The Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal

A Premier Humanities Research Journal at the University of California, Berkeley

Spectator Manifested Discursive Resistance in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée

Faye Marie Mankowske


Korean American artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s work was influenced by the cinematic techniques and themes of Danish film director Carl Theodor Dreyer. In works by both artists one can find concerns with the articulation of speech, with historicization, and with the struggles of a subjugated party against a dominating discourse. This paper investigates these concerns as they manifest in both Cha’s work and Dreyer’s films, with a particular focus on structural and topical interrelations between Dictée and Dreyer’s silent film, La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc. With consideration of the cinematic strategies present in Dreyer’s writings and in La Passion de Jeanne d’ Arc, as well as of writings by theorists W.J.T Mitchell, Christian Metz, and David Bordwell, the paper attempts to delineate the creation of a successful spectator manifested discursive resistance in Dictée.

The attraction of experimental literature lies in its ability to defamiliarize the ordinary, to puzzle and intrigue with presentations of objects that are either distorted or outside of any anchoring familiar context. This tactic demands the attention of the viewer. It forces interrogation precisely because these objects frustrate, they do not yield readily apparent answers, solid meanings, or fit into any familiar classification. Their reticence to be easily identified and understood obscures their agenda and problematizes the subjects that they present. An example of such a strategy exists in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s work of experimental literature, Dictée.

The articulation of speech is problematized in Dictée in a section titled “Urania” after the Greek muse of astronomy, where the speech organs are diagrammed on a page across from text that depicts the articulation of sound through these organs:

One by one.

The sounds. The sounds that move at a time

stops. Starts again. Exceptions

stops and starts again

all but exceptions.

Stop. Start. Starts.

Contractions. Noise. Semblance of noise.

Broken speech. One to one. At a time.

Cracked tongue. Broken tongue.

Pidgeon. Semblance of speech.

Swallows. Inhales. Stutter. Starts. Stops before

starts (Dictée 75).

It is not readily apparent when reading this fragmentary passage what is happening. Viewing the text in collaboration with the image across from it helps clarify the context of the passage (Fig. 1). The image diagrams the organs of speech, and positions the text as resulting from the operation of these organs. The phrases “stops” and “starts”, in relation to the image, refer to the stopping and starting of the speech organs in their production of sound. With this simultaneous presentation of both text and image the viewer understands that the text depicts an attempt to speak, yet the agenda of this passage seems oblique. The viewer searches for the creation of meaningful speech and for a discourse to engage with. The text doesn’t succeed in speaking, and in its failure it is unable to establish a discourse that the viewer can participate in. Instead, by deconstructing the act of speech, the passage highlights and problematizes the production of discourse.

Dictée proceeds with a similar strategy of viewer frustration through the avant garde techniques of defamilarization and deconstruction. Written by the Korean American artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictée is a work that problematizes reading. Its bricolage structure contains elements not easily agglutinated, mixing both written and extra-textual components, including narrative fragments, poetry, diagrams, photographs, and film stills. The placement of these disparate elements beside each other, separated by white space, with no explanatory transition between them forces the reader to interrogate their spatial relationships as well as their content to discern meaning. The discursive voices presented by these elements are individual and varied. The effect is a cacophony of simultaneous bids for viewer attention that leave a viewer frustrated, but intrigued by the common concerns that manifest through the widely disparate pieces.

Cha’s numerous works share an overriding concern with spatiality, and with the structures of language in particular. In an artistic statement she explained the overall goals of her structurally varied works, “My video, film, and performance work…are explorations of language structures inherent in written and spoken material, photographic, and filmic images — the creation of new relationships and meanings in the simultaneity of these forms” (Lewallen 9). The earlier passage of text explored the mechanical operations of the physical origin of the spoken word, by depicting the organs of speech attempt articulation. Cha’s work problematizes attempts to speak in other media also, her film Mouth to Mouth is one example, where the image of the mouth of a speaker enunciating Korean vowels dissolves into video static between each shot.[1] Again, the rupturing of speech into fragments stymies the production of discourse and frustrates the viewer’s attempts to engage with the work. The persistent and frustrated manifestation of a desire to speak and an equally frustrated spectator desire to access a discourse that they can engage with is common to these two works, as well as to much of Cha’s oeuvre.

In its foregrounding of spatial structure, the text of Dictée resembles the structural patterning of discourse found in Carl Theodore Dreyer’s silent film La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc. Depicting the trial and execution of Joan of Arc by a group of judges led by Bishop Pierre Cauchon, the film consists largely of dialog exchanges between Joan and her interrogators. La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc establishes a discursive structure composed of two specific objects, images and intertitle frames, which are alternated to deliver the dialog occurring in the film. This alternation of image and intertitle objects creates a patterned spatial discursive framework that the viewer must interrogate in order to piece together the discourse of Joan and her judges.

The structural resemblance between Dictée and Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc is deliberate. During her time at Berkeley, Cha was an usher at the Pacific Film Archive, where nightly screenings of foreign and experimental structuralist films likely introduced her to the films of Carl Theodore Dreyer, in whose work she became intensely interested (Lewallen 2). References to Dreyer’s films appear in Cha’s work, including stills from Dreyer’s Vampyr in Cha’s text and image work Commentaire, and references to Gertrud in Dictée (Dictée 108). Cha’s works often incorporate film stills from La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc. For example, her photography art piece Other Things Seen, Other Things Heard includes close up shots of Joan’s eyes and mouth (Fig. 3), as well as a picture of a cinema screen depicting a close up of Joan from La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (Fig. 4). In Dictée references to La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc become part of discourse. For example, two martyr figures in Dictée specifically invoke Joan, the Korean revolutionary Yu Guan Soon (Dictée 28), and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (Dictée 117). A film still of Maria Falconetti as Joan in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc also appears in Dictée (Fig. 5).

This focus on Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc in Dictée is due to the concerns and techniques that both works share. Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée both problematize the expression of individual speech that is subjugated by a dominant collective discourse. Additionally, both works make this issue visible in the same way, by presenting the dominant discourse as a spatial structure composed of fragments, and by creating disjunctive breaks in the continuity of that discourse. These breaks in the dominant discourse make the spectator aware of the discourse itself as a subjugating force, since a second and subjugated voice struggles to speak from within these positions of rupture. In La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc this voice belongs to Joan, and in Dictée this voice occupies varied subject positions.

Beyond portraying this struggle for speech by a subjugated party, both Dictée and La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc problematize the false historicization of the subjugated party by the dominant discourse. Having portrayed this subjugation through the method of creating ruptures in the discursive structure, both works use Dryer’s cinematic techniques to manifest a solution that expresses a new discursive resistance. This point of resistance is most effectively realized in Dictée through the use of Dreyerian cinematic techniques, in a cinematic narrative section of the novel.

Common Problems Identified in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc and Dictée

An investigation of Dreyer’s cinematic philosophy establishes the context in which he problematizes discursive subjugation. Influenced by the tenet of German Expressionism that focused on highly psychologized narratives, the Danish director’s work often sought to expose the psychological realities of his characters, what he called their “inner, not outer life” (Dreyer, “Thoughts” 1). Of his cinematic goals, Dreyer said, “What I look for in my films, what I want to do, is to penetrate, by way of their most subtle expressions, to the deepest thoughts of my actors” (Milne 85). His techniques were influenced by the methods of French avant garde cinema that focused on the use of apparatal techniques such as framing manipulations and close-ups to express interior psychological states. Dryer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc exemplifies Dryer’s philosophy and his cinematic methodology by using these apparatal techniques to create the spatial structure in the film that allows the dominant discourse to be problematized.

La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc is constructed of two specific types of spatial elements that deliver discourse to the viewer, image and intertitle. Intertitles are frames of printed text that were a fundamental component of silent cinema, their text was used to narrate the story, give dialog lines, or to comment editorially (Sklar 52). The two elements, close-up image and intertitle text, are presented in an alternating sequence in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc. Dryer uses the resulting arrangement to deliver the dialog between Joan and her interrogators, by alternating images of the characters speaking with the intertitle text that translates their speech for the spectator. The spectator sees a character speaking first, and then reads the written text of their speech. This alternation, between image and intertitle creates a patterned spatial framework of elements that the viewer is left to interrogate in order to piece together the discourse of Joan and her questioners. The fact that La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc is a silent film emphasizes this spatial method of discursive delivery.

Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc is unique in that it was a film made deliberately silent in a period in cinematic history when sound was making its segue into cinema, both in France and worldwide. By 1930 the conversion to sound was largely complete in the global film industry (Sklar 174). The availability of sound technology to Dreyer suggests that his decision to make La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc silent was an artistic one. Indeed, he seems to have approached the use of sound in film with caution. Dreyer was still considering the place of sound in cinema as late as 1943, with his release of Day of Wrath. In the essay “A Little on Film Style”, the director discusses his stylistic approach to sound and image in film in the context of Day of Wrath:

Sound films have an inclination to push pictures to the side and give the spoken words priority. In many of the sound films there is talk; no – chatter –all too much, while the eyes are seldom given permission to rest on a good picture effect. Meanwhile, film people have forgotten that the film first and     foremost is a visual art, first and foremost directs itself to the eye, and that the picture far, far more easily than the spoken word penetrates deeply into the spectator’s consciousness (Dreyer 128).

This quote reveals Dreyer’s persistent concern with penetrating to a deep psychological level in his films, this time into the spectator’s consciousness. Dreyer’s suggestion that sound distracts from this process is likely related to his decision to keep La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc silent.

Dreyer’s decision not to use sound in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc encourages a greater interrogative effort by the spectator, as they are entirely dependent on the spatial image and intertile structure to deliver the content of the discourse between Joan and her interrogators. Also, it is when the continuity of this spatial mode of delivery starts to break down that the spectator becomes suspicious of the dominant discourse. This breakdown begins in the first scene of the film. As the judges assemble in the courtroom Bishop Pierre Cauchon is shown reading a scroll out to the assembly (4:01)[2]. Neither Cauchon’s reading nor his first question to Joan are translated via intertitle. The first speech translated in the scene is Joan’s oath, “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth…” (4:40), and the first piece of dialog represented by intertitle is Joan’s first answer to Cauchon, “In France I’m called Joan…” (5:09)[3]. The spectator, having had earlier exposure to the intertitle text that establishes the premise of the film, is baffled with the film’s failure to provide a mechanism with which they can understand the dialog.

With the breakdown of the spatial mechanism of discursive delivery in the film, the spectator’s level of interrogative involvement increases, as does their suspicion of the dominant discourse created by Pierre Cauchon. Faced by the episodic disintegration of the dialog between Joan and her interrogators, the dominant discourse of the judges who control the dialog of the trial begins to become incomprehensible and untrustworthy. For example, that Cauchon’s reading is the first untranslated speech, while Joan’s oath is the first articulation that is translated, alienates the spectator from the dominant discourse of the judges while allying them with Joan. The spectator is aware even before the end of the first scene that intertitles cannot be depended upon to give them the authentic discourse of the trial. This awareness prompts the spectator to a greater level of cognitive involvement in the film, in the absence of sound or intertitle they need to actively figure out what is being said.

As the spectator struggles to find a discourse that is trustworthy, they become aware of Joan’s frustrated desire to speak, signified by the increasing use of close-ups of the emotive face of Falconetti. These close-ups of Falconetti increase in frequency and duration as Dryer’s montage becomes increasingly imagistic and spatially disjointed. The initial disconnect between intertitle and spoken word that is established in the first scene is exacerbated as the discourse between Joan and her judges breaks down more frequently, causing the delivery of comprehensible discourse to the spectator to become increasingly tenuous. As this discursive breakdown proceeds, the close-ups of Falconetti struggling with emotion become the center of the spectator’s interrogations, as they search her expressions of longing for the articulation that the rest of the film fails to provide. Joan’s desire and failure to speak seems all the more urgent as the dominant discourse becomes increasingly fragmented. It is Joan’s urgency, combined with the increasingly fragmented and incomprehensible structure of the dominant discourse, that makes the spectator shift their trust from the dominant discourse to the articulative efforts of the subjugated Joan.

The depiction of an urgent struggle to speak within the confines of a spatially fragmented structure is also apparent in Dictée, as the earlier reading of the passage from “Urania” has shown. The repetition of the phrases “stops” and “starts” implies repeated urgent attempts to speak in the midst of a fragmented discursive framework. The failure to produce discourse in this passage is not due solely to the stopping of speech signified by the repetition of the phrase “stops”, but to the overall fragmentation of the text itself. When read aloud, the effect of the fragmentation of the passage is demonstrated. The fragmentation of the text into single words and short phrases creates a frequent stopping of sound that stymies the transformation of these sounds into speech. This failure to produce speech, because it occurs in a spatially fragmented context, draws attention to the inability of the material apparatus itself to articulate speech. The fragmented structure of the text itself is the dominant impediment to articulation, not the repeated appearance of the phrase “stops”. The entire passage is prevented from creating discourse by the imposed spatial fragmentation of its structure. The desire to speak is present, but the material means to speak is impeded by the overlay of a subjugating structure of fragmented discourse. As in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, the reader is left struggling with an unintelligible discursive structure interrupted by the presence of a subjugated speaker with an urgent desire for speech.

The breakdown in discursive continuity in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc and Joan’s discursive subjugation is paralleled in Dictée by the figure of the diseuse. In Dictée, the voice of the diseuse conveys the desire to speak in perhaps the most poignant lingual struggle depicted in the work:

She mimics the speaking. That might resemble speech. (Anything at all.) …

It murmurs inside. It murmurs. Inside is the pain of speech the pain to say…

She allows others. In place of her. Admits others to make full.

Make swarm. All barren cavities to make swollen.

The others each occupying her (Dictée 3).

That the content of her mimicry is described as something which “might resemble speech” subverts the possibility that her act of recitation contains her own authentic speech. Words are imposed on her, and she merely reflects these without them being an expression of her own personal meaning. The text “Admits others”, and “Make swarm” create the image of bodily invasion by these imposed words, and the references to the diseuse becoming “full” and “swollen” reinforces the physical violence of this invasion. This image of the diseuse’s subjugation and struggle is Dictée’s textual equivalent of Dreyer’s frequent and extended close-ups of Falconetti, a character who is rendered speechless by the invasion of a dominant discourse is pictured in her moment of painful longing to speak.

Both Dictée and La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc portray the subjugation of a character by the imposition of a dominant discourse in order to reveal a concern with false historicization by this repressive discourse. Dreyer makes this issue visible in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc by portraying the writing of the historical document as the means by which oppressive discourse becomes historical reality. The film initially establishes its purpose as to “discover the real Joan” (3:35), and presents the trial record from the Bibliotheque de la Chambre des Deputes in Paris as the apparatus that will reveal this discovery. In this document, Dreyer claims, “The questions of the judges and Joan’s responses were recorded exactly” (3:27)[4]. The film initially positions the trial record as the source of the absolute historical truth about Joan’s character and her trial. Subsequent depictions of the trial record show the document being written as a historical record of the discourse of the trial. Yet the film gradually erodes viewer confidence in the trial record’s authenticity, and its credibility as an unbiased depiction of Joan and of the history of the event.

Dreyer’s film proceeds to destroy this faith in the trial record as the source of historical truth about Joan by adapting a disjunctive discursive style that increasingly subverts this initial assertion. Firstly, the fragmentation of Pierre Cauchon’s dominant discourse prompts the spectator to distrust this discourse, as already discussed. The creators of this dominant discourse are also those who are creating the trial record, prompting spectator suspicion in the credibility of the trial record as well. The political situation of Joan’s trial in 1431 did warrant that some healthy skepticism be applied when evaluating the trial record. The political value of the event to the English who brought Joan to trial was based on proving her guilty.

Joan’s cognizance of the power of her interrogators and their trial record to falsely represent her is depicted in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc. During her trial she repeatedly looks to her left, where a scribe records the trial minute under the direction of the judge d’Estivet, a violently hostile opponent (26:42 and 27:46). Joan’s face registers anxiety in response to seeing this transcription occurring (27:49)[5], an anxiety that becomes increasingly acute through the remainder of the scene, as multiple bouts of Cauchon’s yelling are untranslated and counterpointed by Joan’s pleading, indicating the breakdown of discourse between Joan and her interrogators. Joan seems fully aware of the potential of the document to falsely represent her, since it is a record written in collusion with the discourse of her oppressors. The discourse of her oppressors becomes history through its recording as document.

In Dictée, a narrative based on the contents of the journals of Cha’s mother, Hyung Soon Huo, also describes the imposition of foreign speech in a historical context, the subjugation of Korean language by Japanese colonialization. A female figure, perhaps of Cha’s mother, is living in Manchuria in an unsuccessful attempt to escape the Japanese occupation (Dictée 45). Japanese is the mandatory language, and Korean is forbidden (Dictée 45). The assault of Japanese speech on the female subject is described:

No drought to the extentions of spells, words, noise. Music equally

Out of proportion. You are yielding to them. They are too quick to

arrive. You do not know them, have never seen them, but they seek

you, inhabit you whole, suspend you airless, spaceless. They force

their speech upon you and direct your speech only to them (Dictée 50).

The lingual assaults physically invade the subject, they “inhabit her whole”, and immobilize her. The word “extentions” refers to an action of a forcible straining or stretching, and in archaic usage also implies a distention or swelling of the body. In this way, the invasion of words is cast as a bodily act of violence. The physical forcing of speech upon the subject and the subsequent control of her speech in reply is an act of imposition by dominant discourse that is reminiscent of the similar discursive subjugations of the diseuse.[6]

In addition to the subjugation of Korean exiles by foreign speech, Dictée also depicts the false historicization of a people by an imposed text. This issue surfaces in the section of Dictée titled “Clio” after the Greek Muse of History. The revolutionary figure Yu Guan Soon dominates the narrative, which describes conditions under the Japanese colonialization of Korea. The frivolity of Japanese decrees are ridiculed:

One ordinance created a constitution, and the next dealt with the status of the ladies of the royal seraglio. At one hour a proclamation went forth that all men were to cut their hair, and the wearied runners on their return were again dispatched in hot haste with an edict altering the official language. Nothing was too small, nothing too great, and nothing too contradictory for these constitution-mongers (Dictée 29).

By presenting the creation of a constitution in the same climate as an edict mandating the hierarchy of the royal harem, the passage belittles the credibility of the constitution, and by association, the credibility of the dominant discourse that created it, the imposed Japanese language.

Yet, frivolous and insubstantial as it is depicted, the Japanese language imposed upon Korean subjects controls their identities, it is the force that directs the actions of their lives and the one that creates the documents of their history.[7] Japan is described as having become, “The alphabet. The vocabulary. To this enemy people” (Dictée 32). Japanese language and culture create the sole discursive framework for Korean subjects. The historical record that the Japanese colonizers create is generic, it fails to depict the realities of Korean subjugation, “To the others, these accounts are about (one more) distant land, like (any other) distant land, without any discernable features in the narrative, (all the same) distant like any other” (Dictée 33).

The danger of historicization by the occupier is that the historical document becomes genericized. History written by an occupier omits the realities of the oppressed subject. The text further elaborates that the document is designed to invoke a particular response, “The response is pre-coded to perform predictably however passively possible. Neutralized to achieve the no-response, to make absorb, to submit to the uni-directional correspondence” (Dictée 33). The desired response to the generic historical document is the passive acceptance of the actions and agenda of those who write this history. This no-response can be interpreted as a justification of oppressive action, and as a submission to the dominant discourse. In this way, historical documents can be skewed towards maintaining conditions of subjugation. The key danger of dominant discursive structures in both La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc and Dictée is their ability to create a totalizing history while erasing difference and suppressing resistance to their dominant agenda.

The Cinematic Solution

In both La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc and Dictée, the key to escaping the imposition of dominant and subjugating discourse and the false historicization that it creates is for the subjugated voice to occupy a position of rupture in the dominant discursive structure, and launch a resistance. These events of rupture and resistance occur at multiple points in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, including at a point where Falconetti portrays Joan’s longing for Communion, a film still that’s reproduced in Dictée (119). This still occurs across the page gutter from a section of poetry that also concerns itself with escape from discursive subjugation (Dictée 118). In Dictée these two pages are set in collaboration, they both are excerpts of a cinematic narrative in which a subjugated character has reached a point of discursive resistance. This similarity is deliberate. Dictée has managed to enable one of its subjugated voices to escape the bounds of dominant discourse and occupy a position of prolonged articulative resistance, and the novel has done this by following the cinematic strategy that achieves the expression of Joan’s resistant voice in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc.

Dreyer’s strategy for expressing Joan’s resistant voice in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc requires an application of several specific avant garde cinematic techniques in succession. The first is the rupture in dominant discursive structure that has already been demonstrated in the film. La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc next creates a point of temporal and spatial stasis that allows for the opening of a new space for discursive emersion. This space is occupied by both the viewer and the subjugated character concurrently, allowing the subjugated discourse to occupy the perceptual space of the viewer. This joint occupancy enables the viewer to become the agent who manifests this subjugated discourse. In this way Dictée ruptures the dominant discursive structure and escapes its subjugation, while simultaneously making the viewer’s involvement instrumental to the emergence of resistance. Discussion of how Dictée arrives at this solution will investigate how Cha’s text manifests strategies corresponding to Dreyer’s methods of creating discursive rupture and temporal and spatial stasis in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc while considering applicable ideas relevant to visual theory. After this discussion, Dreyer’s cinematic techniques for expressing discursive resistance in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc will be applied to Dictée’s most effective point of discursive resistance, the cinematic narrative across from the film still of Falconetti.

This discussion should begin with the admittance that Dictée is clearly not a cinematic work in the material sense, it is a printed piece of experimental literature. Yet the reader interrogates and interprets the work in much the same way that they do a film. Spectator involvement in a cinematic mode is a recurrent theme in Cha’s work, in her text and image work Commentaire, for example, the reader’s experience of flipping through alternating black and white pages, as well as film stills from Dreyer’s Vampyr, and pictures of white movie screens (Fig. 9) mimics the spectator’s experience of viewing a film. Cha saw the spectator’s involvement as of paramount importance to her cinematic-style works. In the preface to the film theory anthology that Cha edited, Apparatus, she defines her goal for the work to “serve as an object not merely enveloping its contents, but as a “plural text” making active the participating viewer/reader, making visible his/her position in the apparatus” (Cha Preface).[8] Cha’s intent to make the spectator occupy a participatory position is also communicated by the photograph inside the front cover of Apparatus, which is of the audience space in the theatre, the seats (Fig. 10). The strong hypnotic effect that film has in immersing its viewer in the medium makes a cinematic approach the most effective method by which the spectator’s awareness of themselves as part of the apparatus of the work can take place.[9]

In the written text of Dictée, the key to creating a transformative space that will allow the spectator to become aware of their own visibility and position in the apparatus of the work is to create a spatial plane within their mind in which the elements of the work can exist and interact as virtual objects. In this space cognitive links are formed between the material apparatus of the work (the text on the page, or the film stills), and the perceptions of the spectator. These links have a concrete existence in this internal cognitive space, and they prompt transformative insights in the spectator. One can envision the formation of this spatial plane occurring in Dictée in much the same way that it is depicted by W.J.T. Mitchell in his essay, “Spatial Form in Literature: Toward a General Theory.” Mitchell’s goal is to elucidate the role of spatial form in the cognitive processes of reading and analysis, with specific regard to the functioning of spatial form in epistemological structures (Mitchell 272). Mitchell presents ideas in this essay that are key to how Dictée creates a moment of physical transformation of textual object to perceptive object in the mind of the reader.

Mitchell asserts that the physical spatial form of the work “is the perceptual basis of our notion of time” (Mitchell 274). The spectator’s interpretation of the physical elements of the work (both written text and image) creates a perceived temporal reality in which they experience the discourse of the work. In this way the sections of written text and the images in the work produce a sense of a structure of time being present in the work (Mitchell 276). The sense of the progression of this time can vary from the impression that time is advancing in the work to a state of temporal stasis. This construction of a cognitive representation of time allows the physical and spatial form of the work to control the spectator’s perception of time. The French film theorist Christian Metz also discusses the spatial quality of cinematic narrative in Film Language.[10] Metz describes cinematic narrative as a “temporal sequence” (Metz 18), one that is produced by the movement of the accumulation of frames in succession (Metz 19). Metz and Mitchel both envision the creation of a temporal reality via the manipulation of spatial elements by a cinematic apparatus; in Metz’s case this apparatus is the movie projector, while in Mitchell’s it is the spectator themselves.

The slowing of perceived time is an essential technique to La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, and it is the use of the cinematographic apparatus that enables the film to reach points of temporal and spatial stasis. Dreyer, commenting on criticism that his films were unnecessarily slow, answered, “But you will notice that in general important events do not take place in an atmosphere of tumult. People say that my montage is slow: it isn’t the montage; it’s the movement of the action. Tension grows out of calm” (Milne 127). The editing, or montage, is not deliberately slow, states Dreyer, the “movement of the action” driving the rhythm of the work is slowed down. This movement of the action is the force that creates the temporal and spatial reality of the discourse of La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, and calm, when it occurs, manifests as a point of temporal and spatial stasis in this discourse. In La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc this stasis is created when repetitions of the same frame occur for extended periods of time. These held images are always close-ups of Joan, creating a singe focal point around which time is briefly suspended. One such moment of stasis in the film is represented by the still of Falconetti on page 119 of Dictée.[11] In La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc this image of Joan longing for Communion is held for ten seconds (1:11:49). The movement of the shot is stopped, creating the suspension of time, and the image is static, creating a rupture in the spatial discursive framework of the film.

Dictée frequently creates points of perceived temporal stasis and spatial rupture in the same way, by the repetition of text on the page. In doing so the work suspends the attention of the reader around a fixed point in space and time, a rupture in discourse. One of the examples of this process is the passage visited earlier, from “Urania”, which demonstrated the breakdown of the apparatus that produces speech. As well as marking a point of spatial and cognitive rupture in the delivery of speech, as already discussed, this passage also create a perception of temporal stasis. The repetition in this passage of the phrases “stop”, “start”, “starts” (Dictée 75) is a contextual manipulation of time, the reader automatically associates these words with temporal movement, and so reading them impacts the perception of temporal progression that the reader has constructed for the work. In this temporal context, the phrase “Stops before starts” (Dictée 75) leaves the reader in a brief position of temporal stasis, as something that stops before it has a chance to start is likewise in a state of inactivity.

Though Dictée repeatedly fragments space and time and creates points of discursive rupture, the work doesn’t succeed in creating a persistent manifestation of discursive resistance until the cinematic narrative that occurs in “Erato”. This cinematic narrative positions the reader as a spectator, viewing a film whose object is a subjugated female character, a wife. The wife is absent but mentioned, as the spectator first views the wife’s house and then enters it, in her absence:

The title which carries her name is not one that would make her anonymous or plain. ‘The portrait of…’…With the music on the sound track you are prepared for her entrance. More and more. You are shown the house in which she lives, from the outside…Then you, as a viewer and guest, enter the house. It is you who are entering to see her (Dictée 98).

This cinematic narrative next jumps from an image of the inside of her house to the image of a speaker articulating words with the textual and spatial link, “The arrangement of her house is spare, delicate, subtly accentuating,…ing the words” (Dictée 99) that acts as a discursive link between adjacent pages (Fig. 12).

The spatial positioning of these two discursive fragments is divisive, by breaking them across adjacent pages, but the repeated “ing” on the second page echoes the “ing” in the word “accentuating” and functions to link the two discourses together. From this contextual link the reader gets the perception that they are still in a cinematic space, that they are still viewing the same film. This narrative requests the speaker to slow the articulation of words, and then to repeat them:

For   a   second

time. For another time…For   a   second   time.   For

another time. Two times. Together. Twofold. Again.

And again.    Separately,    together.  Different place.

Same times. Same day. Same Year. Delays, by hours.

By night and day. At the same time.   to    the    time.

twice. At  the  same  hour. Same time. All  the  same

time. At the time. On time. Always. The time (Dictée 99).

This passage displays repeated patterns of spatial form and content that create the brief perception of temporal stasis for the reader. The repetition of “time” in the phrases “another time” and “second time” slow the progression of perceived time. Additionally, the repetition of the phrases “same time” and “Always” create a point of stasis in the reader’s temporal perception of the text. The spatial form of the text contributes to the formation of this point of stasis by inserting extra space between the words in the passage, giving the reader a sense of spatial discontinuity that promotes a sense of temporal discontinuity as well.

As the spectator continues to follow the wife’s narrative, her status as an archetypal woman subjugated by patriarchal expectations becomes established, in conjunction with the spectator’s increasing identification with her.[12] The first scene in which she appears (Dictée 102) bears an uncanny resemblance to the first scene of Carl Theodore Dreyer’s Gertrud (1:46)[13]. In both, the patriarchal husband appears first, shouting for his wife before she appears. The specific mention of a scene in Gertrud later in her narrative makes the connection to Dreyer’s work explicit (Dictée 108). The wife in the cinematic narrative is oppressed by a dominant discourse, her husband taunts and humiliates her (Dictée 102), and she, like most of the subjugated voices in Dictée, struggles to speak. She “Hardly speaks. Hardly at all. The slowness of her speech when she does. Her tears her speech” (Dictée 104). The spectator’s identification with the wife is through speech and speechlessness, “You are she, she speaks you, you speak her, she cannot speak” (Dictée 106).

The final creation of a point of temporal and spatial stasis allows Dictée to create a point of rupture in discursive space into which the viewer can be drawn to effect the creation of a persistent point of discursive resistance. This physical transformation, from written text to a cognitive object of resistance created by the mental apparatus of the viewer is the key solution to escape the discursive subjugation and false historicization problematized in both Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc and Dictée. In Dictée the subjugated voice of the wife in the cinematic narrative finally succeeds in articulating a resistance to the dominant discourse that oppresses her at the same moment that Joan does so, both via the participation of the spectator. The film still of Falconetti collaborates with the poetry across the page gutter to escape discursive subjugation through the implication of the spectator as part of the cinematic apparatus. The poetry of the cinematic narrative depicts the spectator’s view from a point where they have been following the wife and now look into the whitened frame in which she has disappeared:

                        It had been snowing. During the while.

Interval. Recess. Pause.

It snowed. The name. The term. The noun.

It had snowed. The verb. The predicate. The act of.


Luminescent substance more so in black night.

Inwardly luscent. More. So much so that its entry

closes the eyes.

Interim. Briefly.

In the enclosed darkness memory is fugitive.

Of white. Mist offers to snow self

In the weightless slow all the time it takes long

ages precedes time pronounces it alone on its own

while. In the whiteness

no distinction her body invariable no dissonance

synonymous her body all the time de composes

eclipses to be come yours (Dictée 118).

The repetition of the phrases that describe the act of snowing slow the reader’s perception of temporal reality and create the sense of this reality having been paused. A point of temporal stasis is also created by the references to the suspension of time, “Interval. Recess. Pause”. The placing of the act of snowing further into the past, first describing it in present progressive, as “It had been snowing”, then in past tense, “It had snowed” and “It snowed” create a sense of the backward progression of time in the mind of the viewer, a movement that is also echoed in the phrase “precedes time”. The phrase “precedes time” suggests both the backward progression of time and an escape from temporality, as a point that “precedes time” would necessarily be located outside of temporal reality. This rupture in temporal structure opens the possibility of a new space outside of the structure of time governed by dominant discourse.[14]

Along with the suspension of time a space of memory is created that contains an image of the whiteness of snow, depicted as “Luminescent substance more so in black night. / Inwardly luscent”. The image of white on black that these lines describe mimics the white space of the cinematic screen against the darkness that surrounds it.[15] The closure of the eyes that is mentioned makes the spectator’s cognitive space analogous to the space occupied by a viewer in the cinema, a dark, enclosed area with a single source of light that invokes the cinematic screen. It is this screen that creates a place where the images and written text that compose the discourse of the work are transformed into cognitive objects in the mind of the spectator, so gaining access to their consciousness. Images also function to create a new perceptual space. The opening of a new perceptual space by viewing a filmic image was discussed by Christian Metz, who stated that, “an image creates one space in another space” (Metz 18).

This creation of a perceptual cinematic space by the text of Dictée also occurs in the film still of Falconetti. David Bordwell, in his analysis of La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, argues that images from this film frustrate the conventional construction of cinematic space because their lack of depth cues and the homogenous white background in the majority of shots flatten cinematic space (Bordwell 67). This flattening frustrates the general goal of film to efface the screen (Bordwell 67). The effect of this flattening is that the frame appears as an image and not as a cinematic space into which the spectator can enter. In La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc all the close-up shots of Falconetti lack these depth cues, and so all act solely as flattened images. The image of Falconetti on page 119 appears on the page just as it does onscreen, spatially compressed. The effect of this compression is that the new perceptual space that this image of Falconetti creates cannot be a space that occurs inside the frame of the image and draws the spectator in, but must necessarily be one that projects itself outward to include the spectator.

The creation of this participatory space in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc and in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s work is signified by whiteness. In La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc the backgrounds of the shots are white, mimicking the participatory realm of the cinematic screen, and facilitating the opening of a space into which the spectator can enter. Cha’s work repeatedly uses whiteness to signify this participatory space between the work and the spectator, whether it is a cinematic screen, such as the ones created by black framed blank pages or images of screens in Commentaire, or the white envelopes and cards of her mail art piece Audience Distant Relative (Fig. 14).[16] In the wife’s cinematic narrative in Dictée this participatory space is repeatedly created by depicting places enveloped by snow and mist. The most significant of these spaces is the one into which the spectator has followed her and watched her disappear, “You are following her. Inside the mist. Close. She is buried there. You lose her. It occurs to you, her name. Suddenly. Snow. (Dictée 114).

In this passage the cinematic spectator has again followed the wife into the filmic space of the screen, but additionally, has now seen her image disappear into a space of mist and snow. The spectator’s realization of the wife’s name is a transformative insight. Naming is an act tied to the process of identification, so the realization of her name in this passage indicates the spectator’s filmic identification with the character of the wife. Identification is, on a cognitive level, an act of material transformation between two perceptual objects, one that represents the spectator, and one that represents the filmic character of the wife that the spectator objectifies. This transformation occurs in white spaces created by images of mist and snow in the cinematic narrative of Dictée.

The line “mist offers to snow self” performs a transformative material identification in white space in the cinematic passage that manifests the wife’s successful discursive resistance in Dictée. Firstly, the mist “offers” itself to snow, in a physical gesture that betrays a desire for identification. The lack of a period between the lines “Mist offers to snow self / In the weightless slow” creates a physical spatial link between the lines which implies that this gesture is accepted and that identification has taken place. The word “self” suggests a reference to mist, but could also signify that mist has the same identity as snow, that they are equivalent physically. In this interpretation, mist has become snow and snow has become mist, in an act of material transformation.

The material transformation between the spectator and the subjugated wife occurs in the last three lines of the cinematic passage, in the transformative white space established by the phrase “In the whiteness”. The spectator has previously identified with the character of the wife through realizing her name, but in these last three lines the materiality of this identification is demonstrated. The vertically aligned and paired phrases “no distinction” and “synonymous”, “her body” and “her body”, and “invariable” paired with “all the time”, creates a relationship of spatial elements that are synonyms linked by the transitory white space of the page. The process of material identification between the spectator and the subjugated wife is physicalized by these paired phrases and the space between them. Firstly, these paired phrases represent physical equivalencies between the synonyms that are written on the page, between “invariable” and “all the time”, for example. More importantly, the paired phrasing of the two occurrences of “her body” unite the perceptual objects of both the spectator and the wife. The physical equivalences between the series of paired phrases also functions to demonstrate the material equivalence between the spectator and the wife.

In the final line of verse the spectator finally becomes heir to the discourse of the subjugated wife. This process occurs through the simultaneous interplay of written text and spatial position. Firstly, there is no period between the series of paired phrases and this last line, signifying the continuation of the same cognitive objects, the spectator and the wife, from these lines to the last line. The word “yours” also maintains this assumption, by making the spectator aware of their inclusion in the cinematic apparatus of the narrative.

The entire last line itself, “eclipses to be come yours”, performs the migration of the subjugated discourse from the wife to the spectator. The mechanics and apparatus that perform this transformation are indicated by the word “eclipses”. As a verb, to eclipse is to “cause an obscuration of some other heavenly body, by passing between it and the spectator, or between it and the source from which it derives its light” (“Eclipse” vb.). The action of eclipse implies the transfer of light from the eclipsed object to the eclipsing body. During an eclipse light is the form of energy that is commonly transferred, from its initial presence on one body to the body that later eclipses it. The transfer of light from the wife to the spectator is supported in this passage by the verse’s awareness of luminosity, conveyed by the phrases “luminescent substance” and “inwardly luscent”, as well as the multiple references to the lucent white substances snow and mist. Light itself is a cognitive object, as already discussed, but light also connotes insight and empowerment. In the context of the dominant discourse that permeates the text of Dictée and subjugates the wife of the cinematic narrative, the insight that passes to the spectator is likely her suppressed discourse.

With the receipt of this discourse the spectator has participated in the cinematic narrative by engaging with a disempowered resistant discourse whose attempts at expression have been previously stymied. The spectator’s engagement with this discourse signifies its final escape from suppression. In the spectator’s receipt of this resistant discourse the urgent desire to be heard that permeates the simultaneous and varied voices of Dictée has been realized, and the viewer’s frustrated desire to engage with the work has also been fulfilled. Yet the spectator, in their receipt of this resistant discourse, and their cognizance of its subjugation, no longer occupies a purely observational role. Their engagement in the cinematic narrative has made them aware of their own visibility in the discursive apparatus, as Cha had desired. Furthermore, their receipt of the wife’s subjugated discourse has implicated them in her cause, for what are they now to do with it? This is the same cinematic effect that the film still of Falconetti performs, with her gaze pushing into the filmic space that her image shares with the spectator, demanding, “You know my story, now what are you going to do?” Unlike the earlier section of paired text and image in “Urania”, which also attempts to speak to the viewer, the still of Falconetti and accompanying poetry actually succeed. In doing so, they establish the viewer’s own nascent activism, their own discursive resistance.


Works Cited

Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author.” Image – Music – Text. New York: Hill and Wang, 1978. Print.

—. “From Work to Text”. Image – Music – Text. New York: Hill and Wang, 1978. Print.

—.”Upon Leaving the Movie Theater.” Apparatus: Cinematographic Apparatus: Selected Writings. Ed. Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. New York : Tanam Press, 1980. Print.

Bordwell, David. The Films of Carl-Theodor Dreyer. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1981. Print.

Cha, Theresa Hak Kyung, Preface. Apparatus: Cinematographic Apparatus: Selected Writings. Ed. Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. New York : Tanam Press, 1980. Print.

—. Dictée. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001. Print.

—. Exilée and Temps Morts: Selected Works. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2009. Print.

—. Other Things Seen, Other Things Heard (photographs). 1978. Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley. Art Collection. Web. 4 October 2011.

Dreyer, Carl Theodor. “A Little on Film Style (1943).” Dreyer in Double Reflection: Translation of Carl Th. Dreyer’s writings About the Film (Om Filmen). Ed. Donald Skoller. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. 1973. 122-142. Print.

—. “Thoughts on my Craft.” Sight and Sound 25:3 (1955) 128-129. Print.


“Eclipse.” The Oxford English Dictionary. 2011. Web. 12 December 2011.

Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Discourse on Language. New York: Vintage Books, 2010. Print.

Hobbins, Daniel. The Trial of Joan of Arc. Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press, 2005. Print.

Kim, Elaine H. “Poised on the In-between: A Korean American’s Reflections on Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée.” Writing Self Writing Nation: Essays on Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée. Ed. Elaine H. Kim and Norma Alarcón. Berkeley, CA: Third Woman Press, 1994. Print.

Lewallen, Constance. The Dream of the Audience: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-1982). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001. Print.

Metz, Christian. Film Language: A Semiotics of the Cinema. New York: Oxford University Press. 1974. Print.

Milne, Tom. The Cinema of Carl Dreyer. New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 1971. Print.

Minh-Ha, Trinh T. “White Spring.” The Dream of the Audience: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-1982). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001. Print.

Mitchell, W.J.T. The Language of Images. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1980. Print.

Sklar, Robert. Film: An International History of the Medium. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1993. Print.

Takada, Mayumi. “Annihilating Possibilities: Witnessing and Testimony through Cinematic Love in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s DICTEE.” Literature Interpretation Theory. 17 (2006): 23-48. Print.

The Passion of Joan of Arc. Dir. Carl Dreyer. Perf. Maria Falconetti, Eugene Silvain and André Berley. Société générale des films, 1928. Film.

[1] This film is described in The Dream of the Audience and stills can be viewed in Fig. 2.

[2] MLA Format for citing films requires only that the title of the film be included in the paragraph that refers to it, but in this paper elapsed times are also included to enable the reader to find the portion of the film being discussed.

[3] To see film stills mentioned in this paragraph see Fig. 6.

[4] To see stills mentioned in this paragraph see Fig. 7.

[5] To see film stills mentioned in this paragraph see Fig. 8.

[6] This subjugation of speech and control of its articulation is reminiscent of Michel Foucault’s discussion of discursive formations in The Archaeology of Knowledge. Foucault defines a discursive formation as “the general enunciative system that governs a group of verbal performances” (Foucault 116). The discourse that belongs to a particular discursive formation is controlled by a group of statements that have an enunciative regulatory function, in that they control what articulations can occur as a part of that discourse (Foucault 106). In this definition of discourse, various articulations that don’t meet the rules of existence within the discourse either don’t exist or don’t have meaning within the discursive formation. It’s interesting to consider the diseuse, Hyung Soon Huo, and other subjugated voices in Dictée, as well as Joan in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc as silenced by Foucault’s idea of a discursive formation that has been created by a dominant ideology.

[7] Elaine H. Kim, in her essay “Poised on the In-between: A Korean American’s Reflections on Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée”, in Writing Self, Writing Nation: A Collection of Essays on Dictée, conducts an investigation of the erasure of Korean history by Japanese colonialization, as well as the implications of this erasure on contemporary Korean identity. Kim claims that the contemporary Western world “continues to endorse a Japanese version of Korean identity” (Kim 9). She supports her assertion of the colonial erasure of Korean history with testimony of her own American schooling having no evidence of the Korean accomplishments (gunpowder, movable type, one of the world’s oldest observatories) that her father, who had lived under Japanese colonialism, had told her of (Kim 8).

[8] The use of the term “plural text” may be in the way that Roland Barthes discusses this concept in his essay, “From Work to Text”. Barthes describes the text as a plurality of meaning that manifests itself in the reading of an interwoven structure of signifiers. The plural text is therefore not an object but a discursive event, the interrogation of a work by a reader that manifests multiple irreducible meanings. It is constructed by the active participation of the reader in “a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash” (Barthes 146). Cha’s use of this term may be to signify that this plural text is necessarily constructed by the participation of the reader, a participation that promotes the reader’s awareness of their role in the construction of this discourse.

[9] This power of the cinema to create a hypnotic state in the spectator is discussed by Roland Barthes in his essay from Apparatus, “Upon Leaving the Movie Theater”, in which he describes the spectator’s state as one of cinematographic hypnosis for which the filmic image has acted as a lure, fixating the spectator in an identification with the imaginary other on the cinematic screen.

[10] Theresa Hak Kyung Cha studied with Christian Metz during her time at the Centre d’Etudes Américain du Cinéma in Paris in 1976.

[11] The still has been reversed in Dictée, but it is the same image that occurs in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc at elapsed time 1:11:49. This still can be viewed in Fig. 11.

[12]             Literary scholar Mayumi Takada also examines this section of “Erato”, in “Annihilating Possibilities: Witnessing and Testimony through Cinematic Love in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s DICTEE”. Her interpretation focus on the viewer’s failure to identify with the female character of the narrative (Takada 46), and so differs from the interpretation presented here.

[13]             To view this still from Gertrud see Fig. 13.

[14] Dictée previously describes such a space as a place from which to manifest a statement of truth that defies the discourse of recorded History, “Truth embraces with it all other abstentions other than itself. Outside Time. Outside Space. Parallels other durations, oblivious to the deliberate brilliance of its own time, mortal, deliberate marking. Oblivious to itself. But to sing. To sing to. Very softly.” (Dictée 28).

[15] Trinh T. Min-Hah asserts that the white of the page in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s work signifies the white of a cinematic screen in her essay “White Spring” from The Dream of the Audience (Min-Hah 36).

[16] For Audience Distant Relative Cha instructed the audience to interact with the envelopes, “as if they were personally addressed to them, involving the same gestures that everyone goes through when one receives a letter” (Exilée 273). These instructions communicate Cha’s desire to have members of the audience personally communicate with her work. The piece itself echoes this sentiment. The text inside the card states:

neither you nor i

are visible to each other

i can only assume that you can hear me

i can only hope that you can hear me (Exilée 19).