Wednesday, January 7, 2009

In-view: Dance Dance Revolution

Apologies for the lateness of this post, first of all. Life distracts, and the reading has been slow going. I confess I had a resistance to returning to this book (Dance Dance Revolution, that is). The tour guide's voice, while intriguing, is off-putting, part huckster, part trickster coyote. While this unsettling presence is obviously by design, it prevented me from wanting to dive back into the book. I did, however, return to the book and found it rewarding. I have just finished the second section, "Stirrings of Childhood that Begin With," and discovered what Adrienne Rich called the "historical consciousness" in this collection to be especially striking. The historian's annotations and memoir passages helped to ground this reader, providing a welcome relief from the tour guide's spiels.

This section also seemed to take on language itself more directly. The tour guide begins to speak of her family as in "The Lineage of Yes-Men," and to also distinguish herself from them: "...He like mine grandfather yessed y yessed, nodded/ til no lift him fes up. In his deathbed... sayim to me,/ Ttallim, you say no, no, no, you say only no..." This assertion of the negative, particularly in regards to one's family and language, seems an important part of what occurs when a culture is stretched between wars, revolutions, the gap of global society. This father may be no different from other fathers who want better for their children, but we learn from the Historian's footnote that the guide's grandfather was a pro-Japanese collaborator during Japan's colonization of Korea and trained as one of the "butchers" who murdered Korean nationalists. Under such circumstances, the difference between uttering "yes" or "no" widens to worlds apart.

"The Importance of Being English" follows immediately, in which the guide begins to quote long passages of very "correct" English. She turns the Historian's (and our) attention to the role of the English language in a globalized society. In this case, it is the role of the conqueror, the occupier, as seen in the recollections of her elders. Sounds eerily familiar. The poem ends: "...You can't chisel, con, plead,/ seduce, beg for your life, you can't do anything, because you/ know not their language. So learn them all." The tour guide is again quoting, but also subtly listing the uses of language as she perceives them.

Directly after that, the Historian includes an excerpt from her memoir in which she describes an incident with her own father. The excerpts are written in prose in the form of what could be called lyric essays. This particular one (page 47) focuses on a single moment in which the father, whose rotten teeth were capped, begs his daughter to use a Water Pik at least three times a day. The moment is rendered starkly, and its emotional impact is all the stronger for the lack of elaboration.

This is a fascinating book in almost every way: structure, subject, style, characters. I look forward to reading and reporting on the rest.

-- Jill

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