PhD Proposal

Wibbly-Wobbly Symbol, Touchy-Feely Space: Reenactment of Ineffable Events through the Queer Use of Iconic Form-Meaning of Korean Mimetic Words

The Korean language has tons of lively expressions known as ideophones haunting not just the fictional world of cartoons but also everyday talk, and literary pieces – In English, it's pretty cringy to say, “a bird flies flap flap” or “a car drives through a puddle splish splash,” but in Korean, it's the other way around. To minimize introductory remarks on Korean uisongo – mimetic words of sound, also known as onomatopoeia – and uitaeo – mimetic words of shape – (after this Korean mimetic words), let me invite you to think of some helpful questions that guide your approach to this core research object. 

Does guelong guelong signify A or B?*:

For the commentary on the question, guelong guelong is a uitaeo that depicts the elastic shape of liquid bulging upwards and clinging to the very brim of the structure, as B illustrates tearful eyes. If you chose B without even knowing the Korean language, how could the murmuring effect – sound – and the muted event of things – image – resonate with each other?   

In this doctoral project, starting from that point when the aesthetic of sound comes to our mind as pre-reflective knowledge (Borgdorff, 2012), we deal with Korean mimetic words from a material-centered aspect rather than a text-centered aspect: They are pretreated as a large inventory of non-verbal testimonies which has archived, collected, and curated bodily knowledge or embodied knowledge (Ponty, as cited in Borgdorff, 2012) associated with not only the two public senses of seeing and hearing but also the private senses of taste, touch, and odor (Cage, 1965).

Re-imagining embedded modes, status, and actions in the vocal gesture (Dingemanse, 2015) of existing Korean mimetic words in cross-modal thinking with real (or fictional) referents (Perniss and Thompson, 2010), the result of reenactment practices take the form of a series of Sociable Media, the multi-media installation involving different material forms and expressions. Archived Sociable Medias in an arena serve as scenic elements as well as impersonal actors to raise heterogeneous landscapes in a way of scenographic and dramaturgical strategy. They go over their given organisation and implication as the material properties of their matters re-emerge in the environmental aspect like the refractive and reflective material happenings to familiarise us with foreign things – one's subjective knowledge – through intimate situations – aesthetic and sometimes immersive experiences entailing for instance bodily contact and whispered communication. Therefore, their 'sociability' manifested along with the use status (Ahmed, 2019) between things unfolds latent space – intermedia performance – and context – history, emotions, relation, interest –, leading the continuum of recurring events to be seen as a channel of ‘environmental theatre’ as an art form (Schechner, 1968).

This interdisciplinary artistic practice concerning the relational elements of space, context, and performance at once examines the following research questions at the core: If the existing Korean mimetic words are multi-sensory repertory to reuse materially and semantically, what ineffable beings and their offshoot in a crisis of unremembered or objectification could we re-enact, re-embody, and re-evaluate through experimental work in the radical non-literary ritual? Through the queer use (Ahmed, 2019) of ideophones to restage faded, imagined, and heard events outside of dominant cultural narratives, what and whose gestures can we re-present on a collective level to re-imagine our fragmented historical experiences today, and to imagine what a possible 'better' society might look like in the future?

Reinviting our implicit and tacit relationship with the world enclosed in the Korean mimetic words into the scope of spatial fecundity, one of the first concerns of this doctoral research in arts is to initiate the decolonization and deinstitutionalization of our consciousness of things as a foundation of thinking and action to synthesize a nonlinear history by amalgamating the actual – matter – and the fictive – meaning.

*The idea of using questions was inspired by Lockwood's post on Dingmanse's blog, "Sound symbolism in language.” It also says, “We have published several papers showing that people can indeed guess and learn the meaning of ideophones at a level above chance.”
Keywords: Korean mimetic words, iconicity, performance, reenactment, environmental theatre, sociable media, material manifestation, phenomenology, aesthetics