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Disorientation: France, Vietnam, and the Ambivalence of Interculturality

Karl Ashoka Britto
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This book explores literary representations of cultural hybridity spanning nearly half a century, a period marked by major shifts in Franco-Vietnamese relations. How can identity be thought and represented outside of the oppositional categories that divide cultures, histories, languages and races? Can the intercultural subject be understood as more than a site of cultural contestation, as anything other than a confrontation between incompatible binary opposites? This book offers compelling responses to these questions through a series of close readings of francophone novels written by Vietnamese authors during and just after the colonial period. While many contemporary studies of cultural hybridity tend to privilege the postmodern, deconstructive play of postcolonial identities, Disorientation seeks to uncover what is often obscured in such celebratory analyses: the rigid and potentially traumatic conditions under which colonized subjects experienced the tensions and contradictions of intercultural identity. The close readings that form the core of the book are inflected by cultural and historical considerations, and informed by a range of primary documents that includes training manuals for colonial administrators, works of imperialist propaganda, tourist guidebooks and travel writing, and textbooks from Franco-Vietnamese schools. These contextualized analyses recast the problem of interculturality in an Asian francophone context, expanding the historical and cultural fields within which questions of identity and difference are currently discussed and offering a striking perspective from which to question postcolonial theories of hybridity.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-101-9
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Growing up in the increasingly nationalistic environment of Vietnam in the 1940s and 1950s, the narrator of Kim Lefèvre’s autobiographical novel Métisse blanche (1989)¹ is painfully aware of her physical difference from an imagined ideal of Vietnamese racial purity. Born from “l’union éphémère d’une jeune Annamite et un Français” [the ephemeral union of a young Vietnamese woman and a Frenchman],² she embodies the fundamental problem addressed in this book: how can identity be thought and represented outside of the oppositional categories that divide cultures, histories, languages, and races? As a mixed-race individual, Lefèvre’s métisse bears the corporeal traces of a...

  5. ONE The Conquered Student: Colonial Education and Vietnamese Francophone Writers
    (pp. 13-30)

    From the time the French colonized Southeast Asia in the 1860s, the question of how best to govern the Vietnamese became one of paramount importance. Debates raged in France over the most effective means of ensuring colonial domination and responding to the call of the mission civilisatrice. Advocates of assimilation, who believed in the manifest superiority of French culture and in the necessity of “civilizing” colonized peoples, often opposed supporters of association, who argued that respect for cultural difference led to a more effective colonial administration.¹ In spite of the evident theoretical differences between these two positions, many historians of...

  6. TWO Sentimental Interculturality: Nguyen Phan Long’s Le Roman de Mademoiselle Lys
    (pp. 31-80)

    One of the earliest Vietnamese novels in French was written by Nguyen Phan Long, a journalist publishing and writing for French-language newspapers in colonial Vietnam. In Le Roman de Mademoiselle Lys (1921), a novel written in the form of a journal kept by a young woman from Cochinchina, the author specifically set out to portray the effects of French education on Vietnamese women: “Le roman que void,” he wrote in the novel’s preface, “a pour principal thème l’ éducation de nos filles” [This novel ... has as its principal theme the education of our girls].¹ Covering a period of just...

  7. THREE Race, Culture, and Stereotype: Truong Dinh Tri and Albert de Teneuille’s Ba-Dam
    (pp. 81-108)

    A red dragon sprawls across the front cover of Ba-Dam, Truong Dinh Tri and Albert de Teneuille’s 1930 novel about interracial marriage in French Indochina.¹ The title appears in bold quoc ngu letters on one side of the dragon’s twisting body, while on the other, a curious subtitle can be found: Roman franco-annamite [Franco-Vietnamese novel]. The prominent placement of this generic classifier highlights the collaborative nature of the text’s production, its dual authorship: Teneuille, a Frenchman, was a minor writer who published several volumes of poetry and fiction over the first half of the twentieth century; Truong Dinh Tri, primarily...

  8. FOUR History, Memory, and Narrative Nostalgia: Pham Duy Khiem’s Nam et Sylvie
    (pp. 109-124)

    Born in Hanoi in 1908, Pham Duy Khiem was one of the few French colonial subjects to be granted access to the elite institutions of higher education in the metropole. After studying at the Lycée Albert Sarraut in Hanoi, he traveled to Paris, where he attended the Lycée Louis-le-Grand and later became the first Indochinese student admitted to the prestigious Ecole Normale Supérieure.¹ He returned home in 1935, and over the next twenty years taught Latin, Greek, and French, wrote and published a number of essays and literary texts,² and ultimately became involved in the nominally postcolonial government of the...

  9. FIVE Writing Interculturality: Pham Van Ky’s Des Femmes assises ça et là
    (pp. 125-156)

    Is it possible to imagine interculturality as something more than a confrontation between fundamentally incompatible opposites? Can the tensions within intercultural identity be a source of productive signification rather than anguish and death? How can a literary text reflect the internal divisions and paradoxes of the intercultural subject without reproducing a narrative of cultural authenticity in which the very existence of that subject becomes unthinkable? To explore these questions, I will focus in this final chapter on the work of Pham Van Ky, a Vietnamese writer who spent the greater part of his life residing and publishing in France. After...

  10. Afterword
    (pp. 157-160)

    Soon after publishing Métisse blanche, Kim Lefèvre wrote a second autobiographical narrative, entitled Retour à la saison des pluies (1990). Divided into two sections, this text begins with “Le passé resurgi,” a description of the profound impact of the first book on its author’s life: a popular success, Métisse blanche also generated enough critical interest to earn Lefèvre an invitation to appear on Bernard Pivot’s literary talk show Apostrophes.¹ Lefèvre became a celebrity of sorts, sought out by other immigrant women who had moved to Paris from Vietnam. For the first time — and after some thirty years of absence — she...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 161-192)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 193-200)
  13. Index
    (pp. 201-208)