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Recalling Vietnam: Queering Temporality and Imperial Intimacies in Contemporary U.S. and Franco-Vietnamese Cultural Productions

  • Author(s): Phan, Justin
  • Advisor(s): Lam, Mariam B
  • et al.
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My thesis is particularly interested in how French colonialism is selectively forgotten while the Cold War is emphasized in U.S. re-constructions of war in Vietnam. To demonstrate this, the thesis is organized into three main parts. The first part introduces an accounting of U.S. treatments of temporality, subjectivity, and geographies in archival and documentary remembrances of the Vietnam War. This is particularly important to my thesis since my thesis’s main concern is in how U.S. remembrances of the wars in Vietnam elide—and in a sense, disavow—this interconnected and intimate relationship between French and U.S. empires, a connection I call imperial intimacies. In addition, Part II departs from a deeply historical inquiry of the Military Assistance Advisory Group – Vietnam archive and ventures into how this disavowal of French colonialism within U.S. archival sources is echoed in cultural sources like public television, documentaries, and novels. In doing so, Part II examines the nationalized, gendered, racialized, and sexualized politics of memory in Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s 2017 documentary series called The Vietnam War.

Inversely, while the geographies, temporalities, and subjectivities can be constrained by the U.S.-Vietnam War and the subsequent memory-making apparatuses, Part III examines the role of two cultural productions that explicitly privilege Franco-Vietnamese diasporic subjects. I engage Monique Truong’s 2004 novel The Book of Salt and Idrissou Mora-Kpai’s 2011 documentary film Indochina: Traces of a Mother. These two productions provide an alternative representation of temporality and intimacies as experienced and created by Franco-Vietnamese subjects, in contrast to the temporality evoked by strict historical accounts that require a level of empiricism and positivism found in Burns and Novick’s series and in the MAAG–Vietnam archive. Marking the Indochinese diasporic subject as both material trace of colonial violence and as the historical antecedent to these wars, my reading of Mora-Kpai and Truong’s cultural productions insist on a different engagement with war memory and national memory that roots itself through a critique stemming from the many uses of imperial intimacies.

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This item is under embargo until February 8, 2021.