This is going to be one of those posts that starts : “So, I….”
I usually hate those kinds of posts.
So, I get an EGR send in my inbox today. Rageboy – or Locke, or whichever mask he was wearing when he hit ‘send’ or ‘go’ or ‘cry havoc’ or whatever the button said (assuming that both personas are masks, to one degree or another, and assuming that it was an actual button he pressed) – included a couple of quotes in the header, and I got as far as

“Sentimentality is a superstructure covering brutality.”
– Carl Gustav Jung

before I got distracted, as seems to happen so often to me. All that youthful experimentation has left me with an attention span that is somewhat unreliable, I’m sad to report. Don’t worry your pretty heads, though, dear readers : I make do.
So, this Jung quote (I did read a lot of Jung when I was young – har!) is one that I’ve never run across before, oddly, unless of course I did run across it, but forgot about it because I was in the middle of one of those youthful experimentation sessions I mentioned above. My memory has a few holes in it too, unfortunately. Again, though, I make do.
It resonated in the echo chamber behind my nose and I was keen to see what had been said, and when, and by who. It seemed to apply to something I’ve been turning over in my mind lately : one thing that a filthy foreigner in Korea who spends any time watching his hosts will learn quickly is how inspidly sentimental these folks can be. I loathe sentimentality, but I’m keen to understand more about it, ’cause, you know, I’m such a groovy guy. The other bit of data is the fact that Korean soldiers, in the Vietnam War and elsewhere, were universally feared for their ‘casual brutality’.
So, off to Google. Shiver me timbers, boy wonder, who should be at the pole position for this interesting phrase, gunning his virtual engines, but the excellent Jonathon Delacour!
He was talking about warbloggers in his post, which interested me not at all at that moment – “We’re on a mission from God, ma’am.” – but he does quote the equally splendid Joseph Duemer :

Sentimentality is the substitution of emotion for intelligence; sentimentality requires of the reader assent to heightened feelings not legitimated by the matter at hand; sentimentality seeks to manipulate the reader’s emotional response by calls to conventional wisdom or attitudes; sentimentality seeks approval by reference to the vast warm blanket of majority opinion; sentimentality never, ever risks the disapproval of any member of its intended audience.

Now this sounds like the kinda dirt I’m trying to dig up, here, tonight. This sounds like words I can get behind, and apply to something that at least has the odor of insightfulness.
But then, I notice this in the comments :

At least part of the problem here is that Duemer’s, and Jung’s, definition of “sentimental” is contrary to the definition held by 99% of Americans.
“Sentimental” has positive connotations, not negative ones. We associate it with things we know are not necessarily true but things we would love to believe.
Things like Santa Claus, things like joyous Thanksgiving reunions with loved ones, even if we only love them at a distance, are considered “sentimental.” Even when we consciously know these things are not entirely true, we would like to believe them and see nothing wrong in believing in them.
Kitsch at least comes closer to the meaning Duemer is assigning to “sentimentality” because it has somewhat negative connotations for most, though certainly not all, people.
People are going to resist transforming a word they have positive connotations with into a negative idea, even if they might otherwise be convinced that the argument itself is sound.

and I wonder if that’s true. Does sentimentality have a positive connotation for most Americans? And how about for Koreans? And am I unusual in hating it so?
Back to Google I went, feeling the need to dig some more, and came up dry. Serried ranks of quotable quote pages, with no commentary to sink my nose into, truffle-hunting webpig that I am.
Then I tried a bit of wiggling with my search terms a bit, and found this :

In his overview, [Dr. Luke Kim, whom many regard as the godfather of Korean American psychiatry says] Koreans regard cheong (he spells jeong) as “one of the most important ingredients that would make [Korean] lives enriching and meaningful.” He agrees there is [no] equivalent English word that translates the meaning exactly.
“However,” he says, “Jeong itself embraces all the meanings to such words as feeling, empathy, sympathy, compassion, emotional attachment, trust, pathos, tenderness, affinity, sentiment and even love.
“If I were to choose one English word among these, I would choose the word empathy.”
Kim observes that Chinese, Japanese and Koreans all share the general concept of jeong with a somewhat different emphasis in its concept.
“For example,” he observes, “Koreans tend to stress the aspect of emotional attachment and bond, while Chinese emphasize the aspect of loyalty and reciprocity.
“The Japanese equivalent word – Jyo -tends to emphasize sentimentality.” Jyo-ni-moroi means one is weak and vulnerable with sentimentality.
Jeong among Koreans denotes a special interpersonal affective bond: a trust and closeness between two individuals. That’s why, Kim believes, Koreans attach great importance to the presence or absence of jeong in their relationships with a person such as mother-child (mo-jeong), two lovers (ae-jeong), or two friends (woo-jeong).

This set me back for a minute or two, and led me to remembering my wife’s stated reason for sticking with me, when asked why she had a couple of years ago, despite her parents threatening to disown her, in the face of her friends’ avowals that she was nuts to shack up with a nasty foreigner, ignoring the stares we got when we walked arm in arm down a Korean street. She said that she remembered me saying one night not long after we first got together something along the lines of :
Love is love is love. Mother for child, friend for friend, lover for beloved. It’s all one, even if it is different in the ways that it is shown and shared.
That simpleminded belief of mine dovetails micron-close with this ‘jeong’ idea, doesn’t it? Not that I had the faintest idea at the time that such a belief existed and was so important to so many Koreans. It’s not particularly insightful, certainly, but it’s true, or true at least for me, and that’s more than enough. It was enough for her, too, it seems.
So. At this point I kind of ran out of steam. I lost track of what I had been thinking about when I went off searching for some background on the Jung quote (which was probably going to end up in something mean-spirited anyway) but I ended up remembering something that has made me a better man.
And Rageboy? Well, I guess I gotta thank him, for starting me wandering down that track this evening, which ended for me in a happy memory and a cuddle with my woman. And feel ‘jeong’, a bit, for the guy, because the very public road that led him to his pressing that ‘send’ button today hasn’t – at least as far as I know – as happy an end as my short road did tonight.

Thoughts That, If Not Deep, Are At Least Wide, Uncrappy

Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. Giving a damn about something or someone isn’t exactly the most civilized action a human being can practice. But one can make a case that it is just as necessary as rational thinking. The feeler may be latching onto personal experience, something he may have seen or read that brought havoc upon his digestion or his sanity, that forced him to think outside the box and react. Provided there is no harm involved in the emotionally reaction, whether the brutality is positive or negative is moot. (That stuff’s settled later.)
    The important aspect of reacting is that it is initially without thought, almost indistinguishable from the wild actions of a mob, though confined to the individual. It is in that primal moment, often only a split-second, that the feeler’s ball of emotions is rolled up, and impulses are tested. After a few minutes in which the plausible solution, steeped in whatever rational foundation the feeler has at his fingertips, if it ever comes, the sentimentality becomes less brutal (though not devoid of intense precision) and more of a emotional-rational hybrid that is reasonably controlled but only slightly less tumultuous.
    And it is in that distinct part of the emotional-rational spectrum that some of the finest hypotheses and projects are initiated.
    Archimedes in the bathtub and gradual displacement, Beethoven’s Fifth spawned by the emotional despair of dunners knocking upon the door and the universe in toto, Orwell writing “1984” dying of lung cancer and living in deliberate squalor near the end of his days. If not outright intense, these incidents entail fundamental sacrifices to the human condition.
    In understanding feeling, it is often necessary to pare down to discomfort, or whittle away warm shackles to understand what props it all up.

  2. Great post, and I’ll have to investigate this jeong thing. Your har! reminded me of one of Joyce’s better moments: “Ah, but we were Jung and easily Freudened.”

  3. I’d forgotten I wrote that. I’d still stand by it, though. The English & German Romantics, who shaped my view, made a distinction between sentimentality & sentiment, with the former being a kind of over-reaction. (I think there is a parallel with Coleridge’s distinction between fancy & imagination, but that’s another post . . .)
    Sentimentality is that psychological reaction that glosses over feeling, that obscures the rough reality of love with conventional responses & cliches. Stavros, your wife made the unsentimental (tough) decision–a decision based on feeling, on love. It is the xenophobia of her relatives that is sentimental: it’s a fantasy maintained by convention/ideology. And sentimentality requires huge amounts of social energy in the form of tv programming, movies, pop music, greeting cards, etc. to keep it running. Without that media fog most people would revert to their more fundamental human feelings. Sentimentailty is a capitalist construction that pays well in money & social control.
    Or so I say.

Comments are closed.