Alexandra Kurmann gives keynote for WiF “The Immersive Potential of Literature” symposium

Dr Alexandra Kurmann recently gave a keynote presentation for the Women in French (Australia) Postgraduate and Early Career Researcher International Symposium: The Immersive Potential of Literature and Hybrid Media in the 20th and 21st Centuries (Jan. 13-15, 2022). Alex’s presentation was titled “Immersion in Literature as Other: The Sartrean Gaze and the Production of Empathetic Reader-Consciousness.”

Abstract: Walter Benjamin holds not that ‘books come alive in’ the reader, but that the reader ‘lives in them’ (‘Unpacking My library’, p. 9). In the context of worldly as opposed to textual existence, in Being and Nothingness Jean-Paul Sartre theorizes a dyadic structure of human relations through ‘the Look’ (pp. 252-302). While effecting objectification when one is held in the other’s gaze, the Look consequently prevents us from being both known subjectively by, and knowing the subjective experience of, another. I propose that the imaginative displacement inherent in the act of reading evades this end; for reading a first-person fiction narrative allows us to say ‘I’ and yet mean another. Transposing Sartrean phenomenological ontology to the textual world produces what I call a reader-consciousness, which allows the reader to occupy the space of the narrating Other, thus explaining why fiction readers present an enhanced Theory of Mind or empathy (Mar et al.). Evincing Benjamin’s conviction that we live in literature, this paper makes a phenomenological analysis of the act of fiction reading and its corresponding potential for offering immersive experiences of otherness. In a final theoretical application, I read through the Sartrean Look texts voiced by a doubly othered Algerian-French lesbian narrator in the work of Nina Bouraoui. Such an engagement tests the limitations of a theory of empathetic reader-consciousness in relation to an intersectional autobiographical narrative.

New publication by Nguyen Giang Huong: Le Portail France-Vietnam

Le site France-Vietnam : Bibliothèque des flamboyants (Bibliothèque nationale de France et Bibliothèque nationale du Vietnam), en mettant désormais à la disposition des historiens d’innombrables documents datant particulièrement de l’époque coloniale, rappelle opportunément que la France et le Vietnam ont une histoire commune depuis le XVIIe siècle jusqu’à nos jours. Il a l’ambition de jalonner des itinéraires dans les recherches sur le Vietnam et son moment indochinois, sur la France et sa mémoire vietnamienne et sur les rencontres et imbrications des deux cultures, qu’elles soient économiques, politiques, littéraires esthétiques ou religieuses. Il s’agit d’établir une sorte de trait d’union entre les traces de deux constructions identitaires, d’établir une dynamique collaborative entre les deux plus riches réserves de mémoire nationale, de tracer les contours d’un vaste patrimoine partagé.

Après avoir présenté les caractéristiques d’un projet susceptible de renouveler l’historiographie française de l’Asie, le présent volume offre quelques exemples caractéristiques d’étude de la culture vietnamienne comme espace de transferts culturels et invitation à de nouvelles enquêtes d‘histoire transnationale. Si les interactions qu’il éclaire ressortissent souvent aux sciences humaines, elles mettent aussi en évidence les caractéristiques d’une francophonie littéraire vietnamienne.

Trouver le livre.

New publication by Leslie Barnes: The Cinema of Rithy Panh

Born in 1964, Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh grew up in the midst of the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal reign of terror, which claimed the lives of many of his relatives. After escaping to France, where he attended film school, he returned to his homeland in the late 1980s and began work on the documentaries and fiction films that have made him Cambodia’s most celebrated living director. 
The Cinema of Rithy Panh: Everything Has a Soul, co-edited with Joseph Mai and featuring essays by ASERN members, Leslie Barnes and Jack Yeager, is the first collection of essays on Panh’s rich body of work. The fourteen essays in the volume explore the filmmaker’s unique aesthetic sensibility, examining the dynamic and sensuous images through which he suggests that “everything has a soul.” They consider how Panh represents Cambodia’s traumatic past, combining forms of individual and collective remembrance, and the implications of this past for Cambodia’s transition into a global present. Covering documentary and feature films, including his literary adaptations of Marguerite Duras and Kenzaburō Ōe, they examine how Panh’s attention to local context leads to a deep understanding of such major themes in global cinema as justice, imperialism, diaspora, gender, and labor. 
Offering fresh takes on masterworks like The Missing Picture and S-21 while also shining a light on the director’s lesser-known films, The Cinema of Rithy Panh will give readers a new appreciation for the boundless creativity and ethical sensitivity of one of Southeast Asia’s cinematic visionaries.

Find the book.

Catherine Nguyen named 2021-2022 ACLS Fellow

Catherine Nguyen has been awarded an American Council of Learned Societies fellowship (2021-2022) for her project, Children Born of War, Adoptees Made by War: Vietnamese Diasporic Contestations of Empire and Race.  

Catherine’s project investigates the Vietnamese mixed-race child and the transracial adoptee as the figures through which France and the United States negotiate citizenship and refugee displacement and moreover, rewrite military loss within their history of colonial and military occupation of Vietnam. The project challenges the prevailing idea that the mixed-race child is constructed as an object of rescue and employs the conceptual framework of hospitality to reveal the impossibility of the mixed-race child’s full incorporation by way of repatriation and adoption. Reading Vietnamese diasporic works in French and English, the project explores how the mixed-race child as subject complicates the distinctions between refugee and adoptee. Attending to the failures of hospitality and acts of hostility, the project draws attention to how the mixed-race child undermines the expected gratitude and thus offers critiques against the welcome into the family and nation that serves to reconcile military violence and recuperate imperial loss. 

Read more

New publication by Angelica Pithey So: ‘L’éducation de nos filles’ in Colonial French Indochina

This article examines the problematization of, and the proposed solutions to, cultural métissage in the first published Vietnamese Francophone novel, Le roman de mademoiselle Lys (1921). It investigates how the author, Nguyen Phan Long, founder of the Constitutionalist Party of Cochinchina, uses French syntax as a rhetorical means of disciplining Vietnamese women in French Indochina. I interpret his use of French literary traditions of novelistic and fictionalized diary-writing to impose Confucian ideals on Vietnamese women, and read his mirroring of French “diary-novels” as a reflection of his desire to respond to journaux-romans and their French male authors. 

Read the article: Angelica Pithey So, “Nguyen Phan Long’s Le roman de mademoiselle Lys: ‘L’éducation de nos filles’ in Colonial French Indochina”.

Image: Rebecca Klein, DatASIA Press

Nguyen Giang Huong launches France-Vietnam: Bibliothèque des flamboyants

France-Vietnam: Bibliothèque des flamboyants is a bilingual digital library (French-Vietnamese) exploring the cultural, historical, colonial, and scientific interactions between France and Vietnam from the 17th century to 1954. A collaboration between the French and Vietnamese National Libraries, the project is part of the “Patrimoines Partagés” collection, which bears witness to the historical and ongoing relations between France and the world. 

Led by Nguyen, head of the Southeast Asian Languages and Literatures collection at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the France-Vietnam digital library makes thousands of rare documents available in their entirety. Bridging French and Vietnamese memories, the site gathers a varied corpus of leaflets, manuscripts, maps, drawings and photographs from French and Vietnamese collections. Accompanying texts by French and Vietnamese specialists, researchers, and curators illuminate and contextualize these materials.  

The documents, which include translations of classic works, new literary production, and scholarly manuals, are divided into eight thematic rubrics: circulations, traditions, thought and spiritualities, literature, cultural transmission, governments and dynasties, the sciences and society, and economic life. These rubrics are further divided into 36 subheadings. 

Notably, the collection contains nearly 10,000 documents from the Dépôt legal indochinoiscreated between 1922 and 1954, which are available online for the first time. This wide-ranging collection is an exceptional resource for the history of Indochina. 

Read more

Image: L’Ecole d’art de Giadinh, 1935; National Library of Vietnam 

New publication by Leslie Barnes: Reckoning with Forced Marriage in the Era of #MeToo

Focused on the experience and legacies of the Khmer Rouge marriage policy, this essay examines Cambodia’s culture of silence surrounding gender-based violence in the era of #MeToo and highlights a set of cultural responses that confront silence, countering it with a multifaceted mode of expression that aims to unite survivors across communities, generations, and experiences. Spanning a range of media, including documentary cinema, the plastic arts, and classical Khmer dance, the “language” emerging in these responses is at once restrained and excessive, naming the experience of assault in the public sphere without creating an imperative to speak publicly. More importantly, it offers a multimedial, polyvocal means through which survivors of gender-based violence see their traumas recognized and shared by the broader collective. These initiatives offer a culturally situated, restorative approach to addressing gender-based violence, past and present, that stands in productive contrast with the largely retributive #MeToo movement. 

Read the article: Leslie Barnes, “Reckoning with Forced Marriage in the Era of #MeToo: Silence and Gender-based Violence in the Cambodian Arts”.

Image: San Nan, Woman and Memories; Photograph, Van Channarong/Bophana Center 

ASERN at the 20th and 21st French and Francophone Studies Conference

Organized by ASERN members Elizabeth Collins and Howie Tam, and including papers by Leslie Barnes and Catherine Nguyen, this panel spanned cultures and continents, exploring connections, perspectives, and solidarities among francophone Asian writers, filmmakers, artists, and activists in the Francosphere today. What might it mean to be “Asian” in the francophone world, and how are these questions considered in literature, cinema, bandes-dessinées, digital media, and other aesthetic forms? How have events such as the defence of universalist republicanism  in the aftermath of the death of Samuel Paty and the rise of anti-Asian racism and violence in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic sharpened this focus? 

Asian in the Francosphere? Views on Transcultural Literature, Film, and Media:

  • Xinyi Tan (Coastal Carolina University): “Thinking beyond the French-Francophone dichotomy: the literary identities of François Cheng, Ying Chen, Shan Sa, and Kim Thúy” 
  • Howie Tam (Harvard University): “Diasporic Return and Search for Worldly Home in Anna Moï’s L’année du cochon de feu
  • Xiaofan Amy Li (University College London): ”East Asia and Francophone Writing”  
  • Elizabeth Collins (University of Pennsylvania): ”‘#AsiatiquesDeFrance’: Confronting Anti-Asian Racism in Contemporary France through Digital Media”
  • Leslie Barnes (Australian National University) ”Smoke and Mirrors: Sex Work and Rithy Panh’s Cinematic Image” 
  • Catherine Nguyen (Harvard University): ”Drawing Little Wars in Marcelino Truong’s Graphic Memoirs” 
  • Haiqi Zhou (University of California, Los Angeles): ”Frédéric Chau: (Dis)Appearance of the Chinese Community in French Cinema” 

New publication by Howie Tam: Literary Nationalisms

As Vietnam was caught in wartime narrative austerity from the 1950s to the 1970s, followed by the communist state’s intolerance of dissent, Vietnamese writers in the French and American diaspora have offered literary texts that challenge both Vietnamese discursive stricture and dominant perspectives in France and the United States. This essay studies two novel sequences from the diasporic Vietnamese literary archive: Vietnamese French author Ly Thu Ho’s trilogy and Vietnamese American writer Lan Cao’s pair of historical novels. Taking a historicist approach, the essay reveals complex nationalist expressions, aspirations, challenges, and desires in Ly Thu Ho’s and Lan Cao’s works of fiction. 

Read the article: Howie Tam, “Diasporic South Vietnam: Literary Nationalisms in Novels by Ly Thu Ho and Lan Cao”.

Image: Les Editions de la Frémillerie