August 30, 2017

Spirits and Syncretism in Korean Myth: And Now for a Lecture

Educational television. You don't hear those two words bandied about too much anymore except when Congress is talking about defunding PBS. Sure there are documentaries on Netflix, Amazon and their ilk but they tend towards big personalities, monumental events, or very personal narratives. But what about if you simply want to learn something (as opposed to being entertained by reality)? The internet, endlessly championed as a rich library, has proven itself to be a bit of a junk shop in which you might stumble upon something of quality if you're lucky and can avoid falling into a pop cultural sinkhole. Maybe there's something on Kanopy, the streaming service of the New York Public Library. I decided to find out. Today's little nugget: "Spirits and Syncretism in Korean Myth," Episode 4 of Great Mythologies of the World Course 4 - Asia and the Pacific. Pretty interesting material.

This is basically a half-hour lecture in which Beloit College's Chair of Asian Studies and History, one Professor Robert Andre LaFleur, paces back and forth across a Persian carpet in an impossibly big, strategically decorated study and speaks to various cameras if for no other reason than to pull him from one end of the room to the other. And yet "Spirits and Syncretism" isn't boring or laughable. LaFleur is the department chair for a reason and his talk on Korean mythology — from the Samguk Yusa to the tale of the Herdboy and the Weaving Maiden and onward — is filled with fascinating bits and asides like Korea's scholarly relationship to the Chinese written language (an Eastern equivalent of the West's Latin and Greek) and how living in a land where only twenty percent is agriculturally cultivable impacted one country's worldview. Korean Shamanism may get short shrift in LaFleur's virtual lecture hall but as an introduction to Korean anthropology, "Spirits and Syncretism" certainly leaves you ready and eager for Professor LaFleur's next class. Or his next video as it were. If there were one.

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