Deference And Reference Of Authorship In Dictee

2145 words - 9 pages

The back cover of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee describes the book as “A classic work of autobiography that transcends the self.” This phrase is self-contradictory. The Oxford English Dictionary defines autobiography as “an account of a person’s life given by himself or herself.” If it is indeed an autobiography, Dictee is unorthodox, because it discusses the accounts of several other people instead of focusing only on the author. Moreover, the variety of media in Dictee multiples the book’s unusualness. Identification of the plurality inherent in the material and structural levels of Dictee shows that the contradictions originate from considering Dictee as a ‘work’. Roland Barthes’s approach gives a more accurate description of Dictee, as a collection of self-deference. Yet, whereas Barthes claims the complete removal of the author from the text, Cha manages to assert her authorship by deliberately altering details in her text, as if her memories are blurry. Working with the pluralities in mediation and structure, Cha posits Dictee as the Text projected through the author’s memory.
Usage of various media throughout Dictee implies that interpretive reading on Dictee does not work. It is difficult to classify Dictee into one genre, because it blends several forms of writing, some quoted and others original. Moreover, the text’s plurality extends the written medium into the graphic realm. Instead of allocating images or texts separately, Cha interweaves them throughout Dictee. For instance, the Clio section begins with a photograph of Yu Guan Soon, followed by her biography, calligraphy of Chinese characters meaning woman and man, and an excerpt from a Korean history book. There are also a news article on Japanese forces in Korea, a petition from Koreans in Hawaii to the U.S. president, and Cha’s own comments on enemy and memory shown in both print and handwritten script. The author does not provide explicit connections between various media: images lack captions and quotations lack references. Most authors place captions next to images so that the images convey predefined messages, and references reduce the value of the quotations to their original authors’ intentions. Unrestricted of such connections, the material plurality impedes the reduction of the text into a single interpretation. This situation is ironical considering that Cha writes “This documented through, by the same means, (…) in the same style: the word. The image. (…) Neutralized to achieve the no-response, to make absorb, to submit to the uni-directional correspondence” (33). The style that Cha presents Dictee is unlike that of most other books, so interpretive reading, which is an activity of transmitting the ‘meaning’ from the author to the reader, confuses the reader. If the reader were to identify the authors’ intent, he would have to engage actively with the text. However, it is impossible to find a single point of convergence in Dictee.
Plurality at the structural level...

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