Upcoming SEAP Gatty Lecture

Prodigal sons and disparate selves: Vietnamese youth and intellectuals in colonial transitions

 Thursday, Sept 20th, 2018
Kahin Center, 640 Stewart Ave.

I will be discussing a chapter from my dissertation, in which I challenge the trope of “Prodigal Sons” applied in Vietnamese contexts through two francophone texts, Nguyen Manh Tuong’s Sourires et Larmes d’une jeunesse (1937), and Pham Van Ky’s Frères de sang (1946).

(Images from Maurice Durand’s Imagerie populaire du Vietnam, shared to me by Prof. Philippe Papin.)
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Asian Dynamics Initiative Conference June 2018

The film Vertigo (1958) by Alfred Hitchcock is a great representation of the different definitions that the term vertigo can embody. It plays with the perception of truth and reality through the physical perception of space, that is, through heights and addresses:
1. fear of heights and fear of falling
2. giddiness of falling in love
3. reversal of truth and perception of reality

Vertigo is therefore a very ambivalent term that can refer to both experiences of pleasure and discomfort, and experiences that we sense very concretely in our body, whether that is in our stomach, in our head, in the pounding of our heart, in the weakening of our knees, etc.

I came to this idea of Vertigo through a pattern that I noticed in some important colonial and postcolonial literature, where this major shocking experiences are accompanied by a physical sense of vertigo. In a text called Mirages of Paris (Ousmane Diop Socé, 1937), a Black man travels to France and in the metro, he is called out by a young white boy. The boy says to his mother, “Look, a Black man!” In response, the mother of course, extremely embarrassed, tells her son, “Shush don’t say that! Say hello to him instead!” In this identification, and the dismissal of it, the narrator of the text immediately feels dizzy, suffocating, and a sense of imbalance. There is something ungenuine about the whole situation. This metro encounter is very similar to something Frantz Fanon mentions in the fifth chapter of Black Skin White Masks (trans. 1967) about the Black man being recognized as such, and the Black man seeing himself for the first time as he is ‘interpolated,’ if you will. And of course, if you’ve read Césaire’s Cahier du retour au pays natal (1939)you know that Césaire documents almost exactly the same experience.

These intertextual references to imbalance and vertigo really struck me, and I found this conference an excellent opportunity to explore this further through a panel. The panel I organized focuses firstly on reversal and disruption and then how that disruption is localized onto and through the body. It’s as if the body has more to say than we can know ourselves. I wrote about nausea, and traced colonial travel in Pham Quynh’s 1922 voyage to France and in Albert de Teneuille/ Truong Dinh Tri’s Ba Dam (1930) that incites this physical and ethical nausea.

 

In the occasion of the Asian Dynamics Initiative’s (at the University of Copenhagen) tenth annual conference this past June, on the Transitions and Disruptions in Asia, vertigo seems to be a very appropriate discussion starter for its chosen thematics.

See our ADI Conference pamphlet for an idea of the discussions held in our panel.

P.S. To cap the conference off serendipitously, I was able to take a thirty minute train to see writer and poet duo Nhã Ca and Trần Dạ Từ in Malmö, Sweden. Sometimes I ask myself how I am so lucky to find myself in the right place at the right times.

ACLA Annual Meeting 2018

My first time at the ACLA and I was extremely impressed with the productivity of the format of the ‘conference streams.’ Rather than meeting with panelists for a short 2 hour session, the format allowed us to meet over the course of three days and carry ongoing discussion of cultural productions in the Southeast Asian diaspora. I met such interesting people with important interventions, including Melissa Chan’s (USC) reading of surveillance in Midi Z’s films, and Alexandra Kurmann’s (Macquerie U) budding theoretical framework of transdiasporic comparisons/relationships.  Tuan Hoang (Pepperdine U) is working on Vietnamese refugee literature in Vietnamese, Leslie Barnes (Australia National U) and Catherine Nguyen (UCLA) on French graphic novels and Zach Goh on Chinese identity in Southeast Asia. Our overarching questions included multiplicity of history and the definition/delineation of diaspora. Overall, I connected with some prospective collaborators – perhaps more on a Vietnamese Francophone Scholars’ Collective soon?

I presented a paper on Đỗ Khiêm, Vietnamese travel writing, and the critique of arrested temporality through scholarship that lingers only on nostalgia and a relationship to the past. Đỗ Khiêm’s work traces an itinerant, undefined trajectory which calls for a valorization of the present, never looking back after going but also never planning where to next. I was very lucky to include in my presentation quotes from our correspondence in February!

See our Seminar Brochure for a full list of presenters and really excellent work!

 

Dans la zone libre – a success!

What a beautiful evening it was to finally put on and share the theatrical reading of Dans la zone libre. I received such useful feedback for this process of writing and producing research for the public. I am indebted to my actor-readers, who really gave their all.

Dans la zone libre

CCA Theatre Project officially in motion!

This semester, I am working with the Cornell Council for the Arts to write and produce a reading of my play, Dans la zone libre // In the free zone // Trong vùng tự do. 

Read more about the project here.

Join us for
A PUBLIC READING
TUESDAY, MARCH 27, 2018 – 6PM – LEWIS AUDITORIUM
(Goldwin Smith G76)
and/or if you’re up for a good time
A THEATRE READING WORKSHOP
THURSDAY, FEBURARY 22 – 6PM – KLARMAN 164.

I promise humor, intellectual questions, and quick, catchy dialogue.

 

Theatre workshop poster (1)

Voices on Vietnam invites TWO French scholars

VoV has secured invitation for translator and maître de conférences, Cam Thi Doan (INALCO) and historian Emmanuel Poisson (Paris VII Diderot) to speak at Cornell University, November 1st, 2017. Their lunch and evening conversations will address the role of Vietnamese language literature and texts, its limits and its audiences.

Cam Thi Doan, will speak about the status of contemporary Vietnamese literature in France and Vietnam as well as its progression, renewal and transformation since the Đổi Mới period of the 1980s.

Emmanuel Poisson will discuss the import of Vietnamese language texts and its translations in relation to his work as a historian of modern Vietnam.

More official information on these events to come soon!

Exciting news! Thank you, CCA!

The Cornell Council for the Arts has generously decided to fund my first to-be-realized creative project!

Last name Tran (Ba họ Trần) is a theatrical piece that I began working on since coming to France for research June 2016. Last summer, when I was at the colonial archives in Aix-en-Provence looking at material on Vietnamese students in France, I learned about labor conscription during the interwar period. Vietnamese laborers were brought to France to contribute to the war effort. For some it was an attractive opportunity to come to France, learn French, and earn regular pay. For others, it was confusing: whose motherland were they contributing to, France or their own? Among the laborers were also young Senegalese and Malagasy men who were separated according to their size and abilities to work. After watching the documentary Công Binh, La longue nuit indochinoise (2013) by Lê Lâm, I was inspired by the director’s ability to weave multiple artistic elements in his work of historical narration, as well as by the urgency to capture stories that would soon be lost over time. When I watched the documentary and listened to the interviews, I imagined the laborers’ daily lives and their various experiences entering metropolitan France for the first time.
The theatre piece focuses precisely on these imagined reflections and interactions in a gunpowder factory in southern France, and incorporates elements of my research including the understanding of freedom, the imaginary of metropolitan France to colonial subjects, as well as the interaction among these colonial subjects. It follows Thanh, an ambitious youth in his early 20s who never finished his baccalaurat due to costs, Cuong, a wise forty-year-old who hides his ability to read Nietzsche regularly because of the tensions with Germany at the time, and enthusiastic Loic, renamed from Luan, who is as paradoxical as he is confused about colonialism, communism and all the –isms in between. The three meet at the factory, sharing nothing but their last name, Tran, in common.

More updates soon!