Sunday, October 3, 2010


Theresa Cha's novel, Dictee, bears similarities to her own autobiography. Born in Korea in during the 1950s, she and her family were victims of the Korean War. Her family moved constantly, from Korea to Hawaii, from Hawaii to Northern California. During her stay in the United States, she studied at an all girls Catholic school. All of these bits of information contribute to her novel Dictee, which carries a theme of dislocation and fragmentation. In the opening pages of the novel, we see how Cha divides this novel into nine sections. We see the use of French and English; on some pages, there are words written in Japanese. Keeping in mind Cha's immigrant status, the incorporation of fragments and the variety of forms she chooses to include (whether it be journal entries, letters, news articles, photographs) in the novel focus on not merely a geographical dislocation, but also on a cultural and societal disconnect.

The first 59 pages for Monday's class include a collection of stories of Korean women during the time of the Korean revolution. From the inception, Cha uses the repetition of phases of "pain to speak," "pain to say" and "pain of speech." Throughout the stories Cha recalls, there is a limitation in the freedom of speech and the choice of one's language. How does the structure of the novel play a role in emphasizing the speaker's struggle of speech?

Similarly, on page 7 and page 11, she poses a similar quote but removes the words muse, goddesses, and daughter of Zeus. Throughout this first section we read, there are excerpts from the Bible yet she titles her nine segments with a Greek mythology character or Greek muses. What can we make of this?


  1. The first thing I noticed in _Dictee_ (which, incidentally, should probably be spelled "Dictée" since we're not writing in all caps, as the title does - because in French, accents normally aren't placed on capital letters... sorry for my nerdiness) was this "culture clash" that you mention. It reminded me a lot of _Mumbo Jumbo_ - a mix of tradition, language, and culture - but here, it's presented with a much more somber tone. In fact, to some degree, the two books are dealing with the exact same topic: the question of how the culture of a particular group should be present in a more global perspective. (Should those NOT sharing in a cultural tradition be able to learn from it anyway, or should the world just be divided into different cultural sects and we all remain within whatever boundaries we're born into?)

    It's interesting to me that in _Dictee_, some cultures seem to be able to "reconcile" with each other more easily than others. The author speaks both French and English, as well as Korean, and it doesn't seem like learning these Western languages has caused her emotional pain/strife. She has therefore been able to adapt at least a bit of these Western cultures and make them part of herself. Speaking Japanese, though, has much heavier connotations and is more difficult for her to accept. Obviously, Japan's treatment of Korea is a huge part of this differentiation - yet I still wonder whether Cha has been affected (either negatively or positively) by learning the English and French languages/cultures more than she's alluded to so far in the book.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. One connection I made between her use of excerpts from the bible and her use of Greek mythology was through her invocation of the muse. For example, Homer invokes the muse in his epic poetry and, in doing so, he asks the muse to speak through him to tell the story. In the bible (at least according to Catholic doctrine) the Holy Spirit is more or less invoked in the same way through the prophets/writers of the bible. Therefore, she seems to use the two things to repeat the idea of some sort of "third being" having a part in her story-telling (more specifically, you could say, a being that transcends specific earthly elements, such as time, mortality, etc - which are things that she also seems to be preoccupied with in the book).