October 24, 2012
I’m getting ready for the World Humanities Forum, held next week in Busan, South Korea. So I’ve been thinking about Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, born in 1951 in Busan.
She immigrated with her family to the U.S. in 1962, majored in art as well as comparative literature at Berkeley, and then went on to France to study film theory with Christian Metz, Raymond Bellour, Thierry Kuntzel. She was raped and strangled to death in New York by a security guard on November 5, 1982, just 7 days after the publication of her book, Dictée.
She could not have known about the end, and yet there was something abstract and vicarious about her presence from the first. Dictée is not an autobiography in any strict sense: it is a ventriloquized story of several women, some mythic, some not – Demeter and Persephone, Joan of Arc, the Korean revolutionary Yu Guan Soon, Cha’s mother, born to exiled parents in Manchuria, and Cha herself. This collage does not represent her, does not pin her down to a single human shape, and perhaps that’s the point. The original cover of the book features only rocks. My favorite image of her is a still from her 3-minute short, “Re Dis Appearing,” with several hands cradling a bowl, reflected, mirrored.
These images are now readily available online, 30 years after her death, much more than during her lifetime. On Tumblr, her work is attached to the faces of others, people who thread and thread her writings and weave their own stories into hers.
Posthumous life can be sheltering.