Have you ever heard about the electric ray? It’s that flat ugly fish that lives at the bottom of the sea. It hunts its prey using its electric organs by at tacking with an electric shock that stuns their prey. However, there is another electric ray. It cannot be found below water, and it does not electric shock others but still stuns people. The Sookmyung Times met Shin Woo-seung, representative of Electric Ray, to learn more about the organization.
First, thank you for accepting this interview. Would you please introduce ‘Electric Ray’ to our readers?
Electric Ray takes its name from 'Meno' by Plato. In the dialogue, Meno likens Socrastes to an electric ray because his manner of questioning is similar to the way an electric ray stuns its prey. I chose to call the group Electric Ray in order to spur on all members. Most people know us as a philosophy publisher, but publishing is just one kind of works we do. First and foremost, what we are about to do is mutual education. For us, a book is the medium that connects people. We always keep a keen eye on relationships among people and offer detailed educational services.
Electric Ray translates Western philosophy and publishes the translation. What was the push behind this interest in philosophy and how did that initial interest transform into the publication industry?
Prior to Electric Ray, I had interest in art reviews, so I used to frequently read philosophy books. The more philosophy books I read, the more interested I became. There is no one great story behind my interest, and as for publishing, well, that part originated from a study session. In 2013, I started a study group with people interested in philosophy. The group eventually started translating other nation’s text, and because we didn’t want our hard effort lost or forgotten, we decided to publish our work. Commercial publishers were not interested, so I set up my own publishing company.
Electric Ray is being funded by a number of sponsors. This is something other publishing companies do not have. What made you seek financial support from sponsors?
Because I suffered financially (Shin even refers to himself as being ‘poor’) and the organization needed initial capital in order to do any kind of publication, I thought asking readers to sponsor our work through monthly contributions would lead to financial stability. In the beginning, I planned to issue a monthly magazine for stability, but, I realized that book format was more appropriate. The sponsorship system began out of necessity.
At present, you have roughly 600 sponsors. What do you think is the biggest motivator for attracting people to sponsor your work?
There are three things I really care about. The first is the perfection of translation. I want to make sure readers are reading a complete and accurate account of the real text. Second, I concentrate on making an attractive book by considering aspects such as design and binding. Last, I highlight collectiveness and a sense of belonging to each translation project. As representative, I cannot but stand out; however, I try to spur on all people at Electric Ray by installing a sense of belonging, regardless if one is a staff member or sponsor. For example, to editors, I ask them to join me on an interview and to sponsors, because I think the relationship between them and Electric Ray should not be just that of publisher and reader, I try to make them feel part of the team. I believe sponsors recognize value in these three concerns and are proud to be part of the sponsorship group, sharing purpose and value with Electric Ray. I guess this is why people become a sponsor of Electric Ray.
We aware that you're also running study clubs. Could we know a bit about them and how they work?
The study clubs usually meet for a 2-hour period. The first hour is used for translation feedback, and the second hour concentrates on reading new scripts, generally about 5 pages or so, and sharing content. A study club’s subject is decided on impulse. I’m not completely sure, but, over the last 4 years, I’ve had a number of club and about five or six of them are now operating. What’s different from before is that the study clubs have not always kept the same membership now. To attract new ideals and approaches, we host recruitment sessions for each study club and do not guarantee membership, so even existing members should be reapply to the study club.
You want to break down authoritarianism, age requirement, and sexism in your studies. Isn’t there an obstacle to carry into effect this action?
There have been various challenges, but the biggest obstacle I think is that each person involved in the project often has different and strong opinions on levels of political correctness. Whenever someone overemphasized his version of political correctness, there is a high probability of dissonance. What makes matters worse is when there is no attempt to resolve the conflict. Sometimes, a person with an extreme sense of political correctness may try to force others to follow rather than trying to cooperate. This is my biggest worry.
Your emphasis on educational services is impressive. What is the reason behind your determination to offer educational services?
As you have noticed from my profile, I studied philosophy on my own. My interest in philosophy led me to participate in various seminars and lectures, but I was not quite satisfied because I felt the speakers were unaware of the audience’s level of philosophy knowledge. Disregarding the audience’s understanding, it seemed like lecturers were talking for themselves. Therefore, I felt that most of the audience left the lecture with unclear information about the concept of philosophy. I guess the biggest reason I am determined to offer educational services comes from those personal experiences. I want to help readers make sense of the text in front of them.
We recently saw that one of your long-term goals on your homepage is online education as a new departure. Could you tell us what you mean by this, and what direction you are headed?
One of the things we promote is acquiring knowledge by reading on one’s own rather than just listening to others. To do so, I’ve initiated an online education project that works with video production. To be more specific, we create a videoclip that is divided into two parts. One side of the screen show text and the other side shows a board with a voiceover. No one actually appears on the video. There are only images of books, the narrator, and a board. If I were handsome, I would have taken myself personally. Anyway, I hope through this I can make text more accessible to more people and they can critically think about the topic. I wish to do it online so that people actually ‘see’ the text. Also, by going online, more people outside of Seoul can have access to book explanations. Although we have a book explanation service, an individual’s time cannot be controlled fully, so the service doesn’t suit everyone because of different working hours. I actually started it earlier, but there was too much work, so we closed it. However, we will have it up soon.
What does the future hold for Electric Ray?
Because study subjects are random on-the-spot topic decisions, we need to think about management. With our new book, I am looking at design and printing costs, which are expensive. Thus, a smooth operating system is top priority. Next, I hope to set up a more suitable place. Currently, we study and operate at my home. At our own place, I hope to hold study sessions and allow people to freely visit our facilitates at their convenience. In the far distant future, I would love to establish a scholarship fund that helps students study more comfortably without financial burden.
What are your final objectives and those of Electric Ray?
Personally, I just want to be a good teacher because I like teaching. I am not a researcher. I don't write well, so I could never write a good thesis, but I am good at translation and I believe I speak well. I wish to be a good teacher and I hope that those who pass through Electric Ray go on to better themselves. I hope they go beyond us. The ultimate goal of Electric Ray is proper propagation of philosophical knowledge.
Lastly, would you please leave some final words for Sookmyungians?
Do not follow others’ words blindly. Do not expect help from others, and do not believe all that you hear. I really believe this is essential in life. I feel it is irresponsible to give advice to someone without knowing all the specifics of their situation or circumstances. Even though some people may be in the same situation, the way to solve their individual problem will depend on individual's ability or talent. My final words are do not blindly receive advice. Only you are responsible for your life.
– Graduate of the Department of Spanish at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
– Completing Master's Degree in Aesthetics at Hongik University
– Managing Electric Ray since 2013
– Published Several Translated Books including the ‘History of Philosophy without Any Gaps 1: Ancient Greek Philosophy’