Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee
Tue 1 May, 7-9pm
SPACE Mare Street
Free & all welcome
Led by Morgane Conti
The May meeting of the Feminist Duration Reading Group centres on Korean-American artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee (1982). Notoriously difficult to categorise and define, Dictee has alternately been described as an experimental novel, an autobiography, an ethnic autoethnography, and a work of avant-garde art. Dictee combines registers, poetic and literary genres, as well as languages, including English, French, Korean and Chinese. Through a collage of images and fragmented texts, Dictee methodically disrupts narrative coherence and any attempts to locate an authorial position. At the same time, topics such as nationalism and imperialism, war, sacrifice and regeneration recur giving thematic continuity to the writing. In addition, certain passages include autobiographical details reminiscent of Cha’s own personal history.
Because of its thus disparate tendencies, Dictee has triggered much controversy and polarised commentary between scholars that stress the formal and aesthetic aspects of the text as characteristic of postructuralist subjectivity, and those insisting on Cha’s political position and presence in the text as a Korean-American woman.
During the session we will read out-loud passages from Dictee and explore questions around voice and the speaking subject. Cha’s evocative and vividly sensual writing offers innumerable possibilities of interpretation that productively work together.
Sue J. Kim, ‘Narrator, Author, Reader: Equivocation in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee’ (2008)
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha was a performance artist, filmmaker, and writer. She was born in Pusan, South Korean in 1951. In 1961 her family emigrated to the United States where Cha attended a private Catholic high school in San Francisco, the Convent of the Sacred Heart High School. The influences of this period are highly present in Dictee. Cha later went on to study film at the University of California Berkeley and the Centre d’Études Américaines du Cinéma in Paris. In 1982, a week after the publication of Dictee, Cha was brutally raped and murdered. After her death, Dictee quickly went out of print due to its complex style and form. But with the growth of Asian American Studies in the 1990s, the text received renewed critical attention and a new edition was published. Dictee together with Cha’s strong body of work has gone on to inspire a new generation of artists interested in subjects of memory, dislocation and personal experience.
This session of the Feminist Duration Reading Group is led by Morgane Conti, who is currently completing a PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London, of women artists’ practices of self-representation in autobiographical and literary writings.