Treacherous Subjects: Gender, Culture, and Trans-Vietnamese Feminism

By Pelaud, Isabelle Thuy | Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, October 2013 | Go to article overview

Treacherous Subjects: Gender, Culture, and Trans-Vietnamese Feminism


Pelaud, Isabelle Thuy, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies


Treacherous subjects: Gender, culture, and trans-Vietnamese feminism

By CAN P. DUONG

Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012. Pp. 243. Illustrations.

doi: 10.1017/S0022463413000519

In Treacherous subjects, Lan Duong does what most Asian Americanists studiously avoid, that is, she engages in sharp criticism of nationalism in so-called 'homeland' and community politics. Her ambitious new book provides a courageous and much-needed gender analysis of Vietnamese, Vietnamese-American and French-Vietnamese literature and film, hopefully paving the way for new scholarship that looks across national borders. This approach should prove particularly fruitful in analysing Vietnamese and Vietnamese diasporic cultural productions. Not only does it disrupt the borders placed by the institutionalisation of Asian Studies and Asian American Studies and the ideological divide between Vietnam and refugee communities abroad, it also reveals the impact of the legacy of colonisation and American imperialism on women and the stories they produce. Such complex comparative examination creates new ways of conceptualising Vietnamese and Vietnamese diasporic identities.

The tensions created by having to side with one ideology or the decision to stay or leave Vietnam continues to haunt Vietnamese and those living in the diaspora. Lan Duong begins the book with a personal story to indicate her positionality. Her father was labelled a collaborator of 'Vietnam's colonial and Cold War enemies' by the Vietnamese because he left Vietnam as a refugee in 1975, while her mother was considered loyal because she stayed behind. Both suffered tremendous loss as the family was separated. The themes of loyalty and 'treason' are most relevant to Vietnamese and refugee Vietnamese in the diaspora. Trust or the inability to trust still pervades family and community dynamics as Duong argues, collective anxiety surrounds the impossibility or inability to remain faithful to one ideology or commitment, as historical and traumatic events unfold. These anxieties, she firmly shows, are overwhelmingly projected onto the bodies of women. Accusations of treason do not reflect reality, but point instead she says to the perceived interest in strengthening alliances for the purpose of nation or community building.

In this book, Lan Duong specifically examines the impact of what she calls 'the trauma of betrayal' marking Vietnamese and Vietnamese diasporic subjectivities. Although these are characterised by divided loyalties and shifting alliances, she carefully points out that these are 'not fixed and tend to fluctuate with economic and political relations between countries. Duong uncovers double meanings in collaborative postwar Vietnamese and Vietnamese diasporic literary and filmic representations, most interestingly in cultural works around the theme of treasonous collaboration. …

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