Sunday, March 4, 2007

ESL Empire of, by and for Multitude

My trip to Seoul and Tokyo was only a short one (3 nights and 4 days), but it was rewarding. Meeting with TEFL experts in Seoul National University and attending at SELHi Seminar sponsored by MEXT, Japan (see below), I was able to realize again that much of locally conducted TEFL business is translatable into English, a language of the mutual convenience for us. Korean people and Japanese people, taken as one example, share a lot of issues, many of which are very similar.

As I was educated entirely in Japan and convinced that my audience was Japanese people who prefer to communicate in Japanese rather than English, I felt pleasure and comfort in writing papers in my most comfortable language. Perhaps I was proud of Japanese as the national language. I might have felt discrepancy between Japanese self and English self, as (I assume) Natsume Soseki (see below )did.

However, an article of The New York Review of Books on Haruki Murakami which I read on my way to Kansai/Osaka airport pushed me into a belief which I suspected I was already in. It specifies one of Murakami’s features that there is little mention of things Japanese and it is not easy to identify who and where his protagonist is if it were not for the knowledge that Murakami is a Japanese novelist.

NYRB summarizes the history of modern Japan as follows:

No other non-Western culture has endured and embraced Western-style modernization for as long, and deeply, as Japan. ... After World War II, through American occupation and then the creation of a cold war alliance between Tokyo and Washington that was at once close and culturally fraught, Japan became, in effect, an honorary member of “the West” ---- even through it “qualified” neither geographically nor historically.
For Murakami, though, this history is essentially over. His characters are global citizens, inhabiting a world of ghostly presences and vague disquiet even as they indulge in the benefits of their membership in a thoroughly Westernized world. ...
Just like the odd events that overtake Murakami’s lukewarm heroes, globalization is a process that is, by virtue of its ubiquitous complexity, at once mysterious and banal. (Christian Cary Gods of the Mall. NYRB, p. 31, March 1, 2007.)

I am perhaps more like Murakami than Natsume. Maybe, so is Japan as a nation. Perhaps, Korea is, too. As I took a seat in a plane of Korean Air, I was welcomed by the music of Mozart. In my hotel, I watched a Korean English broadcasting ( and enjoyed Brahms’s Symphony No.! by Chung Myung Whun (see below) and Korean Symphony Orchestra.

I used English between my simple Korean words of hello, excuse me, please, thank you and good-bye at the airport when I was trying to find a right bus. In the hotel and the barbeque shop I was in, Japanese was more used than English by Korean people there. Otherwise in town, I was in the flood of the sound of the Korean language and the sight of Hangul letters. With the knowledge of English and westernized culture, I was not very much worried about my lack of knowledge of the Korean language and its culture. (After all, my quick study of the Korean language with the book I purchased at Kansai airport was far from enough).

Many nations nowadays share westernized views and culture, retaining their own views and culture and sometimes in mixed and blended forms with western ones. Some people say it is “Americanization” but that is probably an oversimplification. First, as I said now, each nation retains their views and culture in their original and revised forms. Therefore, as a second point, you can argue that “America” has been and is being transformed by other nations. Thirdly, the current globalization is not what it is if it had not been for European colonialism. So the current world may be described probably as “Westernized”, but I think the word “Americanized” is too strong.

This global world, mostly but not exclusively western, is referred to as Empire by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt. Empire, as they define it, is a close and diverse network connected economically, culturally, politically, militarily. In it, even the most powerful nation, the U.S. cannot take control of it single-handedly, and it is governed largely by shared mutual interest of each nation, which mostly takes forms of democracy, human rights and free market.
However, even more interesting concept is multitude.

Multitude is not people, because it is diversified and not nationalistic. It is not mass, because it is hard to control unilaterally. It is not mob either, because it tries to comply with the codes of democracy, human rights and free market. Multitude is one and many, for it is global and different at once.

Empire is run, they argue, by the multitude, not vice versa. I might use a cliché and describe that Empire is of the multitude, by the multitude, and for the multitude.

The most convenient language in Empire is English. But it is not exclusive or exhaustive. English alone never covers the whole activities of Empire. Vitality of Empire comes form huge differences of the multitude, many of which do not speak English.

If both globalization and TEFL/TESL are solely “Americanization,” they naturally awaken nationalism in each nation. Each nation will resist being exploited by “America.” But here comes another understanding. TEFL/TESL is for globalization, which is establishing Empire of, by and for multitude. It is a humankind’s entirely new experiment to build a global democracy governed by the principles of human rights and free-market. It consequently needs peace not war, for war is totally against human rights and free-market.

Perhaps it is still a very naïve, idealistic and simplistic view. But for someone like me, a philosophical understanding of what we are doing is very important and perhaps necessary.

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