You can learn pretty much anything from the Internet these days. Yesterday, for example, I learnt to read Korean. It took about five minutes.
I use the verb ‘learn’ in an enlarged sense, of course. Nothing gives the comforting illusion of having learnt something more than watching a little YouTube video on the subject. A YouTube video, like any lecture I suppose, trajects in an idiosyncratic, non-systematic way through a given subject. Unlike a lecture, they are usually produced by non-experts and non-teachers. So while they occasionally elucidate, for the most part they ramble, they elide, they repeat, they bore, and they mislead.
All of which probably explains the Korean deficit I am experiencing today. It is one thing to learn the alphabet; quite another to learn words in a language. I may now be able to ‘read’ Samsung, Gang-nam, Kim-Jung Un and banana, (at any rate, if I can be bothered to reference the video again and this time make some notes) but since those are also pretty much the only words I know in the language, I am not going to get much further than that.
There is something pleasing, however, at attaining even a basic knowledge of unknown alphabetic and other scripts. The sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, could apparently ‘read’ Chinese pictograms by intuiting the ancient logic of their forms. I can’t say the same about Korean, but rather than an impossible maze, a jumble of queer signs, I have now, albeit momentarily, glimpsed some underlying logic or simplicity. Korean, you intuit, is a language like any other. It does not express impossible conundra in unthinkable dimensions, even if that is what it looks like. It talks about faceless corporations and the those peculiar Northern neighbours and global-tropical fruit, just like the rest of us. And presumably makes a plethora of little YouTube videos 'teaching' you how to say banana in Arabic or Swahili. And so forth. It is a small world.