March 27, 2018KR BlogBlogLiteratureReading

The Legacy of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha: Part Two

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee paved the way for so many hybrid works that came after in subtle ways, but Mary-Kim Arnold’s Litany for the Long Moment (forthcoming April 2018) pays overt homage to Cha through its techniques (for instance its use of documents, photographs, school lessons, and letters) and inclusion of such quotes from Cha as: “My work, until now, in one sense has been a series of metaphors of the return, going back to a lost time and space, always in the imaginary. The content of my work has been the realization of the imprint, the inscription etched from the experience of leaving.”

In particular, Arnold’s focus on the way the work of photographer Francesca Woodman “consistently positions the female body as both an active producer of image and meaning, and as passive object, the receiver of gaze and of meaning” and her use of this quote from Rosalind Krauss on Woodman, “Always to insert her own body onto the field of the problem, to use it, understand it, as the ground of whatever sense the image might make, is the pattern that emerges throughout the problems sets that woodman undertook,” plays beautifully with Cha’s own focus on women watching and being watched.

In the Erato Love Poetry section of Dictee, for example, Cha’s female spectator character at the movie theater doesn’t merely contemplate this place of alternating white space and text; she climbs right in. She “enters the screen from the left, before the titles.” To feature the female film viewer as actually stepping into the movie screen from the very beginning of the Erato section of Dictee posits the reader, and especially the female reader, as being able to enter the text by way of the frequent white spaces or gaps that Cha leaves between letters, words, and pages

Cha thus empowers her female reader to act rather than be acted upon, to see rather than merely to be seen. Cha renders the transaction in which “you” the spectator become “her,” the film actor, explicit later in the section when, “Upon seeing her you know how it was for her. You know how it might have been. You recline, you lapse, you fall, you see before you what you have seen before. Repeated, without your even knowing it. It is    you standing there.” The space between “it is” and “you” is the one where you have apparently entered in order to enable this transaction in which you become her.

It is the white screen, the white page, the space between words in Dictee that allows the reader/viewer to enter what Cha describes in the Erato section as “the reticence of space the inner residence of space” to which Arnold pays such moving tribute.