Last Night I Dreamed of the Sun

Thao Ho

My dissertation project examines parallels and entanglements of memory politics, artistic practices and activism of Vietnamese artists based in Sài Gòn, Berlin, and Orange County, Garden Grove, through the medium of post-war visual art, sound and literature. It analyzes in which ways cultural politics and practices of memory within the respective nation states have affected and formed the realities of particular Vietnamese communities and their artistic practices in perpetuating remembrance and resistance, as well as the idea of homecoming. Furthermore, the dissertation examines the concept of diaspora in relation to its colonial history, the Vietnam War, and the post-soviet period, which has shaped the relationship of “domestic Vietnamese” and the viet kieu, the Vietnamese diaspora, living abroad. How do national memory politics shape the ways in which various cultural productions of the Vietnamese diaspora engage with their relationship to Vietnam? The project will closely analyze artworks by Vietnamese artists within the respective nation states, and the ways in which they challenge colonial notions of national boundaries, history writing and knowledge production in the USA, Germany and Vietnam. 

My PhD research will extend research on Asian American Studies coloniality and postcolonial studies in the context of the Southeast Asian Diaspora, taking the global historical entanglements of Vietnam and Vietnamese diasporic conditions as starting points. The current state of and discourses around Asian American Studies demonstrate the need to re-assess the direction of its objectives. As Asian American Studies was first established in the late 1960s by way of activism, it is necessary to further investigate the interconnection of contemporary activism and the academia that is not excluded from neoliberal understandings of progress. For example, Asian American studies has especially gained more attention in regards to the matters of “anti-Asian racism” during the corona crisis, or representation in mainstream media which seems to translate Asian American studies into a tool of empowerment rather than a field of critical engagement of the global embeddedness of its subjectives (Walgren). In other words, my research will extend Asian American studies not by remaining in the matrix of identity and visibility politics, or the mere intention of telling a history untold but by analyzing the conditions on which knowledge production and the making of history, as well as the relationship between the interrogation of past, present and futures and “liberal activist academic approaches.” While Lisa Lowe’s work Intimacies of Four Continents established itself in critical archival studies, it is less prominent when it comes to predominant perceptions of Asian American studies, as well as its globalization in the European context. Hence, it is necessary for my research to widen the geographical scale of analysis and, at the same time, emphasize the entangled conditions of (diasporic) lives located in the US, Germany and Vietnam. Research questions additionally include intercolonial solidarity and entanglements in the historical contexts of the 1900s and present times, epistemologies of African American studies/ Black studies in connection to Asian American Studies, Asian American studies in regards to queer studies, critical race studies in regards to the Vietnamese Diaspora in Germany, German Vietnamese studies that are still heavily underdeveloped. This dissertation project does not aim to prove the experiences and circumstances of marginalized (everyday) life by presenting new-found evidence. Instead, it seeks to trace what constitutes these ambivalences and shifts between “the war to be human” and the right to “become human” (Tadiar).  In other words, it intends to shift the discourse beyond labels and sensational debates that dominate US, as well as German political and cultural discourses on and of minority groups, rendering their social conditions into seemingly disconnected stories by keeping the scope of discourse either limited to the West or by pursuing an anti-West approach.

The project positions itself within the disciplines of American Studies, Asian American Studies, Black Studies, Critical Diaspora and Refugee studies, Critical Race studies, Queer Studies, memory studies, visual and literary studies. To clarify the notions of remembrance and embodiment of resistance in Vietnamese global contemporary art practices, following theoretical concepts will be taken as departure: Lisa Lowe’s “intimacies of four continents” (Lowe 2015) on cross-continental colonialism, Trinh Thi Minh Hà’s “speaking nearby” (Hà 1990), José Esteban Muñoz’s “disidentification” (Muñoz 1999), as well as Neferti X. M. Tadiar’s “remaindered life” (Tadiar 2022).  This project will rely on close readings of artworks and archival material. By choosing to work with archival material, it has to be discussed in what matter I can use the material. What are the consequences of inscribing definitions on embodied histories, what are the tensions between archival practices, activism and art production as well as knowledge production? 

In compromising abstraction and zooming into a particular community, that is the diasporic Vietnamese community, I do not intend to limit my research on a certain cultural identity but instead want to embed these experiences and research questions in regards to these communities into a wider structural map of historical entanglements by way of archival research, analysis of literary and artistic practice that is historically contextualized. All works thematize the after-life of war, refuge and intergenerational trauma, while also following their protagonists through their everyday life, and their routes that go beyond geographic and national boundaries. How can these social conditions be connected and compared?  In what way are they artistically portrayed and realized? 

My research will be based on archival material spanning from literature, visual cultural production and historic material.  I intend to visit and do my research in several archives, such as the Vietnamese American Heritage Project, The Virtual Vietnam Archive, Queer Asian American Archive collection, Lip Xinh, Schwules Museum Berlin, Queer Asian American Collection, as well as film archives in Germany and Vietnam. 

Working Bibliography 

Secondary Sources:

Ballantyne, Tony, and Antoinette Burton, editors. Bodies in Contact: Rethinking Colonial Encounters in World History. Duke University Press, 2005. 

Campt, Tina. “Black visuality and the practice of refusal”. Women & Performance (2019).

El-Tayeb, Fatima. European Others: Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe. University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

Gandhi, Evyn Le Espiritu. Archipelago of Resettlement: Vietnamese Refugee Settlers and Decolonization Across Guam and Israel-palestine. University of California Press, 2022.

Gopinath, Gayatri. Unruly Visions. The Aesthetic Practices of Queer Diaspora. Duke University Press, 2018. 

Ha, Trinh T. Minh. “Documentary Is/ Not a Name.” October, Vol. 52 (Spring, 1990): 76-98.

Le, Viet. Return Engagements: Contemporary Art’s Traumas of Modernity and History in Sài Gòn and Phnom Penh. Duke University Press, 2021. 

Lowe, Lisa. Intimacies of Four Continents. University Duke Press, 2015. 

lynch, kara, Henriette Gunkel. We Travel the Space Ways: Black Imagination, Fragments, and Diffractions. Columbia University Press, 2019. 

Nguyen, Tan Hoang. “Brothers: A Pornographic Love Story.” Eds. Cathy Schlund-Vials, Lawrence Minh-Davis, and Sylvia Chong. Asian American Literary Review (2015): 266-274.

Nguyen, Tan Hoang. “Fooled by Love: Viet Kieu Intimacy in Charlie Nguyen’s Đe Mai tính (2010).” Eds. Lan Duong and Viet Le. Visual Anthropology 31.1-2 (2018): 116-148.

McKittrick, Katherine, ed. Sylvia Wynter.  On Being Human as Praxis. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015.

Munoz, José Esteban. “Latina Performance and Queer Worldmaking or Chusmería.” Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. 181-200.

Nguyen Tan Hoang. A View from the Bottom: Asian American Masculinity and Sexual Representation. Duke University Press: Durham, 2014.

Singh, Julietta. No Archive Will Restore You. Santa Barbara: Punctum Books, 2018.

Tadiar, Neferti X. M. Remaindered Life. New York: Duke University Press, 2022. 

Walgren, Justin. “Students Weigh in on the Current State and Future of Asian and Asian-American Studies.” The Chicago Maroon. Accessed 02.06.2023. 

Werner, Jayne, and Danièle Bélanger, editors. Gender, Household, State: Doi Moi in Viet Nam. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002.  

Wright, Michelle M. Physics of Blackness: Beyond the Middle Passage Epistemology. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.

2023-04-11 | Posted by Thao Ho