Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Devotional Practice

The Ambiguity of Devotion: Complicity and Resistance in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s DICTEE

by Eleanor Craig

This article offers a reading of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s 1982 experimental text DICTEE as performing purposefully ambiguous devotional work. As a meditation on unfinished struggles against colonial and patriarchal violence, DICTEE registers devotion’s role in both oppression and liberation. Cha’s engagements with female martyrs, Korean mudang shamanic practice, and colonial languages demonstrate the inseparability of structures of domination and traditions of resistance. The essay argues that even as DICTEE wrestles with inescapable forms of complicity, its efforts to transform perception denaturalize the violence of racial, gendered, and political divisions.

The essay begins:

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha made three visits to Korea between 1978 and 1981, a period of repeated popular uprisings and rapid political change. Cha had not seen Korea since emigrating with her family to Hawai’i and then California when she was twelve, and the passages in DICTEE that seem to refer autobiographically to these return visits register continuities between the time of her departure and the present, as well as ways that both time frames echo past struggles for national independence and democracy. As Elaine Kim notes, this brief period saw dictator Park Chung Hee’s assassination, a 1980 military coup and subsequent uprising contesting military rule, and labor protests. General Chun Doo-hwan declared martial law on May 18, 1980, igniting the Gwangju Uprising, in which soldiers and police killed, assaulted, and tortured a still unknown number of prodemocracy protestors.

In Cha’s multigenre, multimedia book DICTEE, a letter to the narrator’s mother from Seoul, Korea, dated April 19, relates

I am in the same crowd, the same coup, the same revolt, nothing has changed. . . .

. . . They are breaking now, their sounds, not new, you have heard them, so familiar to you now could you ever forget them not in your dreams, the consequences of the sound the breaking. The air is made visible with smoke it grows spreads without control we are hidden inside the whiteness the greyness reduced to parts, reduced to separation. Inside an arm lifts above the head in deliberate gesture and disappears into the thick white from which slowly the legs of another bent at the knee hit the ground the entire body on its left side.

The passage goes on to describe more explicitly the physical impact of tear gas and its overwhelming, disorienting effects: “The stinging, it slices the air it enters thus I lose direction. . . . In tears the air stagnant continues to sting I am crying the sky remnant the gas smoke absorbed the sky I am crying.” This protest scene is a site of violence and death, one that recalls and repeats other such scenes. It is, in fact, difficult to tell when these passages are portraying events contemporary for the narrating voice and when they are blending depictions of these events with more distantly past occurrences. “Step among them the blood that will not erase with the rain on the pavement that was walked upon like the stones where they fell had fallen. Because. Remain dark the stains not wash away.” DICTEE is a meditation on unfinished struggle against entrenched patterns of violence. It is also, I will argue, a study in the practices of devotion that sustain liberatory struggles of all scales (from the individual to the transnational) that simultaneously registers devotion’s role in upholding those same modes of violence.

DICTEE juxtaposes multiple forms of religious, national, familial, and textual devotion. It reiterates these devotional forms in ways that are themselves constitutive, generative modes of practice. Yet it is an uneasy practice, one that raises uncertainties about its own motivations and outcomes. DICTEE’s practices of devotion are neither faithful nor cynical; they offer critical interpretations at the same time that they mobilize ritual power. Rather than striving to determine relative degrees of critique and credulity, irony and sincerity, I want to offer a reading of Cha’s text as engaging in purposefully ambiguous devotional work. DICTEE addresses and inhabits an intertwining web of historical traumas associated with colonialism, gendered and racial oppression, and personal experiences of loss and dislocation. I argue that Cha’s devotional practice, often read as caught between inescapable conditions, attempts to work through sites of apparent impasse by grappling directly with these tensions.

DICTEE is engaged in transformational work that blurs media, traditions, languages, and timescapes in a method that Cha once referred to as “alchemy.” Devotion is a key mode of this work and a significant barrier to undoing systemic violence and historical trauma: it upholds militarism and drives militant anticolonial resistance; it reinforces patriarchy and relativizes masculine power in religious, familial, and political contexts; it confers power and demands sacrifice in cultural mythologies with complex outcomes for women/feminized actors. In these devotional forms and practices, there is no easy division or absolute distinction between complicity and resistance, violence and healing. While DICTEE foregrounds and insists upon these ambiguities, it draws attention to the mechanics of its own artistic work in ways that expose the fractures that propositional statements and linear narratives would allow ideology to conceal. Ultimately, Cha strives to rearrange the patterns of perception that naturalize racial, gendered, and political divisions and (often unconscious) complicity with violent repetitions. Continue reading free of charge for a limited time…

ELEANOR CRAIG is Program Director and Lecturer for the Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, Rights at Harvard University. Craig is co-editor with An Yountae of Beyond Man: Race, Coloniality, and Philosophy of Religion (forthcoming from Duke University Press, 2021) and a member of the inaugural cohort of Emerging Scholars in Political Theology.


The Language of Evangelism

Transducing a Sermon, Inducing Conversion:

Billy Graham, Billy Kim, and the 1973 Crusade in Seoul 

by Nicholas Harkness



The essay begins …

In the spring of 1973, the American evangelist Billy Graham traveled to Seoul, South Korea, for one of his famous crusades. The evangelical campaign took place on Yoido, an island along the Han River. Although this island would emerge over the next decades as a dense urban center of government, finance, and broadcasting, in 1973 it still was largely an empty plot of sandy earth. General Pak Chung-hee, the autocratic ruler of South Korea from 1961 until his assassination in 1979, gave permission for organizers to hold their crusade on an asphalt expanse on Yoido that was used for official state events and military demonstrations. Prior to that, the area had been used as an airstrip by the US military and, earlier, by the Japanese colonial government. On May 30, the first day of the event, more than 300,000 people attended. Each day, the crusade grew in attendance. On June 3, the fifth and final day, Graham preached to a crowd estimated to exceed one million (fig. 1). It was the largest crowd ever amassed for a Billy Graham event.

Next to Billy Graham at the pulpit, and backed by a choir of 6,000 singers, was Billy Jang Hwan Kim, the South Korean minister of Suwŏn Baptist Church, who reproduced Graham’s sermon verbally and peri-verbally—utterance by utterance, tone by tone, gesture by gesture—for the Korean-speaking audience. Kim explained in his autobiography that he watched film footage of Billy Graham’s preaching so that he could “practice the accents, gestures, and intonations of Billy Graham” in order to “become a Korean-speaking Billy Graham” for those five days. In documentary footage of the event, Kim explained that while his own style at the pulpit was different from Graham’s, for those five days he did not want to “divert,” “change,” or make Graham’s message “any different” from what or how Graham preached. Kim described the interactional effect of interpreting for Billy Graham as two voices becoming one voice. He explained this accomplishment in supernatural terms: “Well, once I got in with him, I didn’t even know what I was doing. And I think I was completely influenced by the force that, uh, you know, we call the Holy Spirit.”

Christian leaders in South Korea praised Kim’s performance. Pastor Kim Kyong Nae, secretary general of the crusade, described Kim’s interpretation as capturing Graham’s “spiritual flow” (yŏngchŏk in hŭrŭm) and characterized the interaction of the two preachers as one of “harmony.” Pastor Pang Chi Il, a member of the organizing committee for the crusade, claimed that Kim had not translated Graham’s sermon (pŏnyŏk) at all. Rather, according to Pastor Pang, Kim seemed to have given his own sermon, which, Pang claimed, is why it had made such a deep impression (kammyŏng) on the audience. There was similar praise from US Christians who witnessed Kim’s performance. According to Billy Graham’s official biographer, “Billy Kim actually enhanced Billy Graham. In gesture, tone, force of expression, the two men became as one in a way almost uncanny. A missionary fluent in Korean who knew Graham personally thought that Kim’s voice even sounded like Graham’s. Some TV viewers, tuning in unawares, supposed Kim the preacher and Billy Graham the interpreter for the American forces.” Henry Holley, Billy Graham’s Crusade Director for Asia, put it simply: “The two of them functioned as one.” At a press conference during his trip to Seoul, Graham himself thanked the thousands in Korea who had been “working and praying and preparing” for the success of the crusade and then added: “And I would be absolutely nothing were it not for my good voice, Billy Kim.”

I have two aims for this paper. First, I want to reveal in detail the semiotic processes of synchronization and calibration by which Billy Kim’s sequential interpretation of Billy Graham’s sermon into Korean for a Korean-speaking audience had the semiotic effect of fusing two voices into one. These processes complicate the question of “who” was speaking at any given moment, and they suggest that we must investigate higher-order cultural frameworks that make these processes semiotically legitimate for participants. Second, I attempt to demonstrate how this semiotic fusion of voices drew upon and intensified the very ideological principles of evangelism that brought these two men to the pulpit and justified their speech in Seoul in 1973. As I explain in detail in what follows, this analysis hinges on our methodological expansion from the narrow translation of denotational text to a broader semiotic “transduction” of indexicality through which denotational text emerges interactionally. Although I cannot adequately represent the virtuosity of the performance, my analysis focuses on the dynamic pragmatics of this historic event documented in a film recording that captures the increasingly dense layering of temporal and spatial deixis across codes, the compounding of vocalizations and figurative voicings across speakers, and the way these semiotic dimensions of preaching linked theological principles of radical universality to personal experiences of radical individuation. Continue reading …

This paper is an analysis of the final sermon of Billy Graham’s 1973 Crusade in Seoul, South Korea, when he preached to a crowd estimated to exceed one million people. Next to Graham at the pulpit was Billy Jang Hwan Kim, a preacher who, in his capacity as interpreter, translated Graham’s sermon verbally and peri-verbally—utterance by utterance, tone by tone, gesture by gesture—for the Korean-speaking audience. I examine the dynamic pragmatics (for example, chronotopic formulations, deictic calibrations, voicing and register effects, and indexical dimensions of entextualization) by which a sermonic copy across linguistic codes became an evangelical conduit between Cold War polities. In so doing, I demonstrate how the scope of intertextual analysis can be expanded productively from the narrow translation of denotation across codes to the broader indexical processes of semiotic “transduction” across domains of cultural semiosis.

NICHOLAS HARKNESS is John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University.

Korea’s IMF Crisis Cinema

Neoliberal Forms: CGI, Algorithm, and Hegemony in Korea’s IMF Cinema

by Joseph Jonghyun Jeon

“For anthropologists Edward LiPuma and Benjamin Lee, a compensatory virtue of the 2008 global credit crisis was the extent to which it made visible the otherwise unseen flows of contemporary finance, specifically the rapid emergence of derivatives trading. Trading in derivatives, once a much smaller-scale mechanism for hedging in a production-based economy, was by the early 2000s a primary mode of accumulation in a global environment thoroughly committed to circulatory capital. In 2004 LiPuma and Lee had expressed frustration: ‘How does one know about, or demonstrate against, an unlisted, virtual, offshore corporation that operates in an unregulated electronic space using a secret proprietary trading strategy to buy and sell arcane financial instruments?’ But by 2012, the fog apparently had lifted, the crisis having ‘laid bare the underlying and underappreciated foundations of the financial field.’ An important part of curing the ills of contemporary finance, it seems, perhaps more fundamental than its enormous scale and power, is seeing them at all. At stake is the invisibility of digital apparatuses that constitute networked transactional spaces, calculate financial instruments using complex differential equations, and even enumerate capital itself, which are so central to this modality of circulation that it becomes difficult to separate medium from message.” (Continue reading…)JeonFig.5

In this essay Joseph Jeon examines the co-implications of CGI filmmaking, US hegemony, and neoliberal financialization as manifested in Korea’s “IMF crisis cinema.” These films are populated by what he terms neoliberal forms that epitomize the effort in this cinema to reflect on the innate proximity of popular filmmaking to finance, and specifically on the proximity between its own material apparatus and the economic apparatus that the IMF crisis inserted into the center of Korean public discourse.

This essay is from Representations‘ current special issue Financialization and the Culture IndustryThe introduction to the issue by C. D. Blanton, Colleen Lye, and Kent Puckett, is available online free of charge.