"And what about Yi Sang?" (... à Paris [iv])

au!guts 14, 2010.


Yi Sang left Paris while I was away and not looking, but I can assure you that he had a swell time.

I know, for I was there when on the literary evening of tuesday June 29th at La Générale a number of wonderful ladies, all with quite different backgrounds, honored the elusive Korean poet. In a learned, yet playful and personal manner, each of them phrased their own particular fascination with the work and life of Yi Sang.

soir lit

It was a pleasure to modestly moderate the discussion that evening and introduce the three talks/performances. The ladies' presentations were passionate. At times sort of intense. It must have made Yi Sang blush! (And every now and then, indeed, I thought I heard him chuckle... :)

soir lit soir lit
soir lit soir lit

Wearing a white mask in the image of her own face, Luna Yoon Kyung did a performance in the form of a post-theory lecture entitled "(étrange) traduction symétrique (idéale)": a 'plastico literal translation' of Yi Sang's poem Etrange réaction réversible, which contains the verse that gave the series of Yi Sang à Paris events its title - "Est-ce que la ligne a assassiné le cercle ?" (Did the line kill the circle?). Soft-voiced, Luna took us on a tour of a mirror house of translations, lines, words and positions. "Yi Sang was a Lego architect," she told us. "For a good Lego builder will de-construct even the highest construct he made during the day and put away the pieces before he goes to sleep." You find Luna's talk/performance summarized in the following annotated print of the poem.

luna talk

Gitte Zschoch is a German student of literature. These past couple of years she studied history of Korean literature in Seoul and just recently completed her master's thesis, on the work of Yi Sang. Gitte's presentation was called "Yi Sang in the box". It centered on the observation that - in many senses - the notion of being 'boxed', 'imprisoned', 'confined' is a recurring theme in Yi Sang's work (and life), an idea that was nicely visualized in one of the images of her slide show, which showed the following equation:

yisang in the box

"The first (Chinese) character - 口, the box- is originally pronounced 'gu' and means mouth," Gitte explained, "but the important thing for me is that it looks like a box, like confinement. The second character - 人 - means human and it is pronounced 'in'. When the two characters are combined, they are pronounced 'su'. And that means: 'being locked up'. It also forms the first syllable for the word prisoner, 'su-in', a locked up/imprisoned human..." In Yi Sang's poem Miniature park made by a prisoner the 'su' appears twice. "For me," explains Gitte, "this sums up all I want to say about Yi Sang..."

Gitte also pointed at the original typographical arrangement of the poems. Some of them were published in a big Korean daily newspaper, the Joseon Jungang Ilbo (朝鮮中央日報), where they appeared in a box on the page and also by themselves quite literally looked as 'boxes', like Poem Nr. 1, which - among the ones that I know (in translation) - is one of my own favorites, and like the enigmatic, very typographical, 'number' Poem Nr. 3 below:

yisangpeom 1
yisangpeom 2 2

It will be clear that, personally, I could relate very much to Gitte's observations, as also for my own contribution to the Yi Sang exhibit - Read me a poem, Yi Sang! - I put Yi Sang in a box (in a box (in a box)) ...
[ You can find more on Gitte's ongoing relation with Yi Sang on her blog (in German), for instance in this instructive post on the poet's many names. ]

Dominique Peyssons's was the final lecture/performance of that evening. In 'Yi Sang/gnaS iY et le retournement temporel' (Yi Sang/gnaS iY and the reversal of time) she argued how it is that the lines of the Korean poet contain profound scientific insights and reflect a deep understanding of the nature of space and time. She showed how Yi Sang not only intuitively seemed to have grasped some of the most advanced developments in the theoretical physics of his epoch, but also gave - poetic - expression to more recent advances, that in the scientific community only surfaced long after his death.


Dominique's lecture was a soaring erudite voyage, that - à vol de corbeau - sketched a topography constructed along lines of mathematics, modern physics, acoustic time reversal mirrors, poetry, music & early 20th century avantgarde art, before landing right in the midst of an exciting little theory of global conspiracy. For, in view of the deep content of his work, wouldn't it be likely that Yi Sang in his lifetime, like some of his artist-peers, actually was a member of Tempestas Tertius, an old and secret society dedicated to the - theoretical and practical - study of time and its reversal?


There is a complete overview of all the things that made up _Est-ce que la ligne a assassiné le cercle ?_ on the yisang.fr website, far more than the little that I managed to mention and describe on these here pages. I should still - and maybe later will - tell you about Luna Yoon Kyung's and Gerard Paresys' (PD) Yi Sang Machine. I missed the Poet's Banquet, on thursday evening, in the Korean Cultural Center, as then I was with A Table! in Heerlen. I missed - what must have been a wonderful evening - the 'Yi Sang concert' in the Eglise Saint Merry on friday evening, around the time that Maurice JJ and myself had just arrived at the Avantgarde Festival in Schiphorst. And, on sunday July 4th, I missed Yi Sang's farewell to Paris...

As a little compensation, and to complete, let me embed here Rébus' uTube clips that document these last two events: the Saint Merry concert, and sunday's 'end' ...

Meanwhile Yi Sang has returned to Seoul, where the Korean part of the festivities on the occasion of his centenary are taking place (on the other side of the mirror) in and around the Space Hamilton, 용산구 한남동 683-142 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, until August 21st.

More about that next.

next Yi Sang entry: Yi Sang in Seoul: Rebirth :: previous Yi Sang entry: Ceremonies ]

tags: Yi Sang, Paris

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