는 신호음에 맞추어 쿵쾅거리는 심장소리가 시에 가득하다.

빈 방을 채우고도 남아 그사람이 돌아올 때 까지 쌓여 있을 전화벨 소리가 울리는 동안 수줍은 화자는 듣는이 없는 이야기를 모두 속삭였으리라. 전달되지 않아서, ‘부재중 전화 7건’ 이 찍히지 않아서, 그래서 상대가 나의 마음을 몰라준다고 해서 간절한 외로움이라고 하고 싶지 않다. 정말 외로운 사람은 누군가를 이렇게 품을 여유조차 없을 테니까.

<정희진처럼 읽기>에 소개된 참 멋진 시가 하나 더 있어 아래에 붙인다.

사랑법 첫째

고정희

그대 향한 내 기대 높으면 높을수록

그 기대보다 더 큰 돌덩이를 매달아 놓습니다

부질없는 내 기대 높이가 그대보다 높아서는 아니 되겠기에

커다란 돌덩이를 매달아 놓습니다

그대를 기대와 바꾸지 않기 위해서

기대 따라 행여 그대 잃지 않기 위해서

내 외롬 짓무른 밤일수록
제 설움 넘치는 밤일수록

크고 무거운 돌덩이 하나 가슴 한복판에 매달아 놓습니다

Intersection between what you know and who you are

Sanger’s point rang true to me in part because I almost never speak about my own abortion, which I had when I was an eighteen-year-old freshman at U.C.Berkley. This was strange, it occurred to me as I read Sanger’s book, because the decision was as consequential as any I’d made as a young person’ it had allowed me to claim the future I imagined for myself. But, in another way, it wasn’t so strange, because I had never regretted having an abortion, so it was not a choice I felt compelled to revisit… I never did feel that I’d killed a baby; I felt that I’d ended a pregnancy. What I remember most of all was the relief when it was over, and the kindness of the doctor and the nurses at the health center, who treated me like a person with a reasonable sense of her own mind. So why don’t I ever talk about it? … in part, it’s true, because abortion has a stigma–a stigma I don’t believe should exist but am not entirely immune to, an aura of selfishness or callousness. (Obstacle Course by Margaret Talbot in The New Yorker (April 3rd, 2017))

Margaret Talbot’s piece was just another monthly book review in The New Yorker until the paragraph above appeared. She reviewed a recent book on abortion and then toward the end of her piece, she unveiled the story of her own abortion. Her candor and willingness to stand up for and share her decision astonished me. It goes without saying that her honest personal account made her review more vital and relatable. Ms. Talbot’s article reminded me of an interview of Krista Tippett in the podcast “On Being”. When the interviewer asked Ms. Tippett about including her separation from her father in her book Becoming Wise, she said,

 … the book, it just — it didn’t come alive for a long time, and I realized, actually, I also had to do what I ask other people to do, which I know makes ideas come to life, and also makes them listenable, makes them land in the imaginations of listener with vitality, which is to really walk that line, that intersection between what you know, and who you are. And, yeah, then I had to actually — I had to be honest, even just with myself, about the hard, the sad parts of my life, and those things that I wrestle with. (https://onbeing.org/programs/krista-tippett-the-mystery-and-art-of-living/)

Perhaps, what makes someone a true intellectual who desires to bring about changes in others and communities is strength and courage that allows him/her to be able to share own struggles and vulnerability pertaining to his/her ideas. Because changes occur when the heart is touched and only a shaky but firm voice coming from the heart can touch another heart.

The coevolution of knowledge and schools?

In medieval Europe, the chief formula for knowledge was: Knowledge = Scriptures x Logic. If people wanted to know the answer to an important question, they would read scriptures and use their logic to understand the exact meaning of the text… The Scientific Revolution proposed a very different formula for knowledge: Knowledge = Empirical Data x Mathematics. If we want to know the answer to some question, we need to gather relevant empirical data, and then use mathematical tools to analyze them… As humans gained confidence in themselves, a new formula for acquiring ethical knowledge appeared: Knowledge = Experiences x Sensitivity. If we wish to know the answer to any ethical question, we need to connect to our inner experiences and observe them with the utmost sensitivity… What exactly are ‘experiences’? They are not empirical data… an experience is a subjective phenomenon made up of three main ingredients: sensations, emotions and thoughts… And what is ‘sensitivity’? It means two things. Firstly, paying attention to my sensations, emotions and thoughts. Secondly, allowing these sensations emotions, and thoughts to influence me (p239 in Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Harari).

In other words, the meaning of knowledge has evolved from what we were told to do to what we could test to what we experience and internalize.

The trajectory of this evolution is quite interesting. The realm of knowledge has moved from something concrete and tangible to abstract and intangible. The focus of knowledge was external objects (e.g., God or nature), but now it’s about what’s in me.

Then, what does this new formula for knowledge mean to us, educators? What types of experiences do we want our students to have in order to become competent, responsible and mindful adults? How can we create the environment that can cultivate the capacity for sensations, emotions and thoughts? How could we even assess students’ performances when the knowledge they acquire is about themselves?

Dr. Harari’s insightful perspective on knowledge encouraged me to imagine how the college would (or should) be changed. What would the college look like when its goal is to help students gain knowledge composed of experiences and sensitivity? Three pillars of the new school curriculum would be open-mindedness, self-consciousness and expressive mind. Experiences are qualitative. A single simple phenomenon could elicit a multitude of emotions and thoughts if the individual sees it from different perspectives. Internalization of an experience requires being mindful of oneself and expressing his/her emotions and thoughts in various forms–words, drawing, music, physical movement, etc. Namely, the new formula for knowledge would redefine the school as a safe place where students gain experiences without worrying about failure, pay attention to opposing or foreign ideas without any prejudice, get to know themselves without any pressure to fit themselves into the existing frames, and create and strengthen own channels of expression.

Book Review: Homo Deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow

IMG_2085Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Yuval Noah Harari

It was the title, Homo Deus, that lured me to start this book, but I think it is the subtitle, a brief history of tomorrow, that actually embodies the thesis of the book batter than Homo Deus, an “upgraded” human being with god-like capacities. History is about the past, so how could we even talk about a history of tomorrow? This contradictory subtitle makes sense once you learn the reason for studying history provided by the author. He wrote,

“If history doesn’t follow any stable rules, and if we cannot predict its future course, why study it? … historians are asked to examine the actions of our ancestors so that we can repeat their wise decisions and avoid their mistakes. But it almost never works like that because the present is just too different from the past… Though historians occasionally try their hand at prophecy (without notable success), the study of history aims above all to make us aware of possibilities we don’t normally consider. Historians study the past not in order to repeat it, but in order to be liberated from it…Studying history aims to loosen the grip of the past. It enables us to turn our head this way and that, and begin to notice possibilities that our ancestors could not imagine, or didn’t want us to imagine. By observing the accidental chain of events that led us here, we realize how our very thoughts and dreams took shape—will not tell us what to choose, but at least it gives us more options” (60).

This interesting viewpoint to look at the future makes the book unique. First of all, the author illustrates the future not as an isolated entity, but as part of human history—there is no boundary showing where the present ends and the future starts. Thus, unlike many writings about the future, the book spends considerable time describing the current transition where humanism dwindles and dataism soars. Second, the author throws out fundamental questions whose answers could change the course of our history.

“These three processes raise three key questions, which I hope will stick in your mind long after you have finished this book: Are organisms really just algorithms, and is life really just data processing? What’s more valuable — intelligence or consciousness? What will happen to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?” (402).

Is it a wishful thinking that human beings cannot be reduced to algorithms and that moral values can be upheld in the midst of the efficiency craze? Mulling over this question, I realized the author’s implicit message in the book—take part in making the history of tomorrow.

After all, what seems like “the accidental chain of events” is in fact a product of contemplation and deliberate decisions.

Book Review: Darkness Visible — A memoir of madness

Loss in all of its manifestations is the touchstone of depression—in the progress of the disease and, most likely, in its origin… The loss of self-esteem is a celebrated symptom, and my own sense of self had all but disappeared, along with any self-reliance. This loss can quickly degenerate into dependence, and from dependence into infantile dread. One dreads the loss of all things, all people close and dear. There is an acute fear of abandonment. Being alone in the house, even for a moment, caused me exquisite panic and trepidation (p 57 of Darkness Visible by William Styron).

Loss of any kind leads to pain. However, our body and mind react to the loss differently.  A paper cut stimulates our existing cells to proliferate and repair the damage. It’s our body’s intrinsic healing process. Our mind, unfortunately, is exempt from this amazing ability. When we lose “cells” in our heart—it could be our self-esteem, our beloved ones, etc—we turn to people around us and lean on them. Please don’t get me wrong. It is a blessing to be able to comfort someone whose heart is broken. However, this dependence comes with the expiration date. Once it is passed, the dependency occupies the space in which our own “cells” should have filled and then turn to our own agency and engulfs it. Unlike the physical wound healing process, it takes an extra effort and active pursuit to get our own mind cells reappear and reconstitute what has been lost before dependency stays put.

I guess resilience is a quantifiable quality—the rate of which our own “mind cells” (or whoever the smallest structural and functional unit of our mind is called) proliferate to heal the wound in our heart.

For those of you who are interested in related subjects, I recommend this TED talk about emotional hygiene.

More quotes from Darkness Invisible are below.

Continue reading

Are you winning today?

As each arrow left for its target, the archers were caught between success (hitting the ten) and mastery (knowing it means nothing if you can’t do it again and again). If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that this tension between the two, the momentary nature of success and the unending process required for mastery, is part of what creates target panic or gold fever in the first place.

Mastery requires endurance. Mastery, a word we don’t use often, is not the equivalent of what we might consider its cognate—perfectionism—an inhuman aim motivated by a concern with how others view us. Mastery is also not the same as success—an event-based victory based on a peak point, a punctuated moment in time. Mastery is not merely a commitment to a gold, but to a curved-line, constant pursuit

(p8. The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery by Sarah Lewis)

Mastery is about the excruciatingly long and eventful process between hitting the ten. During this time, you constantly face a chain of small failures. They are like paper cuts on your self-confidence and self-esteem. Despite being shallow and little bleeding, they hurt so much and pain ensues. As Ms. Lewis writes, endurance gets you through the dark period, but I believe that the turbo engine of endurance is passion and hope. Without them your teeth-clenching endurance does not last long. After a brutal day of frustration, it is passion that wakes you up in the morning and energizes you to do the task again. It is hope that acknowledges and enlarges an inch-long improvement of the day.

Shifting the aim from success to mastery is a huge change, because when mastery becomes the goal, we don’t compare ourselves to someone else; we start to compete with ourselves of yesterday.

Are you winning today?

Featured image: Photo by mickrh / CC0