Theresa Cha continues to be predominantly identified by scholars and critics with her experimental historical novel, Dictée, a trilingual (English, French and Korean) experimental novel that incorporates multiples genres of writing to explore Korean colonial and diasporic histories, mythologies of multiple generations of women, and the arbitrariness of language and representation. Since the early 1990s, some of the central motifs that have been explored in Cha’s work, through an impressive, substantive and rigourous body of scholarship primarily focused on Dictée, have included: “the links between language and subjectivity, colonialism and nationalism, and minority discourse and the transformation of hegemony,” as Lisa Lowe has described. Lowe also remarks that Cha’s novel thwarts traditional genres, themes and styles in ways that have both challenged and heralded a wide range of contemporary readers. Karina Eileraas describes Cha’s book as encompassing nationalism and transnational studies, sexuality, colonization, autobiography and visual culture. And in his recent book, Race and the Avant-garde: Experimental and Asian American Poetry since 1965, Timothy Yu underlines that even twenty-seven years after the original publication of Cha’s Dictée, it continues to unsettle established modes of reading and critical engagement. He maps the “strange history of its reception,” how critical attention was initially within experimental poetics circles upon its publication in 1982, but by the early 1990s, had been taken up by Asian American literary scholars, such as Lowe, Elaine Kim and Norma Alarcon, for its hybrid writing forms and transnational perspectives, with a particular emphasis on its narrative qualities and the historical elements from Korean history; this, claims Yu, was at the expense of Dictée’s more abstract experimental sections which occur later in the book. He concludes:
The paradoxical effect of Dictée’s canonization—and its presentation as a work that unified experimental forms and Asian American content—was to obscure the much more complex history of avant-gardism from which Dictée emerges, and to which Dictée is itself an eloquent testament. For Dictée is ultimately, I would argue, a divided text, one in which paradigms for reading Asian American and experimental writing are made visible and even, at times, brought into conflict with one another.The separation of Cha’s literary experimentations from her artistic and media practices have created an even more “divided oeuvre,” to follow Yu’s analysis, one that has, with some exceptions, largely overlooked and elided the relationships, overlaps and explorations that Cha was undertaking across different media.
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