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"In Honor of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee"  








by Heather Kim
March 1, 2019


On March 17 of 2019, Asian American Writer's Workshop will be hosting a marathon reading of Dictee, the magnum opus of Korean-American artist, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.


Though labeled as a novel, Dictee is, like the author herself, not quite one thing or another. A microcosm of Cha's lifetime work as an interdisciplinary creative, Dictee encompasses poetry, visual art, photography, and other practices not so easily named--and it is this resistance to categorization that constitutes the multiplicity of the book's obsessions: history, memory, time, displacement, language, loss.


Though organized into nine parts after the Greek muses, Dictee is not limited to the classics as a source of inspiration, as it incorporates traditional Korean folklore and historical context. The personas range from women like Persephone, to Joan of Arc, to Cha herself--and by virtue of being conflated with each other. they are myths, mystics, and martyrs, all at once. The text is treated as visual image; visual image is woven into text. English, Korean, French, and Chinese appear in the same paragraphs, much of which, like the babbling of infants, are incomprehensible: the purpose of speaking is not to deliver a clear message, but to be heard. The act of speaking confers its own meaning.


For Cha, loss is personal and universal. That confronts her fear of losing her mother tongue by recontextualizing language refers to her experience as a diasporic Korean losing touch with her native language, and also to a time she did not live through herself--a time when the Korean language was illegalized under Imperial Japan's rule; and thus, was under threat of being lost to generations of Koreans to come.


Dictee is placed at the intersections of discipline, genre, and identity. Neither content nor form is set in exclusive boundaries. Dictee resists narrative, resists certainty, resists the passivity of taking imposed meanings as truth. Perhaps, then, Dictee is most aptly described as a collage of brilliant fragments: brief but intense illuminations of a disrupted history.


The marathon reading of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee will be held at Performance Space New York, featuring Theresa's brother John Cha, Alexander Chee, Kathy Park Hong, and more. RSVP for free through the link below provided by Asian American Writer's Workshop website.





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