My ceaseless back-and-forth with the understanding and creation of music is gnarly enough to have already filled 2500 words of an incomplete post so horrifically tangled upon itself that it may never see the light of day. Things only clarified when I realized that music and languages might be two sides of the same coin, at least for me: after all, music is just another "language," right? It has its own regional dialects, its own grammar, its own degrees of formality. Without fluency in music or language, one certainly ends up hitting quite a lot of "bum notes."
A couple summers back, I decided I might learn how to read Korean. People hear that and react like I'd decided to build a twine ball the size of a car or fill a 55-gallon drum with nail clippings. I would submit that no interesting pursuit lacks an element of futility, but I did hold several legitimate reasons:
- Who could deny that
Asia is, at the moment, the world region producing the most fascinating
culture? An Orientalist such as myself would argue that this has
actually obtained for almost a century1, but now seems universally recognized that the bureaucratic museums that are London, Paris, etc. have had their day. The Tokyos, the Seouls and the Bangkoks of the world have taken up the slack and then some.
In previous generations, Japan was the country to watch. And to be sure, Japan still puts out better things and ideas than most, but in East Asia, I put my money on Korea as the place to beat. My entrée into this was Korean cinema which in the 2000s was almost suspiciously strong. (Especially the films of Sangsoo Hong.) I soon started imagining how much more I could get out of the country's movies if I could understand, like, every twelfth word. (In the rest of Asia, it's apparently all about Thailand, but Thailand is all about Apichatpong.)
- As a linguistic challenge, it's comparable to the thirteen-and-change-hour flight to New Zealand.
There are harder flights to be taken — Australia to Europe seems
particularly hellacious — and harder languages to learn — Magyar — but
the vast majority are easier. If I've done it, so much else is
rendered, comparatively, cake. Freshening up my high school Spanish
will be as nothing next to it.
Also note the usual stuff about badly-needed brain workouts. Nothing else I do in life seems to stretch me in the same directions as desperately trying to comprehend languages of which I barely possess any understanding. Perhaps if I were a computer programmer I'd be satisfied, but I jumped those tracks in childhood.
- If I ever happen to become one of those guys so
eccentric that his native culture effectively ostracizes him and he
must flee to another — I can assure you that these things happen — at
least Korean women appear to be East Asia's best-looking. (Yes, I
realize Korea's hyperinflated nationalism is creepily racial and I
shouldn't stoke the flames, but journalistic integrity, etc.)
- Pure perversity. If I were to take this all the way, I'd study Old Norse or something, but Korean is novelty enough for now.
I've also tried a variety of books on the language, which vary wildly in quality. Though quote old, Fred Lukoff's Introductory Course in Korean books break down sentences in a way I find uncommonly helpful. Naturally, I didn't expect any of this solo study to result in an ability to actually speak Korean — for that, it's sink/swim immersion or nothin' — but I enjoyed it on a purely intellectual level. The next logical step was to enroll in an actual Korean language class so as to accomplish some valuable public failing. Alas, the aforementioned obscurity finally bit me in the @$$; it didn't meet its 20-student quorum and was canceled for the year, leaving me in the lurch and with a distinct lack of sail wind to boot.
I sat it out for while before deciding that I'd rather not let what I'd learned thus far go completely to seed as I awaited the next school year. So here I am, starting once again from square one — as I do with after every lacuna, no matter how brief, in language study — but this time on the straightforwardly-domained LearnKorean.com. If nothing else, this keep-starting-over approach has given me a damn solid foundation in the basics. And every time, I discover some vital "new" basic I should have known before. There's something to be said for this method.
1 I agree with what Momus said in our interview: Said was wrong. It's not bad to be Orientalist; it's just bad to be mean and Orientalist.