An unsettling thought about Faces to the Fire

Briefly, we talked in class on Friday about Kori saying his mother was “a good woman”, and the varying things that could mean – is Sojin wrong about how he killed her? Does he regret doing so? Is he only saying it to manipulate Sojin?

There’s some kind of connection I’m trying to make in my head between this declaration and the fact that Sojin’s mother died in a fire… Violence against sex workers is devastatingly common in literature/film (as it is in real life), but usually it’s portrayed in the context of the shock value of a disfigured body. Speaking more broadly, and as I think we also discussed in class, sex and (violent) death are quite often narratively connected for women in fiction.

Between this convention and the archetype of fire as something that can cleanse or purify through the means of destruction… is there the potential to argue the significance of Sojin believing Kori to have killed his mother through fire, something that has the capacity to destroy the body completely rather than leaving one behind? Could she subconsciously (or Kori, if he really did kill her) view this as a purifying act? Can Kori’s mother only be ‘good’ once she’s dead, and once her body, which her society sees as ‘unclean’, is destroyed without a trace? Is the absence of Kori’s mother (and of her body) what can redeem her memory?

Somewhat in connection to this, the wider society of the island clearly kills the fire that kills Kori’s mother and her neighborhood as a purifying act. Whether Kori can be argued to believe this, or whether Sojin aligns with it somehow through ascribing the action to Kori… I don’t know. But I do know I’m now very sad about the politics of women’s bodies and sexuality.

the themes of love in “once the shore”

This is going to sound really broad, but I want to know what you guys think about the ways that love appears in the different short stories in “Once the Shore.” I find that love is written into these stories in such a real, raw, natural way, rather than the intense love stories that often appear in literature. There’s love between near strangers, with Jim setting up the breakfast for the widow by the sea and showing her to the cave. There’s love that has progressed and changed over time, with the older couple, Bey and Soni, in the second story. I really appreciated the way that love in “faces to fire” was only addressed towards the end and rarely ever physical, because so often love is repressed and unannounced, in the same way that it appears in this story. I just think that Yoon does such a good job of writing the love of his stories in a way that shows that love to be very realistic and very human. I want to know what you guys think and if there were instances of love in these stories that especially touched you.

Haenyeo – Sea Women of Jeju

I was starting the short story “So That They Do Not Hear Us” earlier today and I realized that Ahrim’s profession as a “Sea Woman” or haenyeo was something I had read about a couple years ago. There were a number of articles written around 2014 – 2016 about the tradition of haenyeo on the island of Jeju, where women would basically be the breadwinners for their families by free-diving into the ocean. It’s pretty dangerous, as is highlighted in the short story, and yet many women love it and can’t imagine their lives without it. However, it’s a culture that is dying out as many younger generations are choosing not to go diving. Here are a few links to some articles I found if you want to know more:

Piper’s Reading Questions for October 18th

Hello! I hope everyone is having a fantastic break. I decided to get ahead on these reading questions, so keep in mind that these are for Friday’s reading. Anyways, below are my reading questions.

  1. In “Faces to the Fire”, Sojin sees her time with Kori as a fantasy or escape from reality. Time, to her, didn’t affect them in the same way it defined everything else. However, it appears the same is not true for Kori. He used the people and tragedies around him for his own advantage. It seems that his mother’s death triggered this change. As he’s picking through the rubble and goods left behind by the fire, “he unearthed a possum’s skull and called it human” (72). In this way, Sojin and Kori are both in a constant loop of searching for something or someone. Are readers supposed to see Kori as the antagonist? Or is time the antagonist? War? Distance? Death? Is there even an antagonist? Who or what is in the wrong here?
  2. In “So That They Do Not Hear Us”, Sinaru has a special connection to Ahrim. They connect over their experiences with the ocean. Sinaru’s life was irrevocably changed when he lost an arm to a shark in the water. On the other hand, Ahrim makes a living in the ocean. Sinaru is fascinated with her career, a traditionally female role. She tries to teach him, but something about the dive scares him. The relationship they have is very confusing. At times, Ahrim is Sinaru’s protector. Other times, his healer. Once, when he remarks on her physical features, she is a sexual object to him. She is a mother figure. A teacher. A guide. Which of these is the most important to the story? How is their complicated relationship shaped by their personal circumstances? I talked about what she is to him, but what is Sinaru to Ahrim?
  3. “So That They Do Not Hear Us” shows Ahrim stuck in a loop of grief over her deceased husband. She is surrounded by reminders of him which she refuses to let go, as if by holding on to these, she will keep him alive: the house, the fruit, the buried bracelet, etc. However, the ocean is wholly hers and is her escape from her reality. Similarly to “Faces to the Fire”, time is what traps Ahrim in her reality. Despite this, the ocean opens up an avenue of timelessness. Somehow, still, Ahrim has a grasp on time in the ocean, unlike the other sea-women who died from staying under water too long. I am struggling to completely understand how these things come together in the story: grief, time, and the ocean. If the ocean is timeless and grief is tied to the time outside of the ocean, why doesn’t Ahrim submit to the ocean like the other women? Is she battling with the desire to do so? What tethers her to this traditional experience of life?

What I thought when I read Chi

When my group was discussing the poem “Chi” last class, I had mentioned how the word chi is Bangla/Bengali meant disgusting or an expression of showing how a person has brought on shame. I thought it was really interesting to include the phrase Chi, even though the author probably did not know its meaning in Bangla, just in general how I connected with it.

My group also talked about how the vocabulary portion of the poem gave definitions of the different “chi”s and it made me think about how it exemplifies the ways in which a woman should act. For instance chi. means thank you but chi? means may I please.

When I read the phrase section of the poem, my first thoughts were about exotism. The lines “teach me to play dumb play dead to say no name but my own,” and “as if I could rot as if they didn’t make us to last & last,” made me think about Asian women are exotized. That Asian women are precious little things that are to be treasured and saved. Especially the last line about not making them to last, it reminded me of the theme of damsel in distress. It is as if Asian women need help all the time and need to be saved–which also points back at who Chi is, a Chinese manga character that is salvaged by the protagonist.

What about you all? What did you guys think while reading this poem?

Quotes in Beginning

In the last couple of classes we have been trying to tease out what it means when Choi interweaves poems about technology and cyborgs with ones coming from a more human narrator. I think that the two quotes in the beginning of the book kind of relate to that– the first quote reads “We are excruciatingly conscious of what it means to have a historically constituted body” by Donna Haraway. The quote underneath that reads “The rain is soft. The rain is hard. I don’t know anything” by Bhanu Kapil. To me, the first quote seems more meta and scientific and it sounds like something directly out of a feminist theory textbook. This political quote is then juxtaposed to the second quote by Kapil which sounds softer and more humanizing to me. I feel like these two quotes set up the rest of the book, where there will be poems that directly critique gender roles and societal norms with others that are more obscure in their meaning.

Michelle’s Reading Questions for October 11th

  1. Intimacy appears to be a recurring theme throughout Franny Choi’s poems in Soft Science. For example, in her poem, “Solitude,” the speaker tells of a time she jumped into the Narragansett Bay for her birthday, and near the end of the poem, she states, “Now that’s my kind of intimacy — / faceless, salty, / no wondering how my jokes are going over […]” (Choi 70). How does this description of intimacy compare or contrast to the other poems in the section titled “Turing Test_Love” (pages 69-80)? How does it compare/contrast to the rest of the collection, such as poems like “On the Night of the Election,” “I Swiped Right on the Borg,” or “Jaebal”?
  2. The stylistic construction of “Turing Test_Weight” (page 83) differs from the other “Turing Test” entries. The other entries more or less follow a question and answer format, with the questions presented in italics. In this final entry, however, the speaker interrupts her interrogator’s question so that the answer lies in the middle: “//what is (inside each question lies another question — a question of weight. […].) your country of origin” (83). What is the significance of this interruption? Why does Choi choose to do this in her final “Turing Test” entry and not a previous one? Why does the speaker choose to ignore the question and state that “inside each question lies another question” (83)?
  3. The section “Turing Test_Love” offers two poems that tackle the theme of love. How does Choi approach love in “Perihelion: A History of Touch”? What is the significance of constructing the stanzas in blocks, as if they were paragraphs? Additionally, much of the imagery in this poem evokes images of wild nature, as suggested in the subtitles being named after “moons” and the lines written with metaphors like “I hid in his rivers and estuaries” (76). What effect does this imagery have? Does this poem feel more focused on desire, something more tender, or possibly both?