Sometimes I invent myself, like a shipwreck, in the whole expanse of my language.Gaston Miron
Tentatively entitled Forging Freedoms, language and intellectual thought in 20th century Vietnam
From colonialism to the rise of revolution to the construction of a socialist society, the 20th century was a tumultuous era for the Vietnamese. Central to those political and social shifts is the popularization and education of both the Vietnamese and French language. As new generations of youth began to read and write more, literature and discourses began to circulate, disseminating ideas including perspectives on different cultures, Enlightenment ideals of freedom, and various forms of political writing. The Vietnamese thus had access to both Vietnamese and French, to different literary spaces, as well as to discourses on liberty and democracy. These are the languages, broadly speaking, they had at their disposal to make sense of their colonial disposition, to negotiate with the French and amongst each other, to rally revolutionary sentiments, and to contemplate the future of postcolonial Vietnam. My project thus argues that language, through these diverse forms, is a medium that allowed the Vietnamese to explore and negotiate individual and national freedom, and therefore is an important lens through which we can view the country’s transformations in the 20th century.
By looking at language broadly as a means of expression and negotiation, the book highlights Vietnamese agency in the writing of their own history. That is, the reflection, circulation, and negotiation of what I call “languages of freedom” is important because it reveals the extent to which the Vietnamese sought to create and establish a national identity that is unique but also integrative of foreign ideas. Furthermore, I look at how intellectuals from both North and South Vietnam engaged with similar struggles of intellectual freedom. This is important in the context of the scholarship and representation of Vietnam in both the public domain and academic history, because Vietnam is often studied only in relation to the American war in Vietnam, its incapable leadership, its divisions and inconsequential aftermath. When we examine more closely the will of the people in the many fights endured over the entirety of the 20th century as this study does, we can detect a continuous underlying mission on the part of the Vietnamese: to consolidate a Vietnamese identity befitting of the changing global society.
“An ecology of morality: political and material excess in the works of Duong Thu Huong”
This study takes an ecocritical perspective to analyze how materialism figures into Duong Thu Huong’s works after economic renovation or Doi Moi in Vietnam in 1986. I examine Paradise of the Blind (1988) and The Zenith (2006) and how they address political critique of the Vietnamese Communist Party through images of excess, using material excess to comment on political and moral excess in the Party’s governance. I expound upon the profound metaphysical quality of Vietnamese culture and life, in which one’s actions and desires do not stand alone, but are interconnected with that of others. This grants new meaning to the intricate relationship between politics and society, politics and literature, and politics and the environment, for they are not bound by mere human relationships or actions, but by the larger forces of karma and the restoration of a universal equilibrium.
“Migration as a poetics: the transformative mode of history in diasporic life and literature“
This essay explores poetics in a Glissantian vein, reading movement and displacement not only as a generative mode of literary creation but as a transformative mode of history, of living and writing life. It first examines particular instances in the Vietnamese context, notably through contemporary writer Do Khiem and his travel and diasporic literature, and opens up the dialogue of such poetics to writers of displacement more generally. In considering the overlap between travel and displacement, displaced writers and displaced individuals, the essay seeks to develop a relationship between place and identity less predicated on origin than relation.