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College Literature 34.4 (2007) 63-91

"What Story What Story What Sound":
The Nomadic Poetics of Myung Mi Kim's Dura
Zhou Xiaojing

In diaspora literature the experience of exile, displacement, and marginalization has become a subversive position from which normative boundaries of nation, ethnicity, and culture are contested. Myung Mi Kim's Dura poses similar kinds of challenges beyond these boundaries. Dura enacts an innovative nomadic poetics, which can be best understood in terms of Kim's theory of form as "interplay of mobile elements, actuated by the ensemble of movements developed within it." This notion resonates with Gilles Deleuze's and Félix Guattari's concept of rhizomatic deterritorialization and becoming. Drawing on Kim's theory of form and Deleuze's and Guattari's notion of rhizomatics, this essays reads Dura as "one long poem"—a nomadic poetic series that moves through multiple geographical locations and temporalities in its investigation of historical continuums which converge on and diverge from the 1992 civil unrest in Los Angeles.

In "Pollen Fossil Record," the last section of her fourth volume, Commons (2002), Myung Mi Kim raises a number of questions which underlie a language-centered nomadic poetics she has developed since her first book, Under Flag (1991).

What is English now, in the face of mass global migration, ecological degradation, shifts and upheavals in identifications of gender and labor? How can the diction(s), register(s), inflection(s) as well as varying affective stances that have and will continue to filter into "English" be taken into account? What are the implications of writing at this moment, in precisely this "America"? How to practice and make plural the written and spoken—grammar, syntaxes, textures, intonations . . . .

(Myung Mi Kim 2002, 110)

By exploring how the English language and poetic form can be deployed in such a way as [End Page 63] to engage with historical and social changes, and to enact the experience of migration and displacement, Kim departs from writing diasporas as a theme to writing the impact of diasporas in terms of "contaminated" English, fragmented narratives, and dislocated, mobile words, images, and utterances.

Her third book, Dura (1998) provides a salient example of how Kim responds to the questions and challenges she has posed, through an innovative nomadic poetics which sets Dura apart from her other volumes. Unlike Under Flag (1991), The Bounty (1996), or Commons (2002), Dura is "one long poem," "a kind of strange autobiography," and an interrogation of the "materiality" and "apparatuses around words, word-making," which are related to questions about "what gets written and by who," as Kim indicated at a reading of Dura at SUNY Buffalo on November 14, 1998.1 I would argue that the "strangeness" of Dura can be better understood not only in terms of Kim's theory about poetic form as "interplay of mobile elements" (2002, 108), but also by using Gilles Deleuze's and Félix Guattari's notions of rhizomatics to open up new possibilities for reading Dura as "a kind of strange autobiography" that has moved beyond subjectivity, and as a book that finds adequate an "outside with which to assemble in heterogeneity, rather than a world to reproduce," to borrow Deleuze's and Guattari's words (2003, 24).

So far no extensive reading has been devoted to Dura, though critics have explored certain aspects of the themes and poetics of this challenging book2. In her essay, "'Composed of Many Lengths of Bone': Myung Mi Kim's Reimagination of Image and Epic," Josephine Nock-Hee Park reads "Kim against Ezra Pound's high modernist legacy, and Kim's redeployment of these aesthetic tools," which "shows us new, strategic uses of this literary past" (2006, 235). Park examines possible traces of Pound's Imagism in Kim's deployment of images, particularly the ways in which Kim's images of war and its aftermaths contrast with Pound's modernist appropriation of ideogrammatic imagery (239–40). Moreover, Park reads Dura along and against the American tradition of the epic. Drawing on James E...


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