Association for Asian Studies in Honolulu, HI

My paper has been accepted for this AAS Annual Conference in 2022! It’ll be my first time going to the AAS Conference, and am hoping that the pandemic does not deter too many of our plans. The paper will be an opportunity for me to workshop ideas for the article that I’m working on on excess in Dương Thu Hương’s novels, Paradise of the Blind and The Zenith, two texts that I highly recommend.

Abstract:

Exiled writer Duong Thu Huong is one of the most renown contemporary women writers of Vietnam, namely for her blatant criticism of the Communist Party. In her works, The Zenith  (2007) and Paradise of the Blind (1993), translated and published abroad, she uses the recurring themes of excess and deficiencies to comment on the political deterioration of the State, a tragedy that began just years after gaining independence from France with the land reform movement. For example, the hunger that ravages in villages is countered by the ironic gluttony of ghosts, and the performative asceticism practiced by Party members only masks the actual greed underlying their political decisions. Through close examination of all facets of human life, Duong shows how karmic energy, a major narrative force in her works, ultimately promises a restoration of equilibrium that mercilessly punishes, humiliates and educates. This paper examines how the politics of excess, playing with different human virtues and vices, reveals a deep irony in the governing systems of Vietnam and the rhetoric of independence.

INALCO Conference

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.

Republic of Vietnam Workshop

I’m really excited to share the upcoming workshop on the Republic of Vietnam, held at the University of Oregon in Eugene in October. Among many peers and mentors who work on Vietnam, I’ll be discussing some work on writer Trần Văn Tùng, and his idea of nationalism during the late 1950s into early 1960s. Tùng was mainly known as a francophone writer, but shifted gears in 1950, to write exclusively on the status of Vietnam as a sovereign nation. Backed by his expatriate party in Paris, the Democratic Party of Vietnam, he appealed to the French and American public regarding the dangers of the existing Diem regime, the prudent use of foreign aid, and the plan for a democratic nation founded on republican principles. This might not sound so interesting to us as contemporary scholars, but for him and his time of writing, I find it bold and forward-thinking. Throughout my research, the most interesting materials I came across were relentless letters he wrote to Arthur Schelesinger and other personnel in the Kennedy administration. These letters were unfortunately glossed over, and it makes us wonder about an interesting counterfactual: what if the Democratic Party and their outlined plan was taken seriously? In any case, the letters are currently housed in the Kennedy Library in Boston and the workshop information and sample program are included below.

Studying Republican Vietnam: Issues, Challenges, and Prospects

 

Engaging with Vietnam …goes to Leiden!

Bauhaus-2

An interesting opportunity for scholars on Vietnam (+ Leiden in June)! This year’s theme is about uncovering different spaces and histories where Vietnam and Europe overlap, which can range from the presence of Vietnamese snacks in East Berlin (who knew?), the nostalgia for Paris in the infamous variety show Paris by night, even the presence of Russian tourists in Da Nang, Nha Trang, the list goes on.

The deadline for proposals is April 15th, 2019.

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Gatty Lecture Rewind Podcast

Image result for gatty lecture rewind

Thanks to Michael Miller, one of the Cornell Southeast Asia Program Graduate Organizers this year, we were able to record a conversation about the Gatty Lecture I gave in September as a way to debrief and share a little more about my work.

Tune into any of these platforms to listen to some of my reflections as well as to catch any other lectures you may have missed!

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/gattyrewind

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/6PojTeRoEUuZYsBrsbspVS

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/gatty-lecture-rewind-podcast/id1439744923?mt=2

As a post-script, I really want to credit Ben Tran’s Postmandarin (2017), Philippe Papin for sharing selections from Imagerie populaire du Vietnam (2011) with me, and the [difficult!] questions I received after the talk which served as a premise for our conversations.

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.)

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.