Jeong and love’s multiplicity

Excerpt from ‘Love’s Multiplicity: Jeong and Spivak’s Notes towards Planetary Love’, a chapter by Wonhee Anne Joh, in Planetary Loves: Spivak, Postcoloniality, and Theology. Stephen D. Moore and Mayra Rivera (eds.), 2011, p.169 &171.


I want to suggest that jeong can be employed for philosophy, theology, and ethics in ways similar to which the French neologism différance has been employed. In our efforts to learn from the other, ways of living by, with and through jeong, I contend, is an ethical response to suture our torn selves with one another. It is an ethical practice of responding to the other that resonates with Spivak’s observation that “To be human is to be intended toward the other.”

Jeong combines agape, philia, and eros – all three interweaving to form a kind of love that is difficult to define and conceptualize, but often practiced in the everyday relations with the other. Jeong is a signifier peculiar to the Korean language and worldview, and it is an untranslatable signifier, but it nonetheless names a phenomenon that exceeds that language and operates on a fundamental level in other cultures. As such, it is the object of philosophical and ethical reflection in those cultures – for example, in the work of Spivak. Jeong is not something unique to Koreans; a form of it is practiced by many cultures, and those forms are often not identical to the dominant discourses on love. By bringing jeong into our particular conversation, I am arguing that it will serve us well to learn the different languages of love that have been foreclosed in the past. I am asking that we enter into the epistemic structure of many ordinary people, while fully aware of the limits to what can be known in full transparency. There’s something about jeong that keeps its opacity.

The multiplicity of love practices

… As we begin to speak in many tongues and from different places, I argue that jeong, in its own unique way, helps us to be open to the pluralization of practices of love/s.

… I argue, first, that the dominant Western discourse on love is too limited and continues in its failure to understand love in its practices; second, that dominant Western liberal understandings of love work often only to reinforce the civilizing mission of the West and of Christianity, thus foreclosing other practices of love, and, third, that our must fruitful move toward planetary loves requires a widening and deepening of the notion of love through learning other languages of and for love.


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