Vertigo: Bodily reflections of disorder and disruption – University of Copenhagen

ADI Conference 2018 > Panels > Vertigo: Bodily reflec...

10th Annual International ADI Conference
Asian Dynamics Initiative, University of Copenhagen
18-20 June 2018    

Panel:

Vertigo: Bodily reflections of disorder and disruption

Convener: Yen Vu, Cornell University

Vertigo, defined as “a disordered state of mind, or of things, comparable to giddiness," hones particularly in on the individual and human experience. This panel engages with the human body in singular and plural form, the movement of body/bodies, and the body as a physical and psychological canvas that reflects or represents disorder. It examines the social and political transitions in twentieth century Vietnam as formative moments in history and literature, with attention to how these transitions manifest in the recognition and understanding of the modern Vietnamese self, from “self-remaking” to the language one chooses to use and write. Particular studies will treat colonial travel, politicization of Vietnamese intellectuals, the prevalence of quốc ngữ and French in literature, as well as surveillance in early Communist government.  

20 June 2018

Panel sessions: Vertigo: Bodily reflections of disorder and disruption
Room: 35.3.12

9:00-11:00 Kevin Pham, University of California, Riverside
Vertigo, Shame, and Self-Remaking: The Political Thought of Nguyễn An Ninh

Vinh Pham, Cornell University

Off a Cliff with Nowhere to Fall: Looking at Language and Historical Continuity Beyond Colonial Vietnam
Yen Vu, Cornell University
Ethics and aesthetics of nausea in overseas colonial travel
11:00-11:15 Break
11:15-12:45

Li Zou, University of Edinburgh

Bio-economics in A Leaf in the Storm

Leszek Sobolewski, Independent Scholar

The use of torture by Japanese troops during the military occupation of French Indochina (March- August 1945)

Uyen Nguyen, University of California, Berkeley

Crossroads and Lampposts: A case of surveiller de près in a transitioning society

Abstracts

1.
Kevin Pham,
University of California, Riverside

Vertigo, Shame, and Self-Remaking: The Political Thought of Nguyễn An Ninh
In the 1920s during French colonial rule (1860s-1945), Nguyễn An Ninh (1900-1943) believed that Vietnamese youth were experiencing a state of moral vertigo. They were disoriented by two ostensible choices for moral guidance: return to neotraditional Confucianism or adopt Western liberalism. For Ninh, this vertigo is attributable to Vietnam’s shameful lack of an indigenous intellectual culture as compared to other nations. He exhorts the youth not to latch onto either of the aforementioned ‘rocks’ of morality, but to embrace even more vertigo by learning from diverse sources in order to create their own ideals. Only through individual and spiritual ‘self-remaking’, he believed, could the Vietnamese overcome vertigo and shame, and fulfill the generation’s task of uplifting the Vietnamese race.

There are lessons here for political and postcolonial theory. When national shame and self-remaking are discussed in political theory, the typical cases are of how nations historically acted shamefully toward another group (e.g. Germany to Jews, U.S. to blacks) and are faced with challenges of overcoming shame. Missing are discussions of how members of a nation express and respond to shame arising from their own perceived inadequacy compared to other nations. Postcolonial theorists typically dismiss these attitudes as ‘internalized inferiority’ imparted by Western colonizers. Yet, by ignoring and dismissing these attitudes we preclude explorations of how colonized people can be very anticolonial and very critical of themselves at the same time, on their own terms and independently of how colonizers may have viewed them.

2.
Vinh Pham, Cornell University

Off a Cliff with Nowhere to Fall: Looking at Language and Historical Continuity Beyond Colonial Vietnam
In Ben Tran’s recent publication Post-Mandarin: masculinity and aesthetic modernity in colonial Vietnam, he argues that the transition into quốc ngữ by the first Franco-Vietnamese generation produced a conception of colonial modernity that is intrinsically tied to shifting aesthetic practices and understandings of masculinity. This intervention into the intersections of language and gender, as a formative instance in modern Vietnam, not only expands the discourses on the significant role of literature in this transitional period, but also how the debate of the place of literature in Vietnamese society itself constituted part of that colonial identity. Building on Tran’s idea of this transitional generation, which he calls the “Post-Mandarins”, I argue that, rather than merely limiting to the realm of aesthetic practices, via language, during this period as a way to approach a form of historical continuity; in the case of Vietnam, historical continuity is precisely an issue of language. To approach this question, I will look at Linda Lê’s Tu éscriras sur le bonheur and the argument against a single narrative of refugees responding to historical events, as precisely an issue of historical continuity premised on language. 

3.
Yen Vu,
Cornell University

Ethics and aesthetics of nausea in overseas colonial travel
Can instances of vertigo, specifically nausea, in voyages between Vietnam and France be symptomatic of a change in position and therefore of perspective? What is so significant of such a common experience of seasickness? As early as the 16th century, such experiences during travel were already being recorded in formal writing. Michel de Montaigne in particular carefully paid attention to his own bodily reactions and included motion sickness in his essays, lending Jean Starobinski to argue that Montaigne’s essays represented a ‘humanist ethics,’ to be able to “imagine how suffering is endured.” If this is a method and strategy to place oneself within a tangible relation with others, then I would argue the importance of such common bodily experience derives from what it can psychologically tell us about ourselves and others. This becomes particularly important in the case of colonial travel, exemplified in travel writings (Phạm Quỳnh's Hành Trình Nhật Ký and Nhất Linh's Đi Tây) as well as voyages in francophone literature (Albert de Teneuille and Trương Đình Tri’s Bà Đầm), in which the arrival in either metropole or colony becomes a reversal of one’s own knowledge and experience, and a look into other possible realities. The ability to see through another perspective illustrates the potential for communication during the colonial era, helping us to understand why collaboration was possible for some, and more importantly, allows the Vietnamese in particular to see and critique themselves for the first time in a different light.

4.
Li Zou, University of Edinburgh

Bio-economics in A Leaf in the Storm
The Chinese writer Lin Yutang’s novel A Leaf in the Storm (1943) represents bodily reflections of war-swept China and it is sometimes considered as China’s version of Gone with the Wind. This essay examines how Lin Yutang uses bio-economics to represent the war-torn nation in American context. It argues that this novel constructs three types of bio-economics: physical body as sexual and economic capital, the bilateral influence between labour and the shape of body, the mutual conversion between health and wealth. These narratives of bio-economics not only show how economy circulates life and the interconnections among human life, its sustenance, and modes of production and exchange in wartime China, but are also moderate counter narratives to American imperial discourse.

5.
Leszek Sobolewski
, Independant scholar

The use of torture by Japanese troops during the military occupation of French Indochina (March- August 1945
The changes brought by the The Japanese coup d'etat in French Indochina on 9 March 1945 were indeed vertiginous: the overlords of yesterday – the French colonists – became virtually overnight a persecuted, isolated minority, leading a precarious existence at the mercy of the new Japanese occupants and the local populace, the large segments of which took a strong anti-French stance. The most spectacular symptom of this general shift of power was probably the creation of Japanese torture centres, where hundreds of Frenchmen (and occasionally also pro-French Vietnamese and Cambodians) were subject by the Japanese Military police (Kempeitai) to extremely violent treatment.

The French authorities immediately after the war ended tried to exploit politically the existence of Kempeitai torture centres in order to prove that France was also a country fighting against Japan,  passing by in silence both the almost five-years long period of Franco-Japanese collaboration in Indochina between the coup d'etat and the fact that the use of torture and violence in Indochina was not implemented by the Japanese, but dated from much earlier period – torture was used by French secret police in its fight against members of anti-French underground groups. Meanwhile, in Vietnamese historical narratives the atrocities of Kempeitai played only a minor role, if any. It seems that the existence of places where Frenchmen were subject to humiliation and torture was a factor that contributed to a general loss of prestige of the colonists in the eyes of their subjects and thus accelerating the decolonization process. The attitude towards the Japanese perpetrators doesn't seem to be negative – notably after the capitulation of Japan, several Kempeitai officers responsible for the use of torture defected to Viet Minh, where they were welcome as valuable allies in the war against France.

6.
Uyen Nguyen, University of California, Berkeley

Crossroads and Lampposts: A case of surveiller de près in a transitioning society
In 2011, the posthumous publication of Crossroads and Lampposts (“Những ngã tư và những cột đèn”) by the renowned poet Trần Dần (1926–1997), shook the Vietnamese literary society. Trần Dần is most well-known by scholars of Vietnam for his central role in Nhân Văn-Giai Phẩm (NVGP), a political protest in the early years (1954–1956) of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The novel started as a project requested by the Police Department, the handwritten manuscript was finished in 1966, submitted to the police for review, but was not returned to Trần Dần until 22 years later. Remaining unpublished until 2011, the novel has attracted only literary scholars who attempt to explain Trần Dần’s literary genius and philosophical engagements. This paper explores the novel as a demonstration of the biopolitical order in post-1954 Hanoi. It proposes a historical reading of the novel through a heuristic category called “records of surveiller de près” which consists of particular subjects of surveillance, particular agents of surveillance, and a distinct discourse of justice and rhetoric of suppression. Supplemented by Trần Dần’s diary from 1954 to 1960 and Vietnamese archival documents, the historian extracts from this enigmatic novel a historical understanding of the transitioning political and social life in Hanoi after the Communist takeover in 1954.