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  • Poetic Language as a Sounding Mo'um (Body):Reading Cathy Park Hong's Poems as Deleuze's “Minor Literature”
  • Tae Yun Lim (bio)


Korean American poet Cathy Park Hong has a unique relationship with the Korean language and culture through her innovative and stylish English verses in Translating Mo'um (2002; hereinafter TM) and Dance Dance Revolution (2007; hereinafter DDR). These books elaborate Hong's “cultural zigzagging,” the re-importation of the English language back to Western culture, and “misplaced cultural bartering” in the imagined city called “the Desert” (Kryah, “Interview”).1 Reading Hong's work in relation to a matrix of French post-structuralist thinkers and phenomenologists reveals that her language can be interpreted as a “minor literature” as described by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, and that her work enacts new forms of culturally or ethnically “in-between” or “becoming” ethnic subjectivity.

Hong's “minoritized” ways of using language no longer denote the Korean or Asian American subject as a racially and culturally homogeneous subject. Her “minor” language functions as a new cultural lens through which these “in-between” subjects, if only temporarily, reinterpret themselves and the world around them; therefore, Hong's experimental language is an important political tool for these culturally in-between figures. Like many other contemporary Asian American writers, Hong's attitude towards the term “Asian American” is ambivalent. As Song Min Hyoung has noted, Asian American writers and poets in the last three decades, including Hong, are “engaged in actively redefining what it means to be an Asian American … [and] work within a space of tense creativity that reflects a national unease [End Page 83] about the question of race” (14). Eunsong Kim and Don Mee Choi also state that in the contemporary era, Asian Americanness is no longer a manageable or controllable category, as it is comprised of rich and complex genealogies of diverse cultural and racial groups in their manifesto “Refusal=Intervention.” In this regard, the importance of reading contemporary Korean American women poets no longer lies in “their exploration of the complexities of 'Korean' or 'Korean-American' or 'Korean-American woman' as subject positions or as opportunities for constructing even minority/oppositional voices …, [but in] their poem's hostility to these questions” (McNeill 2).

Hong's art aesthetic revolving around the pure language—that does not have any fixed semantic referent—and new “becoming” subject is evident in Dance Dance Revolution. The title is derived from the name of a series of music video games produced by a Japanese company. To play this game, the players first choose a pop song and stand on a platform to hit the colored arrows on the screen with their feet to musical cues. Hong titles her work DDR because this process of cultural zigzagging—in which Western pop music and dance moves are imported, made into game formats in Asian countries, gain popularity and are reimported into Western countries, losing their cultural originality—is similar to the ways in which the English language in the contemporary era is losing its original meaning and becoming distorted or transformed under the influence of globalization.

The contemporary world is one in which different cultures daily flow across their borders, and so cultural/ethnic identities are continually being disconnected and dislocated by elements from other cultures and languages. No one culture or language now can be truly insulated from another. “The Desert” in Hong's DDR is a microcosm showing how our fast-changing multicultural and multilingual society creates a culturally and racially different (Asian American) subject that has lost its cultural or national originality. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. In DDR, she incorporates elements of the Korean language and culture into her English verses, attempting to construct her “becoming” or “in-between” writing subject. Hong's hybridized language has the creative and transformative force to construct identities beyond conventional notions of nation and culture. Hong uses a hybrid of English and foreign elements, particularly from Korean language and culture, to differentiate her subject from a homogeneous national/cultural identity—but not [End Page 84] entirely. Under the conditions of this transnational or cultural mobility the main character, the Guide, and her use...


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