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Gauche and Adroit: Cultural History of the Taboo and Oppression


Gauche and Adroit: Cultural History of the Taboo and Oppression


 

Left-handed college applicants were put on emergency alertness for their writing test in universities. The writing test is rated by professors, and it is possible that if his or her handwriting is hard to read, they will get low marks, no matter the content. Unfortunately, universities's desks can only be used by right-handed students.
There may still be some parents who insist on forcing left-handed children to change (though left-handedness is inherited, and as much an integral part of its possessor as eye color or nose shape) with various unfortunate results to the child-sometimes stuttering or an inability to read with normal skill.
It is true that we are living in the harmony of the positive and negative, figuratively meaning adroit and gauche, and "lefties" have been existing in the world of the "righties" in a complementary relationship, but the righties hold sway in this world.
It is only within recent decades that we have come to accept that lefties or southpaws are just as normal as anyone else. Nevertheless, the term left-handed is still used as a synonym of awkwardness.
Every man and woman knows "they do no harm to anything. They are just left-handed," like the song "Left-Hander" by popular singer Lee Juck. Can you guess why using the left hand is frowned upon?
Ju Kang-hyun, the author of "Left and Right," explained that "this is not a problem with which hands we use but a problem with prejudice against the minority. The left hand and right hand, that is, left and right, were just a concept of direction at the early stage of civilization. But, the righties' hegemony over the lefties was formed with the advancement of human knowledge in all countries of the world."
Ju Kang-hyun's new book "Left and Right", published by Sigongsa in Korea, explores this righties' hegemony via-a-vis the lefty minority. In short, it is an explanation of left-handedness.
Ju Kang-hyun is a well-known folklorist in Korea. He made up his mind to explore this subject because he felt that Korea is now faced with a humanities crisis and the people have an insufficient insight into our culture, especially the lefty minority group. "Left and Right" is more systematic and analytic than most humanities books. Its profound articles, however, are seasoned with interesting episodes the author experienced in his family.
However, what is most interesting is that he points out some facts, we usually don't notice. For example, in Chapter 2: "Cultural Hegemony of the Right," he introduced-the origin of the words "right" and "left" to show how we express them in a culturally biased way: The Latin word for the left hand is sinister. This same word, in English, means threatening, evil, or dangerous, a further commentary on our early suspiciousness of left-handed persons. The French word for the left hand is gauche, and, when this word is used in English it has an uncomplimentary meaning.
Call someone "gauche" and you imply clumsiness, generally social rather than physical. The gauche person is totally without finesse. And the French word for the right hand is droit, which we have used in building the English word adroit. Needless to say, adroit, like dexterous, means skillful. The adroit person is quick-witted, can get out of difficult spots cleverly, can handle situations ingeniously."
He also informs the reader that the "Statue of Liberty" in New York, the "Gilt-bronze Contemplative Bodhisattva" in Korea and "The Thinker," by August Rodin, are world-renowned works of art. However, have you ever thought about which hand in dominant?" The answer is "the right." What a coincidence!
Mr. Ju said that the prejudice toward the left hand was originally social rather than physical. Chapter after chapter, the author helps the reader to understand this prejudice by interweaving historical episodes with experiences in his left-handed son's life as well as including 200 valuable pictures. Noteworthy is the author's effort to elucidate this difference between right and left through abundant data.
He explained: "I had to use western studies because eastern studies were not enough to use in my research." But he compensates for this by his abundant materials for the book and in-depth observation.
Left-handedness, a symbol of taboo and oppression, was always considered abnormal and alien in our society and many parents still insist on forcing left-handed children to change. "After all, the problems between the right-handed and left-handed are simply a problem of discrimination against a minority," the author said in the conclusion for readers.
As you know, this is not a story of the hand. He insisted, "the world of the mainstream righties getting along with the lefties, a complementary relationship, is not only our goal to approach multi-culturalism but also a way to understand minorities."

Kim Jung-yoon  sasports@hanmail.net

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