I’ve been working on this project for the last couple of months and am very proud to finally be able to share it. Nam Phong Dialogues is a podcast with the purpose of making history (especially about Vietnam) accessible. When this project was in ideation, I thought of my adolescent nieces and nephews, my adult friends of Vietnamese descent, and thought about how they, too, would love to learn about Vietnam, if only it weren’t so seemingly obscure and distant. If there was a way to make it fun, approachable, then maybe they would feel more connected to a part of their history.
Whether you are Vietnamese or not, an academic or not, this podcast is for you. Kevin Pham (Gettysburg College) and I bring to you candid reflections but also critical ideas about political, social, and intellectual life in Vietnam.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.)