‘Revolt and remembrance’: Joel Scott in conversation with Don Mee Choi

By and | 15 September 2022

DMC: I am moved by your ‘conviction’, ‘to atomize the texts’ as a way of ‘getting to a level of Truth’. I think the way I speak truth to power in my work is to find what Roland Barthes refers to as ‘punctum’—’these sensitive points; precisely these marks, these wounds’ in Camera Lucida. (I found a used copy of Camera Lucida at a bookstore in Glebe. And somehow after many years of avoiding reading the book, I was finally ready to face it.) With Hardly War, I began to engage with my father’s photographs and found myself uncovering ‘these sensitive points’, and some of these photographs I have stared at for many years. I was finally able to see ‘these wounds’ that have been there all along. They functioned as memory triggers that are tied to larger historical memory since they were war memories. So, what it meant for me to start using my father’s photographs and artifacts in my poetry was that I was finally critically and emotionally examining my life—the shape of our ‘moving’ life, shaped by the wars he has photographed and filmed. This work of his fed and clothed us, and enabled us to escape the dictatorship. For me, my father’s photographs are studded with pain—personal and collective.

I think my work can be thought of within the context of documentary poetry. Though, I have only recently started reading Muriel Rukeyser’s amazing work. The closest reference points for me is Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s work—Dictee, and Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Woman Native Other. I was able to see Cha’s travelling retrospective show in the US—I think it was year 2000. I also quickly glanced through her book Dictee about the same time. My first impression of Dictee was—Oh, I know this work, I know this history. Oh, she studied visual arts too. Then I put the book away and didn’t fully engage with it till I was in Leipzig in 2021, teaching a class on Asian American Poetry. I connected with Trinh’s essay ‘Grandma’s Story’ the most. After I read it, I wrote a short essay about narrating and translating Korean women’s poetry.

I think mixed-media poetry and/or what I call geopolitical poetics might be more fitting because I am using multiple media and modes of writing or representation. Translation spilled over into my own writing as a form of poetic and visual device. In DMZ Colony, I traced the lines and circles related to massacres. I followed and translated the calls of snow geese—their sky language—into letters D, M, Z and ‘SEE YOU AT DMZ’. I wrote imaginary accounts (based on researched accounts) in Korean, which I then translated into English. I wrote ‘mirror words’. I imagined the sounds of English into Korean and Korean into English to subvert or amplify sounds linked to certain letters, ideas, or pain. I created a still-photograph montage.

This brings me to what I have been eagerly waiting to ask you. Your translation theory and practice. What did you write about in your dissertation that was accepted to be published, which you decided against it, eventually. How did thinking and writing about translation impact your practice—your translation of Peter Weiss’ The Aesthetics of Resistance?

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