Why Is Everybody Happy with the IWP: A Modest Proposal

Man-sik LEE (poet, Korea; b. 1953) is deputy professor at Kyungwon College, Seoul South Korea. Mr. Lee has written extensively on T.S. Eliot and deconstruction as literary theory, and his translation of Jonathan Culler's On Deconstruction was selected as one of Korea's Best Scholarly Books of 1998. He has published two poetry collections: God's Baseball Game Ticket (1997) and On Poetry (1994).

Why is everybody happy with the IWP? Because the spirit of the IWP is the resistance to linearization. And that is also the raison d'être of literature. And why is most of the world not happy with President Bush? It's not because he is the president of the USA., nor because he represents the only superpower, nor because he didn't try to get some consensus before the critical action in Iraq. I think it is simply because he advances a philosophy of linearization—one that asks everybody to follow only his interpretation of the world, even though it is not clear what it really is. Because he does not acquiesce to the power of imagination.

The other side of the problem is that no-one is intellectually powerful enough to make him reflect upon all the other possibilities, that is, on the basic fact of life that the linearization is no longer the suitable answer for anything in the world. So President Bush is not alone to blame. Everyone who has the capacity to think and to talk is also to blame. This is the main reason why I was reluctant to participate actively in all kinds of activities protesting the war against Iraq. I think the opposition too readily forgets everything else, for direct and simple refusal makes the other party look much better than its real state of affairs. 'War on Terrorism' is a ridiculous term, because war is not the answer to the question of terrorism. War is one of the policies suited to the philosophy of linearization. In a war situation, you can immediately find out who is your friend or who is your enemy. When President Bush started the war machine, his first official request was to take sides. However, terrorists do not go out into the bright sun and take sides. They just sit in the dark, doing hideous things whose result might be as terrible as the result of a war. So the war against Afghanistan and Iraq could not be a proper war to find worthwhile enemies. Afghanistan and Iraq were not enemies worth fighting for the U.S. military power. It was not a war at all. It looks like a business take-over. Thus the major issue is not the process of war but the shortage of philosophical thinking.

War is not the proper response to terrorism. So the phrase ' war on terrorism’ should be changed into something else. I'm not defending the terrorists. They are among the meanest creatures on earth. We should indeed find out a way to exterminate them. What I'm trying to say here is that the simplistic and linear way of President Bush is not the answer for anything at all. The answer could instead be found in the collaboration of people thinking in a non-linear fashion.

My friends abroad wonder when they look at the Korean situation. They ask: “ why don’t you look worried about the military threat of North Korea which might have nuclear capability?” But think about people who live in dangerous places, near an active volcano or in chronically flood-stricken areas. They do not leave these really difficult places, and that is not simply because they have nothing else to do. Even when they do have an opportunity to go somewhere else, most of them won't move. For what is the safest place, and what is the most dangerous place on earth? The place you live now is the safest place. And you do not just go away to avoid it every time there is danger,. Instead you'll try everything in your power to rectify the problem and make your place safe again. This is what South Koreans have been doing during the last 50 years after the cease-fire of the Civil War in 1953. And this is what Korea has been doing in her five thousand year history with respect to her neighbors in Japan, Russia and China.

There are at least two kinds of war. They are different not in their physical materials but in the mental attitude underlying them. The war against Iraq was started with the passive and negative mind-set of defending USA’s land against any future threats. It is a war for nothing, and against everything which might be a possible threat. This war’s goal is to maintain the status quo even before it actually gets under way. But we cannot avoid war, unless every political player decides to stop conducting war, or unless an international institution like UN acquires the might and power to stop all war on earth. This is the reason why I have not been busy wandering around and speaking out in protest against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. It's partly because I knew no-one had the power to stop that war, and partly because I believed that the duty for anyone with any power of imagination was to think out solutions acceptable even to President Bush.

We writers, poets and anybody else with the power of imagination, have a nobler obligation than to go out to participate in street demonstrations. Another kind of war, one which would replace the war of passive negation, should be suggested until the day comes when no one on earth won't join any kind of war. Even though it would be a war, it should be considered under its positive aspect. I mean, even in the war, even in the rubbles of war, the future to build a new world more comfortable than the world before the war, should be seriously considered. Look at the current situation in Iraq: the solution for building a new nation should be devised. If not, the war against Iraq won't be considered as a success even though it has been already declared a military victory, something that was never challenged at all by anyone in the world.

Thus I'm asking you, my friends, to participate in a new war, a war against linearization. It is not my own thought. Jacques Derrida has already said, "A war was declared, and a suppression of all that resisted linearization was installed." In this context, I'm suggesting to you, my American friends, to think about the future of USA. not as a melting pot, nor as a salad bowl, but as a mosaic or tapestry. I'm sorry not to give you a concrete answer, and to only suggest a metaphor. But I believe that it will be a metaphor that will be the playing ground of imagination which will give us a picture of the entire world, including that of the US, even as the details will be cordially discussed among the friends of the same but ever-differing minds.

Man-Sik Lee
Seoul, October 2003.