Rewriting Hesiod, revisioning Korea: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee as a subversive Hesiodic Catalogue of Women.
Cha's feminist stance is best demonstrated probably in the intertextuality between Dictee and the Theogony by Hesiod. Hesiod individualized the Muses for the first time in the Theogony (1983a, ll. 77-79). He also gave them a prominent position in the poem: its proem is a kind of hymn to the Muses and describes their birth, functions, and blessings; the Muses are invoked for poetic inspiration at crucial points of the poem (1983a, 114-15, 965-68, 1021-22). In a similar vein, Cha lists the names and functions of the Muses right after the epigraph in Dictee (1995, n.p.). She goes on to mimic Hesiod's invocation of the Muses twice (7, 11). Moreover, the nine parts of her narrative proper are titled the names of the Muses. Despite these apparent similarities, however, Cha's imitation of Hesiod is rather off the beat. Her catalogue of the names and functions of the Muses is, to use Lisa Lowe's phrase, "unfaithful to the original" (1994, 39). (2) Furthermore, Cha deletes "Muse," "Goddess," and "daughter of Zeus" in her second invocation (1995, 11). Her reworking of Hesiod's Theogony was first noted by Shelley Sunn Wong, who cogently argued that Cha's "parodic re-uttering" of Hesiod's invocation of the Muses liberated the Muses from their bondage to "foundational discourses" and enabled them to "preside over historical and social constructs other than those dictated by Western and Korean patriarchal genealogies" (1994, 113-15). Later studies of the intertextuality between the Theogony and Dictee have also focused mostly on Cha's subversive rewriting of Hesiod's invocation and her feminist intervention in literary tradition and patriarchal order (Chew 1995, 235; Mix 1998,172-73; Oh 2002, 6). (3) But her subversive allusions to the Theogony are much more diverse, pervasive, and profound in Dictee. For instance, her Muses narrate the troubles and sorrows of women and make us remember the history of women throughout the world, in striking contrast to Hesiod's Muses who sing the glory of the gods and "soothe men's troubles and make them forget their sorrows" (1983a, 55). Likewise, Hesiod ultimately celebrates the rise of Zeus as the supreme god and the establishment of the Olympian patriarchy, but Cha recalls only Demeter from the Olympian pantheon and reenacts the goddess's resistance against Zeus's patriarchal tyranny and transcendence of her suffering with the establishment of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Indeed, one can read Dictee as Cha's feminist, subversive, and interventionist response to the call of the Theogony. The Theogony as it stands is incomplete, for its last lines are open-ended:
But now, O sweet-singing Olympian Muses, daughters of aegis-bearing Zeus, sing of mortal women. (Hesiod 1983a, 1021-22)
Hesiod's promised sequel to the Theogony was the Catalogue of Women, a song on the union of immortal gods and mortal women. Hesiod foreshows such a catalogue in the Theogony: "Semele, daughter of Kadmos, yielded to Zeus's lust, / and she, a mere mortal, is now the divine mother / of the dazzling and deathless god in whom many exult. / Alkemene gave birth to invincible Herakles / after she had lain in love with Zeus the cloud gatherer" (Hesiod 1983a, 940-44). We cannot know, however, the whole structure and scope of the Catalogue of Women, for the poem has been handed down to us in citations and papyrus fragments only. (4) No less problematically, we are not sure of the authenticity of the citations and fragments: most scholars argue that the extant citations and fragments of the Catalogue of Women seem to have been composed not by Hesiod himself but by later poets in the style of Hesiod. (5) What is clear from the citations and fragments, though, is that the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women is a song on mortal women who lay with gods and bore demigods and heroes, and includes in its celebration Alkmene, Atalante, Demodike, Europe, Io, Kallisto, Koronis, Kyrene, Mestra, Niobe, Pyrrha, Semele, Tyro, and other famous women of antiquity. Significantly enough, Dictee is also a latter-day Catalogue of Women, since the text is more than anything else a gallery of the portraits of women: a diseuse, Yu Guan Soon, Queen Min, Jeanne d'Arc, St. Therese of Lisieux, Hyung Soon [Huo] Cha, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Gertrud, Sibyl, Demeter, Persephone, Laura Claxton's sister, and Princess Pari. (6)
But there is a crucial difference in the representation of women between the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women and Dictee. The women in the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women are remembered and celebrated precisely because they are bearers of divine seed and mothers of heroic sons. Since they are honored fundamentally as the mothers of the heroes who were crucial figures in the genealogies of famous families, clans, and tribes, the women of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women are secondary figures who helped consolidate patriarchy and, in the last analysis, no more than the instruments of reproduction for the preservation of prestigious stemmata in the classical period of Greece. (7) In contrast, Cha's women vary widely from Greek goddesses to a Korean shamanistic matriarch and from historical figures to fictional ones. Most of them are unmarried and unable to fulfill their female potential as dictated by patriarchy. Even those few married women are remembered as the mothers not of sons but of daughters. Victims of patriarchy of one kind or another, Cha's women reject their roles prescribed by patriarchy and ultimately transcend the limitations of their lives by asserting their voices and/or through female bonding. (8) In short, unlike the poets of the Catalogue of Women who repeated and perpetuated Hesiod's masculinist prejudices, Cha with her portraits of "un-Hesiodic" women takes issue with Hesiod on the patriarchal, androcentric, and misogynist ideologies encoded in the Theogony.
More significant, Dictee is not a mere critique and revision of the Theogony and Catalogue of Women per se with a transcendent vision of femininity. After all, Cha negotiates with the classical Greek texts from her multiple positionalities as a postcolonial Korean American feminist writer. Cha's complex negotiation with the Greek texts is not so arbitrary as it might seem to be, since the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women unwittingly anticipated the postcolonial and feminist intervention of Dictee: the classical poems are teeming with proto-colonialist stories of wars and migrations, in which women are relocated to distant lands to serve as the means of genealogical connections with foreign peoples. (9) Naturally enough, Cha identifies the problematic dimensions of the classical Greek texts from the vantage point of the late twentieth century. Hence she reworks Hesiod and his tradition in order to (re)inscribe the lives of Korean (American) women and (re)vision Korean history and culture from a postcolonial feminist perspective. Indeed, Cha envisioned Dictee as "a historical and biographical narrative with [her] memories of Korea as the context in which nine women personages are depicted" (Qtd. in Cooley 1996, 205). Cha's strategy is double-edged, since it criticizes not only the Eurocentric masculinist worldview (tracing back to the Theogony) which has erased the history of Korea (Kim 1994, 4) but also the patriarchal history of Korea which has silenced the experience of Korean women. Thus Cha criticizes both Eurocentrism and patriarchy by anchoring her revisionary gaze firmly on the intersecting sites of, among others, gender, race, ethnicity, and nationality. Cha scholars have duly studied the cultural specificity of Dictee such as Korean history, Korean nationalism, Korean feminism, and Korean diaspora, etc., especially after the publication of Elaine H. Kim and Norma Alarcon's influential collection of essays, Writing Self, Writing Nation. Curiously enough, however, critics have rarely mentioned Queen Min, naively accepted Cha's biography ofYu Guan Soon, insufficiently studied Cha's rewriting of her mother's journals, and inadequately addressed the significance of Princess Pari. In order to fill up the gap in Cha criticism, I will focus on Cha's revisioning of Korean texts--historical records (on Queen Min and Yu Guan Soon), biographical fragments (Hyung Soon [Huo] Cha's journal), and cultural narrative (Princess Pari)--while studying her rewriting of the epic genre (epic invocation and women's exclusion), patriarchal linearity, and representation of Demeter in the Theogony.
Prior to studying Cha's feminist rewriting of the Theogony, we need to identify the patriarchal and misogynist dimensions of the classical text. The Theogony relates the birth of the multifarious universe and the genealogies of the Olympian gods. After the proem, Hesiod sings a matrilineal genealogy in which numerous female elements and deities, parthenogenetically or impregnated by male elements or deities, gave birth to progenies. The poet goes on to celebrate Zeus's patriarchal genealogy after glorifying the god's defeat of the Titans. Zeus consolidates his supreme rule and establishes his Olympian patriarchy by mating with female deities: Metis, Themis, Eurynome, Demeter, Mnemosyne, Leto, and Hera (1983a, 886-921). The Theogony is also about the evolutionary process from an amorphous and unruly universe to an ordered and civilized one. The stark contrast between the two universes is best represented in the two stemmata of Chaos and Zeus. The matrilineal genealogy of Chaos is crowded with beings born parthenogenetically. All the beings descended from the primeval female element are evil and have destructive qualities that plague human lives (123, 211-12, 223-31). Zeus fathered all his offspring through his "normal" unions with goddesses. The descendants of the heterosexual unions constitute the apparatus of a civilized world that established law, order, justice, and peace; guaranteed just and cyclical regularity; and promised splendor, joy, festivity, and prosperity (901-04, 907-08, 915-16). Thus the evolution from the genealogy of Chaos to the genealogy of Zeus is a progression from a chaotic matriarchal order to a civilized patriarchal order.
True, the two genealogies of Chaos and Zeus are figurative representations of Hesiod's cosmogony and theogony. Yet they unmistakably reflect the poet's misogyny (and homophobia). By identifying patriarchy with civilization, Hesiod justifies male dominance over women. Inevitably, the Theogony reflects a masculine suspicion of female power that might subvert patriarchy. After all, the first two patriarchies of Ouranos and Kronos were overthrown by crafty spouses and rebellious sons: Gaia conspired with Kronos and made him castrate Ouranos (1983a, 154-82); the matriarch also helped her daughter, Rhea, in the deception of Kronos and was instrumental in Zeus's defeat of Kronos (459-500). The examples of the scheming matriarchs provide a rationale to justify masculine domination over women: women, unless properly policed and controlled, could dismantle civilization represented by patriarchy.
Hesiod's misogyny is more pronounced in the story of the creation of women. Zeus hid fire from the mortals, after Prometheus had cheated Zeus by not giving him his rightful portion of meat at the sacrifice of Mekone (1983a, 535-64). Prometheus stole fire from heaven and gave it to mortals. When he saw mortals use fire, Zeus "contrived an evil for men." In compliance with Zeus's scheme, Hephaistos made "a modest maiden" from clay and, together with Athena, decorated her. Since she was sent to mortals as a punishment for the action of Prometheus on their behalf, the original woman was a "tempting snare / from which men cannot escape" (570, 572, 589-90). Her descendants, "wicked womenfolk," were no better. In short, women "live among men as a nagging burden": they "are no good sharers of abject want, but only of wealth." Hesiod goes on to compare women to "drones" that "contribute only to malicious deeds." In other words, women are thieves of the labor of men: they "stay inside in their roofed hives / and cram their bellies full of what others harvest" (591-93, 595, 598-99). Hesiod does not say how men were created, but he reiterates the humble and punitive origin of women: the first woman was basically "an evil" visited upon man and a curse he is doomed to live with (601). As the first woman was at best "a mixture of good / and bad" (585-86), so does her best descendant "of sound and prudent mind" make her husband spend his life "ever trying to balance / the bad and the good in her" (608-10).
True to the Hesiodic tradition, Dictee begins with a proem, "Diseuse," in which the speaker invokes Muse for inspiration and addresses the major themes of her narrative. Whereas Hesiod is a supreme diseur in the proem of the Theogony, Cha's diseuse struggles even to articulate herself in "Diseuse." The diseuse is an immigrant girl who "mimicks the speaking" of native speakers (1995, 3). She hesitates, stammers, stops, and starts again without success. Caught "in the weight of their utterance," she waits for a chance to speak "[w]hen the amplification stops" (4). At the pause of their utterance, she makes her own voice: "Uttering. Hers now. Hers bare. The utter" (5). Significantly, her first utterance turns out to be a subversive repetition of Hesiod's invocation of the Muses. Hesiod invokes the Muses at the end of his proem: "Tell me, O Muses who dwell on Olympos, and observe proper order / for each thing as it first came into being" (1983a, 114-15). As Wong pointed out (1994, 113-14), Cha's diseuse repeats Hesiod's invocation with a signal difference: "O Muse, tell me the story / Of all these things, O Goddess, daughter of Zeus / Beginning wherever you wish, tell even us" (1995, 7). By changing Hesiod's "observe proper order" to "Beginning wherever you wish," the diseuse "interferes with a historical practice which privileges origins and the idea of orderly patriarchal succession" (Wong 1994, 113). She also takes the representative voice of women by adding "tell even us" to Hesiod's invocation. With the new phrase, she betrays her anxiety over the precarious stance of the female speaker who appropriates the male tradition of epic invocation. Hesiod invokes the Muses after establishing himself as the true poet with a vision of his encounter with the Muses (1983a, 22-34). Without a comparable vision and self-confidence as the chosen of the Muses, Cha's diseuse implores Muse to "tell even us" (my emphasis), thereby suggesting that women were not the implied audience of the Theogony. Indeed, the cosmic misogyny, Olympian patriarchy, and mythological construction of women in the Theogony are so overwhelming as to cripple and ultimately dehumanize a woman reader of the poem. From this perspective, the diseuse's request to "tell even us" in the gender-specific section, "Diseuse," is both an indirect critique of women's exclusion from the Theogony and an ironically subversive declaration that she will tell "the story" fundamentally different from Hesiod's. Her "story / Of all these things," wherever she begins, will turn out to be the story of women who have struggled to regain their own voices and identities denied by the patriarchy and androcentrism of their cultures.
A case in point is the story of the diseuse in a Catholic church. The diseuse first mimics Hesiod at one more remove: "Tell me the story / Of all these things. / Beginning wherever you wish, tell even us" (Cha 1995, 11). Her second mimicry of Hesiod is clearly a symbolic gesture to affirm her further distance and ultimate difference from the male poet. Not surprisingly, her description of the first Mass on Ash Wednesday highlights the unbridgeable gap between a male priest and female communicants in the Catholic ritual. The priest "deciphers" the Bible, "invokes" the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and ultimately "becomes He. Man-God." In stark contrast, the female believers passively wait for the priest to give them the Host and to place black ash from the Palm Hosannah on their foreheads, with their knees bent, eyes closed, lids fluttering, and tongues pushed out. The only female utterance in the gender-stratified ritual is the memorized repetition of "Hosannah Hosannah in the Highest" and "Mea Culpa Mea Culpa" (13). Thus the diseuse emphasizes the exclusion of female communicants from "the 'Man-God' continuum" celebrated and perpetuated in the fundamentally male-identified Catholic rite (Lowe 1994, 60). As befits the immigrant girl who takes up the pause of native speakers, however, the diseuse opens up spaces at the pause of the formulaic confession and recitation of catechism for female utterance. While apparently following the formula of a confession, she immediately undercuts the formulaic answer of a devout Catholic by questioning it. She is almost sacrilegious when she is "making up the sins. For the guarantee of absolution" (Cha 1995, 16). She also unsettles the catechism itself and reveals its hidden agenda to teach orthodox beliefs of Catholicism. After playing almost endless variations on a formulaic response, she points out the folly of a woman uncritically reciting a formulaic reply: "Pleasure in the image pleasure in the copy ... pleasure in the repetition" (17). She goes on to ask ironically to "Acquiesce, to the correspondance. Acquiesce, to the messenger. Acquiesce, to and for the complot in the Hieratic tongue" (17-18). At this point, she reveals her subversive intention most clearly. Her mock confession "Into Their tongue" is nothing other than her "counterscript.... To scribe to make hear the words, to make sound the words, the words, the words made flesh" (17-18). The diseuse, who repeats Cha's yearning to "write words more naked than flesh" in the epigraph (n.p.), will multiply herself into all the other women in Dictee who have rejected the patriarchal injunction against women's voices.
While singing his cosmogony-cum-theogony in its "proper order" (1983a, 114), Hesiod privileges the linear narration of the history of the universe and divine world. Linearity has been the most favored mode of narration also in historiography. Yet Cha narrates modern Korean history nonchronologically in "Clio History." The section begins with a photo of Yu Guan Soon taken sometime between 1916 and 1919 when she was a student at Ewha Girls' School. It ends with a photo of three Korean peasants who, having pulled up the rails from the railroad track to protest against the Japanese seizure of their lands, were being executed by a Japanese firing squad circa 1905. In between the two photos, Cha deploys major events before and during the Japanese annexation of Korea: Japanese intervention in the Korean government just after the Sino-Japanese War in 1894; a foreigner's letter about the engagements between the Japanese army and Korean militia in the Korea Daily News of 24 September 1907; an article on Japanese soldiers' cold-blooded massacre of Koreans in the Korea Daily News of 26 September 1907; "Petition from the Koreans of Hawaii to President Theodore Roosevelt" dated 12 July 1905; and the anti-Japanese uprising at Aunae on 1 April 1919. The historical events are thus arbitrarily connected to each other by the fragments of Guan Soon's biography, which also defies chronology. Cha's nonlinear, cyclical, and layered narrative punctures, fragments, disturbs, and questions the apparently seamless surface of conventional Korean historiography. Since linearity was the most effective mode of narrating for Hesiod's patriarchal theogony, Cha's nonlinear narrative of modern Korean history ultimately reflects her critique of patriarchy in Korean historiography. Indeed, by focusing on Guan Soon, Cha criticizes and rejects the androcentric assumptions encoded in Korean historiography that has negated female roles and silenced female voices.
Cha not only redeploys but also arbitrarily rewrites historical events in "Clio History." She writes that the assassination of Queen Min ignited the March First Movement against Japanese colonial rule in Korea (1995, 30). Queen Min was murdered and burned to ashes by Japanese assassins in 1895, but the nationwide March First demonstrations broke out in 1919. It was the Japanese poisoning of King Kojong on 21 January 1919 that brought about the mass demonstrations for independence on 1 March 1919. One might wonder, then, why Cha situates the Queen at the origin of the 1919 Korean nationalist movement against Japanese colonialism. Queen Min was an independent-minded woman and resented the regency of her father-in-law. The Queen fought against the royal patriarch in the power struggle at the court and succeeded in effecting the Great Elder's retirement as regent. She was also an able diplomat when the declining Choson dynasty was vexed by foreign countries. She first looked to China for support in her country's relations with ever-encroaching great powers, and later tried to use Russia to counterbalance China and Japan. When she leaned toward Russia to forestall the ever-increasing Japanese intervention, Miura Goro, Japanese minister plenipotentiary, authorized an attempt on the Queen's life, code-named "fox-hunting." Japanese assassins fought their way into the palace, stabbed the Queen in the chest, and burned her body with kerosene on 8 October 1895 (K. Lee 1984, 268, 274, 280, 294; Cumings 1997, 121). Although Japan thus murdered the Queen to eliminate the first obstacle to its annexation of Korea, Japanese colonialist historians exploited the feud between the Queen and the Great Elder and blamed the Queen for her death and the fall of the Choson dynasty. According to them, the Queen invited her death and the downfall of the dynasty because she had rejected the guidance of the royal patriarch, her father-in-law. In other words, they argued, the Choson dynasty ceased to exist mainly because of the internal strife of the royal family caused by a most unfilial daughter-in-law, Queen Min. It was not a mere coincidence that the Japanese proverb, "when a hen crows, the house goes to ruin," (10) began to circulate in Korea from when Queen Min was at the helm of the court. In fact, the misogynist saying predicted and justified the inevitable collapse of the Choson court controlled by a woman. Thus colonialism and patriarchy went hand in hand in the Japanese colonialist rationalization of the colonization of Korea.
Japanese scholars took advantage of the androcentrism and patriarchy of Neo-Confucianist Korean society and willfully portrayed the Queen as a sinister and cunning figure in their colonialist history of Korea. But Cha rejects the patriarchal construction of Queen Min reflected in the Japanese popular saying and the Japanese colonialist historiography. She regards the Queen as the symbol of Korea colonized by Japan and situates her at the origin of Korea's nationalist struggle against Japanese colonialism. Cha sees the murder of the Queen as the real beginning of Korea's independence movement from Japanese influence. In fact, the Queen did serve as a catalyst for the Korean nationalist movement right after her death: her brutal murder was one of the major forces that aroused popular anti-Japanese sentiment throughout Korea and helped to create guerrilla bands against Japanese troops encamped on Korean territory (Lee 1984, 295, 300). From this perspective, Queen Min also exerted an invisible power behind the March First Movement, although the immediate cause for the independence movement was the poisoning of King Kojong. Cha's goal is, then, to reject the colonialist and patriarchal portrayal of Queen Min and to reinscribe the crucial role of the Queen in Korean historiography.
After rehabilitating Queen Min, Cha positions Yu Guan Soon in the tradition of the Queen. Naturally enough, in her portrayal of Guan Soon as a woman warrior, Cha not only denounces Japanese colonialism but also criticizes the androcentrism of Korean nationalists: "There is already a nationally organized movement, who do not accept her seriousness, her place as a young woman, and they attempt to dissuade her" (1995, 30). Cha's critique of the patriarchal androcentrism of Korean nationalism is first indicated when she states that Guan Soon "calls the name of Jeanne d'Arc three times" (28). In Dictee, Jeanne d'Arc is represented by a film still of Renee Falconetti from Carl Dreyer's 1928 film, The Passion of Joan of Arc. Significantly, the film centers on Jeanne's trial, which turns out to be a gender war between her and French ecclesiastic authorities supported by the British military. While interrogating her for any incriminating statement, the French clerical judges focus specifically on her claim of having heard voices from God and her male clothing with which she led male soldiers in battle. Her claim and clothes shock the male ecclesiastics of the Catholic Church, since the one deprives them of their exclusive authority of being the intermediary in the male-identified Church, and the other demonstrates that she has trespassed on God-ordained gender roles and moved out of the proper place of a woman and into the public sphere.
Guan Soon, popularly called the Jeanne d'Arc of Korea, was advised not to participate in the March First demonstrations in Seoul by her teachers because of her gender and age. After her return to her hometown, village elders also tried to dissuade the sixteen-year-old girl from organizing a popular demonstration, since her public display of patriotism was not in accordance with the gender code of Korean society. With the episode, Cha critiques the androcentrism of Korean nationalists who disregarded the role of women in Korea's nationalist movement. After all, the list of thirty-three national leaders who signed the Declaration of Independence on 1 March 1919 did not include a single woman. Cha resurrects women's role in the first nationalist demonstration in Seoul by reprinting, of all the photos of the March First demonstrations, one which features many women demonstrators in front of the Monument-Shelter on page 122. (11) No less significantly, Cha situates Guan Soon at the origin of the March First Movement contrary to history. Cha writes that Guan Soon was one of the "leader[s]" of the nation's mass demonstrations on "March 1, 1919" (1995, 30, 37). The March First Movement started with the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence in Seoul on 1 March 1919. The proclamation touched off nationwide mass protests that continued for months. And Guan Soon organized a demonstration at Aunae, her hometown, on 1 March 1919 by the lunar calendar, which was 1 April 1919. Nonetheless, Cha highlights the Aunae demonstration without referring to the Chinese system of marking time and revealing the place of the mass protest. Her manipulation of the time and place of the Guan Soon-led Aunae protest gives the false impression that the sixteen-year-old girl led the anti-Japanese mass demonstration in Seoul on 1 March 1919. Cha shrewdly manipulates the historical facts in order to situate Guan Soon at the origin of the March First Movement, to portray the "woman soldier" as an active agent of history, and to recenter the feminine voice from the margins of Korean nationalism (37). Thus Cha unearths female heroism personified in Guan Soon, revisions Korea's nationalist discourse, and writes an alternative history of Korea from a woman's perspective.
"Clio History" is the background of "Calliope Epic Poetry," which is Cha's extended critique and rewriting of the genre of the Theogony. Hesiod's poem is an epic about the process of Zeus's rise to power and establishment of his Olympian monarchy. The epic by definition is a long poem about the heroic deeds of great men. The epic hero has allegedly masculine qualities such as courage, heroism, virility, self-sufficiency, creativity, and militancy. The epic often centers on the rise of a nation, has national significance, and embodies a nation's own concept of its history, identity, ethos, and aspirations. According to M. M. Bakhtin, "the world of the epic is the national heroic past: it is a world of 'beginnings' and 'peak times' in the national history, a world of fathers and of founders of families, a world of 'firsts' and 'bests'" (1986, 13). Bakhtin argues that "the epic world of the absolute past is inaccessible to personal experience and does not permit an individual, personal point of view or evaluation" (16). The epic was at the summit of the hierarchy of poetic genres until the beginning of the Romantic period. Interestingly enough, Cha's "Calliope Epic Poetry" takes the form of her letters partly based on her mother's journals. Cha's use of letters and journals clearly reflects her feminist critique of the hierarchy of literary genres, since letters and journals, traditionally women's favored modes of expression, were not recognized even as "proper" literary genres in the past. Not surprisingly, Cha's epic is far from the national heroic past: it is the world of "middles" and "nadirs" in the national history, a world of mothers and daughters, and a world of "lasts" and "worsts." Moreover. Cha's epic world of the immediate past and the present is far from being "sacred and sacrosanct" (Bakhtin 1986, 16): the epic past is inextricably intermixed with the personal experience of a common woman and is (re)interpreted by her daughter.
"Calliope Epic Poetry" is a family saga of the victims of Japanese colonialism and American neocolonialism. The epical saga of the Cha family spans over three generations. The first generation was deracinated from Korea and relocated to Manchuria when Japan invaded and occupied their homeland. After the U.S. military intervention in Korea, the second generation returned to their homeland and later emmigrated to the U.S. One daughter of the third generation visits Korea only to find her difference from her compatriots and to confirm her status of permanent exile. Like a typical epic, "Calliope Epic Poetry" is written with a strong sense of national identity and destiny, since the family's experience is inextricably tied to the recent history of Korea. Ironically, however, the section is epical only in the continuity of the sufferings of displaced and diasporic Koreans. If there is a national ethos during the period of Japanese colonialism, it is that of waiting, supremely represented by the song "Bong Sun Flower" (12) and the hymns "[f]rom the Misere to Gloria to Magnificat and Sanctus" (Cha 1995, 46). Unlike typical epics, naturally enough, "Calliope Epic Poetry" does not praise the victorious advance of the Japanese imperial army and/or American occupational forces in Korea. Rather, it focuses on the destiny of those people defeated and subjugated by the invading forces. Cha's shift of focus from the colonizer to the colonized in colonial sites problematizes the colonialist dimensions of an epic that praises the birth of an empire. By highlighting the other side of the epical adventures and giving voices to the victims of epical heroes, Cha ultimately critiques the blindness of masculinist militarism and enlarges epic conventions to incorporate the experience of the vanquished. (13) After all, "From another epic another history. From the missing narrative. From the multitude of narratives. Missing. From the chronicles. For another telling for other recitations" (81).
With "Calliope Epic Poetry" about and by women of colonized and postcolonial Korea, Cha situates herself in the tradition of the women writers who "self-consciously reformulated epic conventions to suit their female vision and voice" (Friedman 1986, 203). Like Elizabeth Barrett Browning and H.D., Cha moves woman from the "margins of the epic to its very center of action," thereby positioning her at "the center of consciousness," redefining the heroic "in female terms," and making the personal public (Friedman 1986, 217). This is best shown in the description of her mother's illness and recuperation. Hyung Soon [Huo] Cha writes in her autobiographical essay that she suffered from acute pneumonia while working as a teacher in Manchuria (1997, 135). (14) But she mystifies her mother's pneumonia by naming it an "illness" vaguely and describing it with strikingly biblical images. One Friday, fever and chills possess Hyung Soon's body. She gives in to "the fall to the lure," and "dark fires" rise to engulf her with "coaxing" (1995, 50). She has a nightmarish dream, in which she is tempted by three women with "a large dish of food" (52). As Kristina Julie Chew argues, the episode clearly recalls Persephone's eating of the seeds of a pomegranate offered by Hades (1995, 213-14). But Cha compares the three women's offer of food specifically with Satan's three temptations of Christ as is described in Matthew 4.1-11. At the same time, she alludes to the Temptation of Christ at the banquet scene in Milton's Paradise Regained. After the Night of Dream, Christ moves and sees "a pleasant grove, / With chant of tuneful birds resounding loud." Suddenly a "seeml[y]-clad" Satan appears and addresses him "with fair speech." The Devil shows Christ a table laden with dishes of sumptuous food, and invites the hungry Christ to eat the gorgeous food. But Christ contemns the pompous food and rejects the temptation (Milton 1968, 2.285-405). Cha feminizes the epical struggle between Christ and the Tempter by transforming the masculine agon into a feminine struggle between Hyung Soon and the three temptresses. In so doing, Cha portrays her mother with the same epical grandeur and significance with which Milton endows Christ. By rejecting the food, Christ overcomes Satan's temptation to deprive him of his identity as the Son of God. Cha renders her mother's illness and recuperation as an epical ordeal and triumph in a similar vein. (15) Hyung Soon's recovery symbolizes that she has managed to maintain her identity as a Korean under Japanese colonial rule that not only ordered Koreans to change their Korean names to Japanese ones but also prohibited Koreans from speaking their mother tongue. Little wonder, then, that her overcoming of the temptation in her dream has more than private significance: her recovery from pneumonia presages the ultimate independence of Korea from Japanese colonialism: "No more sentence to exile, Mother, no black crows to mourn you (1995, 53).
Cha's last dispute with Hesiod is over the representation of Demeter. In the Theogony, Demeter is mentioned only as one of the illustrious children of Rhea and Kronos and as the mother of Persephone (Hesiod 1983a, 454, 912-14). But Cha gives a more privileged position to Demeter in Dictee. She mentions Demeter first in "Melpomene Tragedy," where the goddess is yoked to Sibyl: "Demeter and Sibyl" (1995, 88). While discussing Cha's pairing, Stephen-Paul Martin argues that Demeter represents "the destruction of nature" and the Sibyl represents "the suppression of depth-consciousness" (1988, 197). Yet Martin's claim does not explain why Cha pairs the two female figures. In Ovid's Metamorphoses, the Sibyl of Cumae predicts that the time will come when she will "shrivel to almost nothing," "[w]eigh almost nothing," and be "known by voice alone" (1983, 14.148-49, 155). The Cumaean Sibyl will meet such a miserable ending because she rejected Apollo's amorous attention. Apollo offered her anything in exchange for letting him take her, "still virgin" (14.133). When she asked for as many years of life as the "sand-grains" in a nearby "heap of sand," the god granted her the years and promised "endless youth if he could have" her (14.136, 138, 141). But Sibyl ultimately refused Apollo. Exasperated at her rebuff of his flirtatious advance, Apollo punished her with the fulfilment of her wish--eternal life without eternal youth. Sarah B. Pomeroy reads in the episode of Sibyl more than the vulnerability of the mortal woman who received a god's amatory attention. For Pomeroy, Sibyl is a heroic woman, since she "refused to yield to a male and attained a triumph of self-assertion" (1995, 11). Like Sibyl, the "[d]iseuse de bonne aventure" (Cha 1995, 123), Demeter refused to acquiesce in Zeus's patriarchal arrangement of the marriage between Persephone and Hades and won a partial victory in her war against Zeus, as is well described in the Demeter-Persephone myth.
Hesiod narrates only the beginning of the Demeter-Persephone myth in the Theogony:
After Zeus slept with Demeter who nurtures many, she bore white-armed Persephone, whom Aidoneus snatched away from her mother with the consent of wise Zeus. (Hesiod 1983a, 912-14)
Significantly, Cha continues the myth from where Hesiod stops in "Elitere Lyric Poetry":
Dead time.... Let the one who is diseuse. Disease de bonne aventure. Let her call forth. Let her break open the spell cast upon time upon time again and again. With her voice, penetrate earths floor, the walls of Tartarus to circle and scratch the bowl's surface. (Cha 1995, 123) Let the one who is diseuse again sit upon the stone nine days and nine nights. Thus. Making stand again, Eleusis. (130) Let the one who is diseuse, one who is mother who waits nine days and nine nights be found.... Let the one who is diseuse, one who is daughter restore spring with her each appearance from beneath the earth. (133)
Cha starts with Demeter's vengeance on Zeus and Hades. Demeter retreats to her temple and prevents the plants from growing. The "[d]ead time" describes the havoc wreaked on nature. Without the sacrifices from mortals, the Olympian gods are not remembered and in a sense become "Dead gods. Forgotten. Obsolete. Past" (1995, 130). The goddess calls forth Persephone, breaks the spell, and penetrates into the underworld, with her voice. She wields her power against Zeus and Hades, sitting upon the stone nine days and nine nights. (16) Demeter ultimately retrieves her daughter from Hades and celebrates the return of Persephone with the inauguration of the Eleusinian Mysteries, one of the most important mystery cults in antiquity and the archetypal image of mother and daughter. Cha's evocation of Demeter and Persephone and ultimate identification of the two goddesses exactly follows the "Eleusinian vision" which recognized "the duality of the questing one and the found one" and "opened up a vision of the feminine source of life" (Kerenyi 1991,147). Cha not only completes the Demeter-Persephone myth but also reenacts the key episodes of the myth by starting the sentences with "Let." In a sense, she makes the reader an initiate in the Eleusinian Mysteries and permits the reader to experience the crucial phases of the Mysteries from an imitatio Cereris to the "visio beatifica of the epopteia, the epiphany of Kore" (147).
While completing the Demeter-Persephone myth, Cha relies heavily on the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Indeed, the italicized passages of "Elitere Lyric Poetry" constitute the gist of the Hymn to Demeter. The poet of the Hymn to Demeter emphasizes Demeter's grief and rage at Zeus's arbitrary and violent severance of the matrilineal link, her conditional victory over Zeus and Hades with the return of Persephone, and the ultimate transcendence of her suffering with the institution of the Eleusinian Mysteries. As such, the Hymn to Demeter puts the mother-daughter relationship at the center of its narrative. At the same time, female bonding beyond one's own family is central to the Hymn to Demeter. Women, divine or mortal, show strong affections and sympathy for one another. Hekate hears Persephone's cries and comes to tell Demeter about them, and then goes with her to ask Helios for more information (Foley 1999a, ll. 51-63). Keleos's daughters--and later their mother Metaneira--comfort the disguised Demeter whom they meet at the Maiden's Well (ll. 105-223). An old woman, Iambe, gives Demeter a stool, casts over it a silvery fleece, and cheers her up by telling her jokes (ll. 195-205). When Persephone and Demeter are reunited, Hekate stays beside them and embraces Persephone (ll. 438-39). Thus the Hymn to Demeter reaffirms the female bond that includes not only Demeter and Persephone but also Demeter's mother, Rhea, and Hekate; and ends with the institution of the Eleusinian Mysteries based on the crucial phase of female experience.
In a sense, Cha pits the Hymn to Demeter against the Theogony in order to challenge the patriarchal assumptions reflected in the male-generated text. Demeter resists the idea of her daughter's marriage, which was arranged by her husband without consulting her and her daughter. She goes on to fight against the patriarchal authority of Zeus in her own way: withdrawing into her temple, she uses her power over agriculture to bring back her daughter from the world below. Far from being a passive victim of patriarchy, Demeter is an active agent of her life who challenges Zeus's patriarchy and makes the supreme patriarch alter his decision and restore Persephone. Helene P. Foley compares Demeter's struggle to win Persephone back from Hades with the heroic quest exemplified by Achilleus and Odysseus. Foley argues that the female version of the heroic quest is "defined by issues relating to marriage and fertility" and ends with "a cyclical reunion and separation that also mitigates 'death'" (Foley 1999, 104). More significant, the scholar claims that "whereas the Theogony views female wrath and rebellion as dangerous and disruptive to the divine order and potentially devastating to humanity, the Hymn to Demeter emphasizes the creative and positive outcome of Demeter's nevertheless disruptive and dangerous wrath" (116).
In "Polymnia Sacred Poetry," Cha seems to rewrite Demeter's meeting with Keleos's daughters at the Maiden's Well. Tired from her wandering, Demeter in the disguise of an old woman sits on a road near the Maiden's Well at the outskirts of Eleusis. The daughters of Keleos find her as they come to fetch water. They ask her who she is and why she has left the city. After replying that her "honored mother" named her Doso, Demeter tells a "Cretan tale" and asks whether she can find a job as a nurse. With their mother's permission, the daughters take the goddess to their house (Foley 1999a, 98-186). In Cha's rewriting, the apparently postmenopausal old woman becomes a girl, and the four young maidens become a young woman. The equally tired girl approaches a well at the outskirts of a village where the young woman draws water. The woman asks the girl what she is doing far away from home. The girl answers that she is on her way back from the neighboring village on a quest for remedies for her sick mother. The woman gives the girl special remedies for the girl's sick mother and instructs her how to prepare and serve the medicine (1995, 167-70).
However, as Walter K. Lew first noted (1992, 14-21), "Polymnia Sacred Poetry" is Cha's rewriting not only of the Hymn to Demeter but also of Princess Pari. Princess Pari is an epical shamanistic narrative on the birth, tribulations, and deification of Princess Pari, the ancestress of Korean shamanism. Princess Pari, the seventh daughter of a king, was abandoned right after birth by her father simply because she was a girl. When she learned 15 years later that her parents had fallen fatally ill, however, she volunteered to go on a perilous journey in search for medicinal water from the Mountain of Three Gods in the Western Country. She overcame all difficulties on her way to the Mountain of Three Gods. On arriving at her destination, she met a Taoist supernal being who guarded the site of the medicinal water. Learning the purpose of her visit, the supernal being asked her, as a payment for the medicinal water, to draw water for three years, to stoke up a fire for three years, and to cut firewood for three years. After serving him for nine years, she was urged to marry him and bear him seven sons. She fulfilled all the obligations and brought back the medicinal water only to find her parents already dead. But she brought her parents back to life with the medicinal water and later became the first shaman to guide the spirit of the dead to the other world. (17) Princess Pari is a syncretic text and incorporates elements of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. But its most prominent moral is filial piety, the cardinal virtue in Confucianism. As such, the narrative reflects patriarchy, son preference, and misogyny.
Cha meets the challenge of Princess Pari and reworks the sacred narrative of Korean shamanism. She not only secularizes the sacred narrative but also downgrades its protagonist: the myth is narrated out of its shamanistic context; the protagonist is not a princess but an unidentified girl. More significantly, she problematizes and revises the key episodes in the shamanistic narrative. She deletes the royal couple's abandonment of the seventh daughter to die and is silent on the poetic justice of their illness stemming from the crime. With this deletion, Cha subverts the apparent moral of the shamanistic narrative: unconditional filial piety. Confucianism dictates that one should serve one's parents regardless of any parental transgression. Hence, Princess Pari volunteers to search for the medicinal water despite the fact that her parents abandoned her. She undertakes the perilous journey to the sacred realm, for she still feels grateful to her mother for "the ten months" inside her womb (Pae 1997, 139). In contrast, Cha simply writes that the girl takes a daylong journey "to take back remedies for her mother who [i]s very ill" (1995, 169). Cha also transforms the Taoist supernal being drastically. The Taoist supernal being permits Princess Pari to bring back the miraculous water to her parents only after she fulfills her duty as a woman dictated by the patriarchal society: she carries out all the domestic works assigned to women such as drawing water, stoking the fire, and cutting firewood; she marries the Taoist being and bears him seven sons. In other words, Princess Pari accomplishes her mission only with the help of the male figure. The fact that Princess Pari's husband is a celestial being symbolizes the essential difference between men and women inscribed in the narrative. In her version, however, Cha transforms the Taoist supernal being into a woman, who does not ask for any hard work as the price of her special remedies. The woman gives a bowl of water for the girl to drink and, learning the girl's mission, voluntarily proffers her medicine for the girl's mother. Thus, while deleting androcentric dimensions of Princess Pari, Cha emphasizes the girl's love for her mother shown in her daylong journey and female solidarity connecting the girl, her mother, and the woman. (18) Strikingly enough, the celebration of the intimate mother-daughter relationship and female bonding makes "Polymnia Sacred Poetry" another version of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and a Korean American feminist contraposition to the fundamentally androcentric Demeter-Persephone myth in the Theogony.
Hesiod was a son of an immigrant father from Aeolian Kyme in Asia Minor. Pressed by grim poverty, his father left his hometown and settled in Boeotian Askra near Mount Helikon. Hesiod remembers his father's life before and after immigration in the Works and Days (1983b, 633-40) and celebrates Helikon near his hometown in the Theogony (1983a, 1). Cha was a daughter of immigrant parents from Korea. Her parents left their politically unstable motherland and settled in California via Hawaii. She recalls her mother's life in Manchuria and Korea before her family's immigration but says almost nothing about her adopted country in Dictee. Thus both the Greek male poet and the Korean American female writer inscribe their family history in their works with a signal difference. The difference in their orientation informs the vision of their texts definitively: whereas the Theogony is a male-identified text, Dictee is female-identified. At the fountainhead of Western culture, the Theogony has exerted an enduring influence on the development of Western thought. One of the problematic legacies of the poem is its patriarchy and misogyny. Naturally enough, Cha takes issue with one of the founding fathers of Western patriarchal discourse on his misogyny and reworks the Theogony with a feminist twist in Dictee. Cha's rewriting of the Theogony is precisely what Adrienne Rich calls "re-vision," "the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction." For Rich, the "new critical direction" is "a feminist impulse" which will enable women to read the writing of the past in order to "break its hold" over them (1975, 90-91).
Cha rejects Hesiod's reading of women and presents a community of women in her subversive Hesiodic Catalogue of Women. Cha's women span a broad period of history and occupy several nationalities. Some of them are biologically linked: Demeter and Persephone, Princess Pari and her mother, and Hyung Soon and Cha. Cha valorizes supportive and reciprocal ties among mothers and daughters: Demeter retrieves her daughter from Hades; Princess Pari secures medicine for her sick mother. One can also find a close affinity among the female figures who are not related by blood. Guan Soon invokes the name of Jeanne d'Arc. St. Therese de Lisieux plays the role of Jeanne d'Arc in a play and wants to follow in the martyr's steps. The disease's experience in the Church repeats St. Therese's experience in Italy. "The Portrait of ...," the filmic text in "Erato Love Poetry," is juxtaposed with excerpts from St. Therese's autobiography. The heroine of the cinematic narrative is also compared with Gertrud, the title role of Dreyer's Gertrud. As St. Therese was prohibited from entering the inner cloisters of a Carmelite monastery (1996, 105), so is her namesake, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, questioned as to why she is returning to her own motherland (1995, 57). Cha makes such parallels among the historical, mythical, and fictional women, since she finds striking correspondences in their lives. Indeed, a woman's life speaks for all in Dictee: one woman's life is "a circle within a circle" and all the women's lives are "a series of concentric circles" (173). From this perspective, Cha's nonlinear narrative technique is a most appropriate one, for, as she makes clear in her "Artist's Statement," its "focus is in producing Multiple Telling with Multiple Offering" (n.d., n.p.).
Cha delves into the lives of the women and searches for a universal meaning that runs through their lives. Most of the women share a common dissatisfaction with the role of women in the face of patriarchal assumptions encoded in mythical texts, nationalist ideology, religious instruction, cultural interpellation, and colonial indoctrination. In other words, their voices have become "Dead words. Dead tongue. From disuse. Buried in Time's memory. Unemployed. Unspoken" by "the spell cast upon time upon time again and again" (1995, 133, 123). Their central project is, then, the search for recognition and identity in a male-dominated cosmos. Hence the significance of their will to resist the roles prescribed by their cultures, to live through their difficulties and limitations, and ultimately to triumph over the patriarchy of one kind or another. The oppositional voices of the women coalesce into the voice of the Korean American Cha. While situating herself in the female tradition that transcends familial, religious, national, and temporal boundaries, the Korean American writer focuses on the experience of colonized and postcolonial Korean (American) women. Cha valorizes the experience of Korean (American) women, since she finds there the path for the future of mankind: as Cixous sees "the history of all women, as well as national and world history" in one woman's personal history (1997, 352), so does Cha, while visiting the politically turbulent Korea of 1980, see the future of the world in "the great presence of women, the woman's space, the woman holding the weight of all Asian societies" (Qtd. in Lewallen 2001, 10). (19)
(1) See Mix (1998, 178-79), for other comparison of Cha and Cixous.
(2) Hesiod does not distinguish the Muses' specific fields of creative endeavors in the Theogony.
(3) Wong and Oh discuss the significance of Cha's alteration of Euterpe into Elitere (Wong 1994, 115; Oh 2002, 3).
(4) The most complete critical edition of the extant remains of the Catalogue of Women is Merkelbach and West's Fragmenta Hesiodea.
(5) For example, West suspects that the last hundred lines or so of the Theogony and the Catalogue of Women seem to be "a coherent but posthumous continuation of Hesiod's work" (1985, 28).
(6) One might add to the list an unidentified woman whose blood is sampled in "Urania Astronomy," an unnamed woman who appears in "Melpomene Tragedy" and "Erato Love Poetry," the anonymous heroine of the cinematic narrative in "Erato Love Poetry," a nameless woman in "Thalia Comedy," and an unidentified girl in the epilogue. Out of the ten sections of Dictee, only "Terpsichore Choral Dance" does not have a discernible female figure, although we might assume the voice of the poetic prose to be female.
(7) I am heavily indebted to West for my summary discussion of the Catalogue of Women.
(8) For similar views, see Wolf and Martin. Wolf observes that Dictee is at least on one level "a story of women, their suffering and transcendence of suffering" (1986, 13). More specifically, Martin argues that Dictee is arranged "around images of patriarchal repression and recurring moments of feminine transcendence" and is based "on examples of matriarchal power" (1988, 118).
(9) See West (1985, 29, 84-85, 144, 149-50, 152, 156, 158-59, 161).
(10) Whereas the Japanese proverb can be traced back to an older Chinese one, the misogynist proverb could be found in many Western countries as well. See Thiselton-Dyer (1906).
(11) The shelter built in 1902 houses a monument commemorating the fortieth anniversary of King Kojong's coronation.
(12) "Bong Sun Flower" (lyric lines by Hyung-Joon Kim and music by Nan-Pah Hong) is a Korean song published in 1920. Since Bong Sun flower (touch-me-not) is emblematic of Koreans under Japanese oppression in the song, Japanese colonial authorities prohibited Koreans from singing the song.
(13) See Wong (1994, 115-17) and Mix (1998, 170-73) for other discussions of Cha's critique of the epic in Dictee.
(14) In the essays published in Korea, Hyung Soon recalls her life as a colonized woman in Manchuria, a war refugee in Korea, and an immigrant in the U.S. Her essays are shot through with themes one can find in Dictee: Japanese colonialism, Korean nationalism, national division, the Korean War, diaspora, immigration, languages, translation, identity, and gender discrimination, etc. And her sorrow and han over the tragic and untimely death of her daughter, Theresa Hak Kyung, are scattered throughout her text (Cha 1997, 11-12, 31-35, 45, 80-81, 141-43, 158, 170, 175, 198). Incidentally, although Theresa Hak Kyung Cha uses her mother's natal surname "Huo" in the Notes to Dictee (n.p.), the Korean American Hyung Soon assumes her husband's surname "Cha" in the title page of her Korean text.
(15) Cha's portrayal of Hyung Soon's rejection of the food also critiques Milton's misogyny as reflected in the epic, since Milton compares Satan's splendid food with "that crude apple that diverted Eve!" (1968, 2.349) and contrasts Eve's fall for Satan's simple temptation to Christ's rejection of a much more powerful temptation of Satan.
(16) Here Cha relies on, among others, Bulfinch's version of the Proserpine myth: "At length, weary and sad, [Ceres] sat down upon a stone, and continued sitting nine days and nights" (Bulfinch n.d., 48).
(17) Adapted from Pae (1997, 1:117-49). See Pettid (1999, 249-98) and P. H. Lee (2002, 298-330) for the best English translations of the shamanistic narrative.
(18) For other readings of Princess Pari and/or Korean shamanism in "Polymnia Sacred Poetry," see Stephens (1986, 210), Wilson (1991, 37), Shih (1997, 156-57), Lin (1997, 161-62), and M.J. Lee (1999, 46). Cha first retold the Korean shamanistic myth of Princess Pari in the Korean American literary tradition, and seems to have influenced Nora Okja Keller's rewriting of Princess Pari in Comfort Woman. See K.J. Lee (2004) for Keller's use of the motif of Princess Pari.
(19) I am grateful to Ewha Chung, Min-Jung Kim, Hyungji Park, and two anonymous readers of College Literature for their insightful comments on the earlier versions of this article. This essay was supported by a Korea Research Foundation Grant (KRF-2002-041-A00492).
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Kun Jong Lee is professor of English at Korea University, Seoul, Korea. He has published articles on ethnic American literature in African American Review, CLA Journal, Early American Literature, PMLA, and positions: east asia cultures critique.
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|Author:||Lee, Kun Jong|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2006|
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