In two weeks, I will be giving a talk for the first time to a French audience at INALCO (Institut National de langues et cultures orientales). It happened through an interesting turn of events, but I’m grateful for the opportunity and the chance to return to Paris, outside of the summer months! The talk takes on an intellectual history and literary approach, critiques postcolonial theory as well as linear anti-colonial narratives, to reorient the way that we view Vietnamese history: not as a series of knee-jerk reactions to external conquests, or as a teleological development arriving at the present state of Vietnam, but as continuous reflections of what it means to be a united, recognized, and ever-changing people.
Abstract (in English below, but the talk will be in French):
For early 20th century Vietnamese intellectuals, progress and evolution of the Vietnamese people were considered necessary in order to prevent cultural extinction. This perspective, greatly influenced by ideas of Social Darwinism and a colonialist rhetoric, subscribed to a historicist view of cultures existing on a linear spectrum with modernity as the end goal. With a new colonial education system and important societal changes introduced through colonial reform in the 1920s however, a new generation of francophone intellectuals would rethink this idea of evolution, no longer fixated on an independent Vietnam as an eventual, distant future, but as a reality requiring immediate action in the present. Such understanding would subsequently affect this generation’s relationship with the Vietnamese culture and with foreign ideas, as well as introduce new reflections of themselves as makers of a Vietnamese nation.