How can stories, books, museums, and other parts of our shared culture bring about social change? We think about these things a lot, so it’s been a delight to be visiting the seaside city of Busan in Korea, where we were at the World Humanities Forum, talking about Humanities in Relationship: Towards Communication, Coexistence and Empathy.
Wind&Bones’s Dr Will Buckingham was presenting a paper at the forum on how the idea of philoxenia — a term coming from Greek meaning “friendship with that which is other” — can help us think through the significance of museums for their visitors. Drawing on the work of the late Dr. Elee Kirk (see Elee’s book Snapshots of Museum Experience), and his own work in his book Hello, Stranger, Will’s paper explored the strange, quirky intimacy of what museums mean to their visitors — the way vistors are often far more idiosyncratic, less well-behaved, and more singular than researchers, educators or museum professionals either would like or, perhaps, can even imagine. Through thinking about the concept of philoxenia, he argued museum research needs a better, more attentive ethnography, and that the value of museums is often elsewhere than where we imagine it to be. The organiser of the panel was the brilliant museum scholar, Dr. Lena JE Lee, who also translated Elee’s book into Korean.
It was also lots of fun to meet readers of Hello, Stranger, which has been translated into Korean, with an absolutely gorgeous cover. The Korean title is great too: 타인이라는 가능성, which we’re told (we don’t know any Korean!) translates as “The Possibility of Strangers.” And the subtitle is 나의 세상을 확장하는 낯선 만남들에 대하여, or “On the encounters expanding my world.”
After the forum, we were delighted to spend the day with Yong-June Park and Aram Hur from the wonderful Indigo Book Company — one of the great cultural powerhouses of Busan. Indigo is a haven for readers and thinkers, a place dedicated to humanistic education, and the home of Ecotopia restaurant, which serves amazingly tasty vegetarian and vegan food.
Last year, Will did an online book event at Indigo to coincide with the launch of the Korean edition of Hello, Stranger, but this was our first time there in person, and it was an absolute delight. It was wonderful to connect with Yong-June and Aram, and to talk about everything from green spaces to Žižek (see this collection of interviews with Yong-June), and from the contemporary challenges of publishing to the role of education in bringing about positive social change.
We left Busan with very full stomachs, equally full heads and hearts, and lots of plans and ideas for future collaborations.