Abstract

Drawing from theories of melancholy from David Eng, David Kazanjian, and Anne Anlin Cheng, I use Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictée to reevaluate the accepted linear trajectory of Asian American identity formation in the U.S. In particular, I develop the term mel-han-choly—a hybridized form of melancholy and Korean han (a culturally specific grief)—to show how Cha uses it as a subversive political tool to defer historical closure. Cha's remembrance of the histories of Japanese colonialism in the Korean peninsula and the Korean War defies the expectation that minority populations somehow transcend their grievous pasts in becoming model American citizens. Because Korean history cannot be discussed without implicating the U.S. and calling into question its exceptional values, such recollection might be willfully avoided. I claim that Cha's mel-han-cholic plays generate productive disruptions on two levels. First, it challenges dominant understandings of the U.S. as a liberator of South Korea and the U.S.'s discursive power in narrating its history. Second, mel-han-choly serves a connective, transnational function within the diasporic Korean community. As depicted by the fractured relationship between Cha's narrator and her mother, a sense of shared loss and cultural grief can become the basis around which collective identity might be organized.

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