You used to wonder what and where you would arrive in each age of life: at 13 you would count the years when you became 20s, 30s, 40s, and so on. Then all of sudden, you are pitchfolked forward, leaping two bridges of 20th and 21st centuries. Still, it all seems like yesterday, and you never changed at heart.
Who would have known that you will adopt cats and love them to the bargain? Who would have guessed your letters to the editor of your favorite British history magazine have been printed several times? And who would have doubted that your age could not wither you away, nor custom would stale your resistant spirit and hunger for knowledge? 100 years of time in evolutionary scale does sound antiquated or anachronistic, but in truth it amounts to a millionsecond on our 24 biological clock, an amount so infinitesimal that such difference of time is ludicriously insignificant. So don’t sigh but sing that you just hit the centanarian chart. Awesome.
FRancis Bacon assured us that we don’t have to be anxious about how we should prepare for the end of life because nature will do the job for us. It will let us know at that time when a psychopomp will appear to bring your soul to the beyond. Or in your case, it will be Mothe Mary to whom you used to pray a rosary when you were little. Wouldn’t it be nice for you to meet Mother Mary rather than some scary-looking death angel? I know you have come a long way alone, but this is not the end. Nobody but your fate knows where you go or will go. Yet it would be best if you lived like you are living the second time to keep your youthful spirit.
Sometimes I wonder what if I had a different middle name. Would I have been living a different life – for brighter and better? Nominative determinism is not entirely superstitious because your name gives you an identity, an existence. My middle name is Joori, the first name used in Korea, while my first name Stephanie is my baptized Christian name, used in the church community.
Korean is a unique phonetic language of the Ural-Altaic linguistic family, which includes Japanese, Finnish, Hungarian, and Turkish. “Joo” means red, and “ri” means beneficial. My paternal grandmother named me after the family tradition of using the same first letter of the name according to the gender of the progeny. For instance, my cousin’s name, the daughter of my father’s elder brother, was “Joohyun,” meaning red wisdom. Then the grandmother was then in a cult of an angel called “Chulrikyo,” from which the word “ri” originated. Hence my name is a work of a family tradition and angelic cult.
My mother has recently revealed that I had no name for a year after the birth for reasons unknown. During the unnamed time, I was called “the baby.” A fortuneteller once told me that I should change my Korean name because it would bring no happiness to my life. Whether or not it is true, I don’t want to dwell on it because, anyway, I am not in Korea, where the spirits of the land may not/will not exert their supernatural concoction to frustrate my life to the extent possible.
Paul Gauguin was a man with a moon and sixpence. He was an artist in an endless pursuit of the rising sun at the dawn of a day with a flaming glory in dazzling magnificence. He was an intellectual with a wealth of knowledge drawn from a wide range of reading and classical Jesuit education. Gauguin was a man of irony with contrasting colors reflected on the soul’s spectrums, from the passionate red to the sanguine blue, hopeful green, and melancholic purple, which is why he left Vincent Van Gogh at Arles alone in neverending loneliness. He craved recognition in a grand salon, yet he longed for independence on an island beneath an ancient sun. So, naturally, I wanted to know about Gauguin from his own writings, not from another in the form of a biography. Hence the Writings of a Savage by Paul Gauguin.
The book is an attractive compendium of mostly letters to his select few friends and occasionally his wife and of essays and articles about arts and religion, demonstrating Gauguin’s erudition and introspection. While reading the book, I could not help but think that if he had been a professional journalist or an art critic, his artistic talent would have basked in the glorious sun at dawn rather than a struggling painter always on the verge of starvation. But most of all, what I wanted to know was if Gauguin had cut Gogh’s ear as I heard the rumor. Before reading this book, I had a priori thought Gauguin was a man of temper because his image was incompatible with the Dutch painter’s delicate, sophisticated, and sensitive appearance and temperament. But while my prejudice was not entirely faulty, Gauguin proved not guilty as he talked about it before his impending death away from civilization. Besides, my reading of Gauguin’s writings convinced me that he was not culpable for the injury, even if some like to contrive the circumstantial evidence to make the French pariah artist imbued with jealousy and violence against the suffering Dutch genius. Gauguin might have been passionate, but the passion is directed toward his artistic creation of the worlds he views in his mind and the snobbishness of critics and bureaucrats curating the works of painters who know nothing about the arts.
Imagination, innovation, and independence are the jewels of Gauguin’s prime colors that create his artistic Elysium. Gauguin was liberal in social stance, especially against clericalism, but royal in the artistic philosophy that how to draw doesn’t mean an exact copy of the figure because that’s not the purpose and creation of art for art’s sake. As the title indicates, Gauguin was a noble savage who, as a disciple of Rousseau, returned to a primordial state of humanity to escape from the over-intellectualized inertia of civilization that depreciated and ignored his works of art. I still can’t say the book converted me to the cult of his paintings, which differ from Renoir, Monet, and Pissaro. But the book is a medium of looking through the labyrinth Gauguin has built leading to his secret garden, wondrously vibrant and dazzlingly radiant.
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