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Dictee [Paperback]

by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Paperback, September 28, 2001 --  
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Book Description

September 28, 2001 0520231120 978-0520231122 1st Calif. pbk. ed
Dictee is the best-known work of the versatile and important artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951–1982). A classic work of autobiography that transcends the self, Dictee is the story of several women: the Korean revolutionary Yu Guan Soon, Joan of Arc, Demeter and Persephone, Cha's mother Hyung Soon Huo (a Korean born in Manchuria to first-generation Korean exiles), and Cha herself. The element that unites these women is suffering and the transcendence of suffering. The book is divided into nine parts structured around the Greek Muses. Cha deploys a variety of texts, documents, images, and forms of address and inquiry to explore issues of dislocation and the fragmentation of memory. The result is a work of power, complexity, and enduring beauty.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's work of poetry Dictee has received due critical attention (most recently from poet Juliana Spahr), her artist's books and other art works are less well known. Dictee will be re-released this October, along with The Dream of the Audience, a book documenting a travelling exhibition dedicated to the Korean-American Cha (1951-1982). In addition to excellent reproductions of Cha's handbound texts and images from her performances, the book includes essays by Berkeley Art museum curator Constance Lewallen, Whitney Museum of American Art curator Lawrence Rinder and critic and filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


"Reads like a secret dossier, stuffed with epistles and pictures, religion and dreams." -- Village Voice Literary Supplement

Product Details

  • Paperback: 179 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1st Calif. pbk. ed edition (September 28, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520231120
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520231122
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #668,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profoundly nuanced, challenging, powerful. March 28, 1999
By A Customer
This book baffles me but I can't help coming back to it time and again. It makes my brain turn flip-flops and, in doing so, realize faculties of thought, imagination and empathy that I never knew existed. Cha's work is amazing, original, extremely insightful and interesting, bleak, defiant. As college reading lists "discover" the works of Asian American women writers (many of whom, like Amy Tan, are immensely popular but regularly problematized by scholars in Asian American studies), Theresa Cha must not be overlooked or forgotten.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moments of Clarity May 8, 2001
By Ken
The poet Charles Simic says, "Long drawn-out works conflict with the fragmentariness of our consciousness. What is recorded in a notebook is the sense of the unique and unrepeatable experience of the rare moments of clarity."
Dictee is this kind of book, a collection in nine parts of mixed writing styles including short passages in French and English, jounal entries, stories and dreams, even a handwritten letter. And more. Theresa Hak Cha's book, which has been callled both fiction and autobiography, also contains photographs, film stills, diagrams, and other black and white images. "Electic" only begins to describe the structure and style of Dictee.
Cha's writing doesn't come without risk--Dictee seems thematically and structurally difficult. But it's with this style, actually a process-of-writing style, that Cha shows us how her mind works. It's in her "fragmentariness" that elements of profound meaning rise to the surface, what Simic meant by "rare moments of clarity." Cha's imagination on the page, her explorations into language and poetic lyricism--with connections to nationalist and feminist themes--help us feel her genuine struggle with Korea as a victim of the Cold War. This message is her legacy; it's a kind of Presence in her writing. And we sense her triumph.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cha's "Dictee" a Journey Worth Taking December 17, 2002
The autobiographical work of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, "Dictee," is both a challenging and unique experience to read. Her provocative blend of prose, poetry, narrative and historical pieces, among other genres, reveal a voice that purposely avoids a "typical" patriarchial discourse that is refreshing although disarming. Her words, contextually somewhat difficult for the (this) reader not previously aware of the complexities and truths of Korean history (both in Korea and America), are at once powerful and insightful...poetic, yet raw. Cha is able to use her gift to offer a glimpse into one woman's history and journey; one that ended much too soon on this planet for this talented artist.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Review of Dictee December 12, 2002
By A Customer
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee is well crafted, yet difficult. It examines life experience from the perspective of Korean women.Poetry, narrative and other text structures are employed. Language is used forcefully and in thought provoking ways to build the unique form of this book. Dictee poses questions and provides a lens from which to view the Korean immigrant experience, as well as, the history of political struggle in Korea. Reading Dictee is a wothwhile experience that will expand a reader's vision.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dictee - Theresa Hak Kyung Cha February 21, 2012
In total ignorance, just happened upon "Dictee" at a local garage sale. Incredible blessed find! Beyond others' benedictions, only to note that the prose-poem aspects of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's writing offer IMHO a useful and liberating meditation on language and thought and the ever-shimmering hallucinogenic bond and border between them. A marvelous work.

If you're reading "Dictee" as an obligatory Asian lit assignment, you might pass through it in dismissive haste, like speeding through Mecca en route to a shopping spree in Abu Dhabi. Allow yourself time with Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An Ear-Ache and a Mind-Ache October 15, 2012
Of course the elephant in the room here is that Dictee is considered important for reasons that have too little to do with the book itself. Outside academic circles and among other folks "in the know," with PhDs in Art Theory and Post-Colonial-Feminist-Classicist-Whozeewhatsit, I think you'll be hard-pressed to find any real reader who'll tell you this book deepened their appreciation or understanding of life or the medium of words, which is what literature is supposed to do. If it's not doing that, it's spinning its wheels.

There's no question that this young author was a tremendous talent and a great intellect, and sadly her early death foreclosed on her maturing into an important literary artist with any command of form, utility of formal tradition, unifying vision, etc. Dictee doesn't evince the "difficulty" of Henry James' The Golden Bowl so much as the chaos of Ezra Pound's unreadable Cantos.

Or contrast the randomness of Dictee to the beautifully managed wildness of Keats's Ode on a Nightingale. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying she should have been Keats. We can't realistically ask that of anybody. But we do and should have our models.

As a painter friend of mine likes to say, "If you need a degree in art theory to appreciate a painting, it must not be a very good painting."
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
As occurs in other genres of 'ecriture feminine', this text experiments rather than controls. It is a dictee, but does not dictate.

Throughout Dictee, so unlike the narratives of domestic "realism" or poems of pastoral experience that continue dominate the American majority market not to mention the sterile formalism of deconstructive language writing, this other haunting the poem is primarily "the mother."

But this means dictations from the mother tongue all the more so, Korean writing and speaking as if displaced and spoken from afar in San Francisco and Honolulu or, worse, yet, New York City and Paris through the art worlds.

Korean, not French, not English. These others inhabiting the voice laden text of Dictee, as if dictating to and speaking through the self dispossessed narrator, are at first the Muses, but seemingly desiccated into an estranged cast of classical genres and sacred codes: Clio/History, Calliope/Epic Poetry, Urania/Astronomy, Melpomene/Tragedy, Erato/Love Poetry and so on.

This Greek cast records an estrangement, a fall into language and genre as other and later. Sappho, too, is invoked as a first mother, a muse, a poet of the sublime urging emulation, worship, but threatening uncanny (un-homely) disaster on the home-front of the poet's fragile one small- voiced life.

Lessons as "dictations" abound, as the force of language is instrumentalized and lost from godhead or feminine possession in childhood, as later brutally estranged from higher auspices or any pretense of truth: "The people of this country are less happy than the people of yours" (8), reads one glibly colonialist language lesson.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely Hybrid Book
Cha takes the reader to a word with odd syntax and diction, with lovely imagery and sounds. This book is a great read. Read more
Published 1 month ago by AshleyC
2.0 out of 5 stars Condition and fast delivery good
Well this book was a bit confusing. If you like a challenge well then this book is for you. The best part was the images, aside from quick delivery that I needed it ASAP for a... Read more
Published 15 months ago by MiiMii
5.0 out of 5 stars Woah
Buy this book. Trust me. Flip through it a little, it's a fun book to look at. Don't start reading it yet. Let it sit on your shelf for a while. Remember it. Read more
Published 16 months ago by towercity
1.0 out of 5 stars Chaotic and Painful
As a piece of art perhaps it would work, but as a piece of literature it stands as a scathing indictment of postmodernity, in love with its own disjointed voice. Read more
Published 19 months ago by S. Dean
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful invention
You don't have to be Korean , or a woman, or have rare patience for "difficult" prose to enjoy this invention. Read more
Published on December 30, 2011 by Samuel Pound
1.0 out of 5 stars Contemporary Art in Book Form
I read this book for my Asian American lit class and found it excruciating painful to read. It's certainly inventive, but that's the only positive thing I can say about it. Read more
Published on July 26, 2007 by A. Hong
5.0 out of 5 stars an amazing work
Dictee is a seminal work that has strongly influenced those poets lucky enough to have read it in the decades since it first appeared. Read more
Published on February 13, 2007 by anonymous
5.0 out of 5 stars Reflection of woman
This book is confusing, frustrating, consuming and utterly breathtaking. It is a shattered mirror w/ pieces of riddles, poetry, cold photos of mothers and unsung heroines &... Read more
Published on March 17, 2005 by Scribbling Ibis
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book...
This has to be one of the most unusual books I have read. The layout of the whole book is a peice of art by itself. I bought it using a coupon from UnderTag. Read more
Published on November 5, 2004 by Cheap Shopper
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