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Title:Reversing the French gaze: four Vietnamese Francophone women writers from 1910s to 2000s—Marguerite Triaire, Trinh Thuc Oanh, Ly Thu Ho, and Linda Lê
Author(s):Kwok, Gloria
Director of Research:Yeager, Professor Jack A.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Blake, Professor Nancy
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Keller, Professor Marcus; Fresco, Professor Alain
Department / Program:French and Italian
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Vietnamese Francophone literature
the Indochina War
the Vietnam War
the French literary establishment
the limits of the defense of Vietnamese Culture
the construction of knowledge about Vietnam and the condition of Vietnamese women
Abstract:This dissertation shows how Marguerite Triaire, Trinh Thuc Oanh, Ly Thu Ho and Linda Lê, four women writers of French expression, counter the Orientalist stereotypes propagated in colonial literature and media, and produce knowledge about the Vietnamese Other in their works. Their work is part of what is known today as Vietnamese Francophone literature (originally known as Vietnamese literature of French expression during the colonial period). My theoretical framework is necessarily hybrid, reflecting the syncretic nature of the Vietnamese Francophone literary production, Vietnamese and French. My work covers Edward Said’s Orientalism, the postcolonial feminism of Gayatri Spivak, Sara Suleri, Chandra Mohanty, and Rey Chow and the Western postcolonial theories of Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, Homi Bhabha, as well as specialists in the field such as Jack Yeager, Nathalie Nguyen, Leslie Barnes, Tess Do, Eugène Pujarniscle and Louis Malleret. I also rely mostly on primary sources for the early women writers given the scarcity of secondary sources on their works. In this dissertation Orientalism is deployed as a model in the study of Vietnam as the Other. Using Said’s definition of Orientalism from his groundbreaking book Orientalism, published in 1978 as i) a body of research on the Orient by the Occident, ii) a style of thought that differentiates the Orient and the Occident, and iii) a corporate institution that deals with the Orient by studying it, codyfing it and governing it, I examine how the four women writers question the Western style for writing about the Orient, in this case, Vietnam. This dissertation includes three main chapters, framed by an introductory and a concluding chapter. The introductory chapter is a review of past and recent scholarship on the field of Vietnamese Francophone literature, and explains the theorists informing my work, and the rationale for the choice of the four female voices. Chapter One treats the collaborative work, "En s’écartant des ancêtres" (1939) and its sequel, "La Réponse de l’Occident" (1941) by the first two female Vietnamese Francophone voices—Marguerite Triaire and Trinh Thuc Oanh. I examine how they use women to document change and challenge the Western received idea of the female Vietnamese Other. I show that they question the Orientalist discourse while being complicit with it. In their mission to redress the superficial Orientalist clichés propagated in colonial works, they explain and defend their customs, thus altering and idealizing their culture and overemphazing difference. Chapter Two focuses on the trilogy—"Printemps inachevé" (1962), "Au milieu du carrefour" (1969), and "Le Mirage de la paix" (1986)—by Ly Thu Ho. I show that Ly Thu Ho’s goal is to question the Orientalist or reductive representation of her country as either anti-Communist or anti-American as disseminated by the French and American media. She participates in the construction of knowledge about the wars and women in her country through lengthy explanations of the complex political situation in Vietnam between 1935 and 1975. Secondly, I look at the roles of the different women in the three novels, and argue that despite their predominant role in the novels, they are imprisoned in the Orientalist myth of Vietnamese women as passive observers. Chapter Three focuses on Linda Lê, a contemporary Vietnamese Francophone writer who lives in Paris. This chapter examines the following works—"Fuir" (1988), "Calomnies" (1993),"Les Evangiles du crime" (1992),"Les dits d’un idiot" (1995), and "Les Trois Parques" (1997)—for their veiled Vietnamese content. I show how Lê challenges the ideological domination of the French literary establishment by declining the existing metropolitan Orientalist stereotypes about Vietnamese Francophone writers and the female Other. The concluding chapter summarizes how all the writers mentioned in this dissertation participate in the construction of knowledge about their culture and the condition of women, question the fundamental assumptions of Western subjectivity, reverse the French gaze, reinvent their culture and values so as to reinscribe authority in Vietnam. In short, I show how the four women writers counter Karl Marx's famous statement about the Other "they cannot represent themselves; they must be represented" which inaugurates Said's Orientalism.
Issue Date:2016-07-07
Rights Information:Copyright 2016 Gloria Kwok
Date Available in IDEALS:2016-11-10
Date Deposited:2016-08

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