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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.64, No.3, 329 ~ 346, 2018
Difference, not Differentiation: The Thingness of Language in Sun Yung Shin’s Skirt Full of Black
Haerin Shin
Sun Yung Shin’s poetry collection Skirt Full of Black (2007) brings the author’s personal history as a Korean female adoptee to bear upon poetic language in daring formal experiments, instantiating the liminal state of being shuttled across borders to land in an in-between state of marginalization. Other Korean American poets have also drawn on the experience of transnational adoption and racialization explore the literary potential of English to materialize haunting memories or the untranslatable yet persistent echoes of a lost home that gestures across linguistic boundaries, as seen in the case of Lee Herrick or Jennifer Kwon Dobbs. Shin however dismantles the referential foundation of English as a language she was transplanted into through formal transgressions such as frazzled syntax, atypical typography, decontextualized punctuation marks, and phonetic and visual play. The power to signify and thereby differentiate one entity or meaning from another dissipates in the cacophonic feast of signs in Skirt Full of Black; the word fragments of identificatory markers that turn racialized, gendered, and culturally contained subjects into exotic things lose the power to define them as such, and instead become alterities by departing from the conventional meaning-making dynamics of language. Expanding on the avant-garde legacy of Korean American poets Theresa Hak Kyung Cha and Myung Mi Kim to delve further into the liminal space between Korean and American, referential and representational, or spoken and written words, Shin carves out a space for discreteness that does not subscribe to the hierarchical ontology of differential value assignment.
Key Words
thing, Korean American, transnational adoptee, differentiation, difference
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