Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Tendrils of Memory: A Journey through Vietnam's Landscape

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Tendrils of Memory: A Journey through Vietnam's Landscape

Article excerpt

The noise of the whirling fan and the silent flicker of the television screen, still turned on but with its audio off, gave a purposeful beat to the melodic tones of the mandolin. Not a four-stringed Dan Ty Ba, the traditional mandolin known in Vietnam for over eight hundred years from the time of the Ly Dynasty (1009-1225), but the European eight-stringed Neapolitan instrument. To my Western ears, the melody sounded very Vietnamese. A weathered hand slowing caressing the steel strings, body gently swaying to the music, eyes closed; the mournful and hauntingly beautiful sounds seemed to echo in the small front room of the not-very-old, twostorey, terraced, Vietnamese house, on the outskirts of Vung Tau in southern Vietnam.

Earlier that day we had been invited to have dinner with Nguyen Dong Chuyen and his family and now found ourselves reclining self-consciously on soft couches in the main room of their house. On the coffee table before us were still laid out the remnants of tea, served in elegant European style cups and saucers. A fruit platter together with sweet delicacies completed the setting. As Chuyen finished playing the mandolin, a smile of recognition crossed his face. Not able to speak English, he translated through his children, how pleased he was to have Australian visitors as his honoured guests. The front room of his house served at various times as lounge room, family room, dining room, and garage for the family collection of motorbikes, and confirmed that the space was an integral component in the life of its occupants. The clutter, the functionality, the decoration, blended together in this one room and in the mix spoke of contentment. Not perhaps contentment shared by all its occupants, but contentment contained in the house itself through its structure and its form. Each member of the Nguyen family would of course have their own view of their achievements, their desires, their dreams, their futures and their past. Each member would have their own narratives-both lived out and yet to come. But what was interesting to this observer was the manner in which these narratives were signified to the world and made tangible to others.

In its many forms, this issue had accompanied me on my travels throughout Vietnam, and led me to the seaside city of Vung Tau in Vung Tau/Ba Ria province, one of the main centres of Australian military operations during the US-Vietnam conflict over three decades ago. I spent time in late 2008 travelling, observing and photographing some of the spaces and landscapes upon which significant narratives had been played out in the turbulent period of the 1960s and 1970s. At the heart of these observations were two central questions. First, what is the role of memory in our understandings of landscape and through the landscape our understandings of lived experience? And second, how can a photographic interpretation of the landscape further that understanding? In this article I argue that photography has an important role to play in bringing meaning to cultural history, not only by recording place as an historical marker, but through the interpretation of memory, and its relationship to landscape.

-LANDSCAPE AND MEMORY

Landscape is never static as both the past and the future underpin its present. We not only inhabit the landscape, we construct and often re-construct it, thereby altering its essence along with its physical structure, and in so doing we construct meaning through its form. Historian Simon Schama argues that 'before it can ever be a repose for the senses, landscape is the work of the mind. Its scenery is built up as much from strata of memory as from layers of rock.'1 Foucault has even suggested that although space and time are closely interconnected, it is space that is preeminent. 2 The spaces upon which we live determine our responses to the world, in so far as they act as the platform for our experience; implying that in terms of our mediated understandings, place can be said to have phenomenological significance. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.