France, Vietnam, and the Ambivalence of Interculturality


Karl Ashoka Britto

ISBN : 978-962-209-650-9

Cultural Studies, Gender Studies

April 2004

216 pages, 6″ x 9″

  • HK$275.00

This book explores literary representations of cultural hybridity spanning nearly half a century, a period marked by major shifts in Franco-Vietnamese relations.

How can identity be thought and represented outside of the oppositional categories that divide cultures, histories, languages and races? Can the intercultural subject be understood as more than a site of cultural contestation, as anything other than a confrontation between incompatible binary opposites? This book offers compelling responses to these questions through a series of close readings of francophone novels written by Vietnamese authors during and just after the colonial period. While many contemporary studies of cultural hybridity tend to privilege the postmodern, deconstructive play of postcolonial identities, Disorientation seeks to uncover what is often obscured in such celebratory analyses: the rigid and potentially traumatic conditions under which colonized subjects experienced the tensions and contradictions of intercultural identity.

The close readings that form the core of the book are inflected by cultural and historical considerations, and informed by a range of primary documents that includes training manuals for colonial administrators, works of imperialist propaganda, tourist guidebooks and travel writing, and textbooks from Franco-Vietnamese schools. These contextualized analyses recast the problem of interculturality in an Asian francophone context, expanding the historical and cultural fields within which questions of identity and difference are currently discussed and offering a striking perspective from which to question postcolonial theories of hybridity.

Karl Ashoka Britto is Associate Professor in French and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, USA.

“This fine book sheds new light on a literature that has been neglected too long. It offers a truly interdisciplinary, contextual set of readings, giving a very full sense of Viet Nam, of the history of its entanglements with France, and of the brilliant literature in French that it produced. The subject is compelling and timely; the writing and research are expert and polished; the overall effect is extremely impressive.” —Christopher L. Miller, Frederick Clifford Ford Professor of French and African-American Studies, Yale University, author of Blank Darkness: Africanist Discourse in French, Theories of Africans: Francophone Literature and Anthropology in Africa, and Nationalists and Nomads: Essays on Francophone African Literature and Culture.

Disorientation constitutes a highly original and important piece of literary, historical, and cultural scholarship, and will no doubt establish Professor Britto as a leading authority on Vietnamese literature in French. The book is a nuanced and theoretically sophisticated examination of the theme of interculturality through a study of key literary works from the Franco-Vietnamese tradition, which Britto approaches from multiple perspectives. In so doing, Britto provides a comprehensive and original approach to questions of identity in a postcolonial context. The book exemplifies, in my view, the best of current work in interdisciplinary cultural studies.” —Lynne Huffer, Professor of French Studies, Rice University, author of Maternal Pasts, Feminist Futures: Nostalgia, Ethics and the Question of Difference.