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Bodily Impacts: Locating Vietnamese Modernism in the Contact Zones


Bodily Impacts: Locating Vietnamese Modernism in the Contact Zones

This dissertation examines Vietnamese modernist poetry as a cross-cultural contact zone, historically embedded, and composed of a dense network of intertextual engagements. What are the salient features of this cluster of work, and how do they inform our understanding of the larger constellation of international modernism? This dissertation makes several contributions to existing studies. First, this project explores the historical development of Vietnamese modernism by tracing the evolution of modernist poetry through three historical eras: the late-colonial era of the 1930s, the revolutionary era of the late-1950s and the "Renovation" era of the 1970s/1980s. In doing so, I demonstrate that there was indeed a modernist "movement" in Vietnam with trajectory and momentum, and even though historical events disrupted it at certain junctures. Second, this dissertation examines the complex transnational force-field that shaped Vietnamese modernism by tracing its web of connections to literary traditions in Vietnam, China, France and the former Soviet Union. Third, it considers the value of different theoretical orientations to the study of marginal literatures including approaches derived from history, colonial and postcolonial studies, comparative and world literature. I view these texts as markers of wider collisions, convergences, and re-articulations, rather than homologies. More than merely point out features that Vietnamese modernist texts share with European counterparts, I discuss the ways these poems participate in conversations with, and thus shift understandings of, modernism elsewhere--but from within the specific socio-cultural context of Vietnam. I move beyond internal-formal analysis to relate Vietnamese modernism to specific historical moments of cultural engagement to uncover the perceptible network of literary relations. In examining this case-study, I offer an extension to the cultural imagination of modernism, and a modest contribution to understanding cultural formations on the margins.

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