Framer framed: film scripts and interviews

Image: Trinch T. Minh-ha, Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989)

Trinc T. Minh-ha teaches in the University of California, Berkeley’s departments of Rhetoric, & Gender và Women’s Studies. Born in Hanoi in 1952, Trinh emigrated to the United States in 1970 where she studied musical composition, ethnomusicology and French literature, completing her PhD dissertation in 1977 under the title: Un Art sans Oeuvre: l’Anonymat dans les Arts Contemporains <An Art Without Oeuvre: Anonymity in Contemporary Arts>. Since the early 1980s she has developed a complex theoretical, visual và poetic response lớn the implicit politics regulating the production of discourses and images of cultural difference. Working through the multidimensional effects of imperialism and neo-colonial modernity, her works played a pivotal role in the emergence of postcolonial theory and critique. Her now canonical 1989 book, Woman, Native, Other, investigates the contradictory imperatives faced by an ‘I’ positioned ‘in difference’ as a ‘Third World woman’ in the act of writing, as well as in critiquing the roles of the creator, intellectual & anthropologist. But aside from the critique of mechanisms of cultural representations, Trinh’s works experiment with deconstructive & transgressive sầu ways of questioning their own classifications. They play on, with & across cultural và national boundaries. Alongside films & installations, Trinc has published numerous essays và books on cinema, cultural politics, feminism and the arts.

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The interview took place in London in December 2017, when the London premiere of Forgetting Vietnam at Tate Modern was programmed in parallel with a full retrospective sầu of Trinh’s films at the Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Lucie Kim-Chi Mercier You made three films around Vietnam; can you speak a little about the process that led you from one lớn the next? Is there a thread running through the different films, namely Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989), A Tale of Love (1995) and Forgetting Vietnam (2015)?

Trinch T. Minh-ha In terms of realisation they are three very different films, but certainly, there are threads linking them together because they are all about ‘culture’ in the largest sense of the term. Whenever I go lớn places và shoot in cultures different than my own, I’m not interested at all in ‘covering a story’ – an individual’s story or an individuadanh sách subject. I never work that way. I’d rather come inkhổng lồ places & events with questions like: What characterises a culture? What is its everyday reality? What leads a country khổng lồ be seen as such? And importantly, how vì we show và tell (from what position, with what tools)?

Surname Viet Given Name Nam, as you can tell from the title, concerns the naming of a country. It has lớn vị with gender & national identity, as well as with the politics of naming, translating & interviewing. Forgetting Vietnam, which engages with the process of remembering & forgetting, also relates khổng lồ the naming of a country, by featuring the multi-dimensional roles of land & water. In Vietnamese, đất nứớc, the term for country, designates ‘land’ và ‘water’, but just saying ‘nứớc’ or ‘water’ already refers lớn a country (for example ‘nứớc ta’ means both ‘our water’ or ‘our country’).

I start from there, from Vietnam giới as a body of water – in its geological formation & via its people’s economic and cultural activities – to lớn commemorate its fiftieth anniversary of the end of the War. A Tale of Love is a film based on the national poem of Vietphái nam, Kyên ổn Vân Kieu. If there’s one thing the Vietnamese diaspora across all nations remembers of the culture, it’s this poem. It’s chất lượng because it speaks to people from all classes in all walks of life. Villagers know verses of it. They’ve sầu become popular sayings and are widely cited in a host of circumstances, especially situations related khổng lồ questions of gender và nation, virtue và loyalty. Even if people don’t remember all 3,254 verses of the epic love poem (none could vì chưng so in any case), they vày rethành viên fragments pertaining lớn the distinct roles và deeds of the characters in the poem.

This was what I adopted in approaching the poem with my film: not illustrating it; not manufacturing a reamenu representation of it; not narrating it linearly from beginning to kết thúc, but offering a multi-time, multi-layered, music-for-the-eye work. Therefore, coming in from the middle, opening with the ear via the poem’s closing verse which deliberately states its function as a fabulation for beguiling the long night. What is emphasised is the nature of the poetic, hence the singing và recitation against a visual work that also invokes the olfactory dimension of experiencing love. And what is retained from the poem are only those instances that highlight the ‘scents of a narrative’ – here, as I have it, the conflicted loyalties & the nonconforming choices of the woman protagonist who, despite her sacrifice & impeccable ethics in love sầu, does not fit squarely into patriarchal norms và ideology.

In other words, when I approach culture, what appeals khổng lồ me is not the tìm kiếm for ‘a good story’, the individual story, or the clear message that marks our consumerist society’s truyền thông media productions. The ubiquitous dem& for a centralised story sets the mould for funding & exhibition networks whose criteria for what is ‘good,’ và ‘clear’ serve sầu to promote a monolithic, domination-subordination mode of storytelling. What appeals khổng lồ me, however, is a making that maintains at core a relation to infinity: a focus that is vast in scope yet specific lớn the culture observed; situations that pertain khổng lồ local people & at the same time speak lớn those from elsewhere; women whose peculiar conditions vì chưng not merely represent those of their peers—in this case, Vietnamese women. So when people say ‘it’s a film on Vietnamese women’, I would say yes, but … For example, I rethành viên well when I presented and showed Surname Viet in Bologmãng cầu in Italy, some women from the audience told me how moved they were by what they had heard in the film. They felt that it was their own condition that was being addressed. And this, I was told, also occurred with a group of Palestinian women who discussed my book Woman, Native, Other. So when you choose something specific it could be at the same time locally precise và very wide in scope.

LM: Let me linger a little bit on this question of the ‘name’, & the paradox that in order lớn deconstruct or unvì the idea of a specific place or nation state you have khổng lồ reassert its name. For instance in a lot of these films you name ‘Vietnam’ in the title. In Reassemblage, you narrate that someone asked you: You want khổng lồ make a film on Senegal, but what in Senegal? A signifier of a nation state seems lớn be very important both as the locus of a de-figuration &, at the same time, a locus of play.

TMH: Absolutely. It tells us something about our compartmentalised world – how knowledge is forcibly compartmentalised for control purposes, and how, even with the constant talk about virtual boundlessness in globalisation, the world we live sầu is a world of proliferating fences & walls. Boundaries are all over in our language, in the way we relate to lớn people and events in life.

In remote villages of West Africa, where lived ‘Africa’ is not divided inkhổng lồ nations, people identify mainly in terms of genealogy, ethnicity and linguistic belonging, & it’s not at all uncommon for these villagers lớn speak four khổng lồ six African languages. In other words, they are fluent across geographical & ethnic borders. They speak the languages of their neighbours in addition khổng lồ their native sầu language và the trade language of their region. So the system of the nation state and its derivative sầu notion of nationalism remain quite disconnected, at odds with this cultural context – something lượt thích an exogenous imposition, a hard line drawn over the maps of precolonial African kingdoms.

Such a structure of governance taken for granted as the norm is not unrelated to the way we consume film in general. In a story-driven approach to documentary for example, it is often thought that if you cover a subject, you have khổng lồ focus on a specific topic, a ‘case study’ – something finite lượt thích an individual’s story, a conflict, a ceremony, an incidence within a village or a community, or else a family drama– but if you are focusing on everyday life, building on the gestures of a culture via ordinary activities, & composing a distinct tapestry of sense, sight and sound as you go, it doesn’t seem lượt thích a subject for a number of film consumers, especially film programmers and funders, who always ask for ‘a story’ (obviously, not the kind of cosmic, spiritual indigenous storytelling whose scope reaches across generations, which I discussed in Woman, Native sầu, Other). So even when you make a documentary they beg you lớn develop an individuacác mục, character-bound story with a beginning, middle & over, abiding by the normative theatrical three acts & its conflict-driven climax. For me, filmmaking is not at all about stories or messages. Those come along, but they can’t define cinema.

Why not approach filmically a country, a people, a culture by starting with what comes with an image (mental, material, digital) or with a name lượt thích ‘Vietnam’, ‘China’, ‘Japan’, or ‘Senegal’, for example – as explicitly asked in my earlier film, Reassemblage (1982). What exactly stands for, characterises & speaks lớn a cultural and political event? Through the specific apparatus of film và video clip, how does one show, tell & receive sầu while refusing merely lớn represent? In other words, the given name or the recorded sound image is a site of departure, where one takes off rather than arrives.

The focus here is on the play between seeing and not seeing; on the work of the invisible within the visible, and vice versa; or else, on how the seen both displays and veils, & how what is necessarily left unseen in each instance of the seen could contribute lớn bringing about another seeing. Questioning the prevailing clayên ổn lớn visibility, such a seeing acknowledges its limits while inducing one lớn see anew, not only with eyes wide open, but also with eyes wide shut. Of course, this is only one way of questioning the established tendency khổng lồ reduce reality to lớn the realm of the visible. Another way would be to address the other senses involved since cinema is not a mere art for the eye but an experience of the whole body toàn thân.

LM: I was struck by the multiple facets và ambivalence of the title, Forgetting Vietnam. So, with ‘forgetting’ you highlight the act by which one might attempt lớn forget, the paradox of acting the forgetting, & you give us this beautiful quotation: ’”To really forget, we must fully know what we want to forget”’ (Ptê mê Thi Hoài). But how to rethành viên the face of a war?’ This runs against the idea of a devoir de mémoire, in the sense of memorialisation. Indeed, it inverts it: what’s at stake is not a determinate form of remembrance, as in Walter Benjamin’s idea of the Proustian image, but a determinate forgetting… So, I’m interested in how you treat memory and forgetting via image và sound.

TMH: This follows nicely from the earlier discussion concerning the land-water pair khu đất nứớc) that defines Vietphái nam as a country. A common place to start would be to lớn say: l& records, water dissolves. The forces of preservation & oblivion go hand-in-hand. As stated at the beginning of Forgetting Vietnam, ‘It all begins with Two.’ Non-binary pairs multiply in unexpected courses and there are always at least two ways to enter my films.

To return differently to lớn what I said about my three films on Vietnam being very distinct from one another, Surname Viet Given Name Nam is a 16mm film in which the stories of women interviewed in Vietphái nam by a French-based Vietnamese writer, Mai Thu Van, were first translated và published in French, then retranslated by myself inkhổng lồ English và made into lớn a ‘script’ for the film. Through the condition of women both in Vietnam & in the diaspora, the work features the historical multi-naming of a country and the politics of translation and interview – or documentary’s antiquated devices.

Shot in 35mm, A Tale of Love giao dịch with the genre commonly called ‘fiction’ or ‘narrative feature’ in which the love story is requisite. With the love story comes a whole process of voyeurism, for every story of love sầu on screen is a story of voyeurism. The more of a voyeur you are in a feature narrative sầu, the more intimate the view you offer to lớn the spectator, right? So the camera would follow people everywhere. In their bathroom, in their shower, in their bed, in their nudity, but also in their terminal illness, in their hunger, in their suffering. It is an extreme form of voyeurism which I literally & provocatively exposed và incorporated into the role of one of the main characters of the film: the photographer. A Tale of Love is structured in such a way as lớn give sầu you at first the feeling that you have sầu a story, but as the film moves on, the story seems to disappear. As it loses its linearity và is made to lớn dissolve sầu, the viewer is invited to follow the narrative sầu threads the way a deer would traông chồng a scent. ‘Narrative, in her world, is a track of scents passed on from lover to lover’, says a character in the film.

In Forgetting Vietnam, I was dealing with footage shot in 1995, with the advent of Hi8 video, and footage shot in 2012, with the advent of High Definition (HD) video. So you have low and high giải pháp công nghệ, tradition và modernity, rural & urban, and it’s arduous khổng lồ make them work together. Like other Third World countries, this is a problem that Vietphái mạnh is struggling with, not only because the leap required lớn bridge the gap between old & new is much more abrupt than in European countries, but also because the concept regulating the relation between low tech and high tech in today’s consumer society is incompatibility. Everything is linearly made incompatible between past & present, North and South, East and West, so that we are constantly compelled to keep on consuming in our throwaway society.

The three films are therefore different from one another in their treatment, approach and concerns, even though this may escape many viewers. It’s interesting to lớn see how curators tkết thúc to lớn program them. They usually put my African films on the same bill, and my two last Vietnam giới films would often be screened in consecutive sầu order, one after the other with barely a break in between; and that’s because they go by subject. But if, instead of content, they were khổng lồ go by cinematic concerns, they wouldn’t program them together. For me, lumping them together would make it impossible for the viewer lớn open up và take in their autonomy and integrity as film.

I mention all this lớn give sầu you the wider context required lớn respond khổng lồ your question about the complex relation between forgetting & remembering. In the making of Forgetting Vietnam one of the commitments I kept in relation lớn war images was the following: most of the films made on the war in Vietnam show you the horrors of war mainly through what constitutes the sensational in cinema. So: explosions, bombings, killings, bodies, buildings and environment being burned, mutilated and blasted; violent, bloody scenes with wounds oozing open (blood as depicted in mainstream films is cheap), và then suffering that is strident – noisy, & loud. Such a depiction of war amply exploited on screen for spectacular effect is something that I vì not want at all lớn have in my films. Showing brutality has its journalistic function, but violence for violence’s sake is how the truyền thông continue lớn desensitise human suffering và digăng tay, as well as how the entertainment industry claims khổng lồ serve sầu a consumer society steeped in violent media.

And then you have sầu the other kinds of films evolving from this war, of which you really have to lớn ask: Whose interest does it serve? For most of the time what’s covertly at stake are American interests. Whether their politics is liberal or conservative sầu, mainstream films made in the name of the war in Vietnam speak to one side of the war & contribute khổng lồ sustaining American hegemony. So, sometimes during one of these films’ screenings, I would be sitting in the audience with other Vietnamese people, & they would look at me và say: Do you think it has anything to lớn vị with us?

With Forgetting Vietnam, viewers often wonder why there are no images of the war, but the war is all over, whether visible or otherwise. Its traces are everywhere, present in the environment, in people’s memory, in their speech & daily rituals. For example, the poets quoted in the film are mostly young — those whose generation has not known the war. Yet their thoughts & feelings are full of it, lượt thích this young woman poet, , who, writing about – the ancient imperial thành phố in central Vietnam whose traumatised inhabitants silently endured the mass killings perpetrated during the historical Offensive of 1968 – would discthảm bại her sentiments as follows: ‘I want to lớn murmur to Huế and khổng lồ caress it / But I’m afraid khổng lồ touch the sensitive spot on Vietnam’s body.’

The War’s affect still runs deep within the young generations born after it or at its over.. On the surface, everything seems to have returned lớn normalcy today, & ironically, in the current era of terror, Vietphái mạnh is reportedly one of the safest places to travel to lớn. But the War is all-permeating, very present in its absence, and not just present the way the truyền thông media represents it. The commitment lớn not use any footage of the War that has been taken & circulated on the truyền thông in Forgetting Vietnam was a question both of ethics & of intense remembering in forgetting. In Surname Viet Given name Nam I deliberately used some archival footage of the refugees in the 1950s with the stories of refugees in the late 1970s and 1980s so as lớn rethành viên rape as a national and yet gender-specific problem across times of war. But in Forgetting Vietnam, I didn’t want any war footage because as soon as you have ‘Vietnam’ in a film, people would expect to lớn see these kind of images, & when these are not there, they feel somehow lost, as if Vietphái nam as a war is the only way they could relate to the country. So this is one way of forgetting.

Another more obvious way to lớn forget could be seen in what has happened with tourism since the kết thúc of the War. There are many American soldiers who travelled there, not so much khổng lồ rethành viên Vietnam as khổng lồ forget the Vietnam giới they knew, which is partly understandable. They are likely interested in returning to lớn learn about the country of which they knew so little when they first came, deluded by their might, to eradicate an enemy force via military power. However, there is also a nostalgic side to lớn it. They return khổng lồ their battlefields, but this time as a tourist, as a consumer, so of course the Vietnamese folks would immediately oblige. Today in the flourishing industry of war tourism, the complex interwoven tunnel system in southern Vietnam giới, which bears witness khổng lồ the guerillas’ unmatched ingenuity và endurance, has become a source of investment. The multileveled subterranean structure that allowed the Vietnamese khổng lồ gain victory over the Americans is precisely now part of the exoticism of war in the tropics, và the very places for touristic …

LM: You can even shoot a gun right, you can shoot a gun as part of the experience?

TMH: It’s incredible. That’s a second aspect of the forgetting. This being said, what is equally important lớn me is that when you go khổng lồ a place with a camera, you rely on the camera khổng lồ rethành viên for you. And with new technologies – the iPhone being a popular example – you can select, delete, trash, edit, collect, keep whatever you want. This is how memory is treated today through digital công nghệ. The difference between old & new giải pháp công nghệ is all about systems of memory. However, when I don’t have a camera I rethành viên very intensely the experience of an sự kiện, a place, a culture, a people. Relying on the camera lớn capture và record has led people to lớn think that they can preserve sầu memories with a camera. But actually, what they preserve is of a different nature than what they experience và remember. In that sense, one can talk about a ‘memory for forgetfulness’, since forgetting here means engaging critically with the world of camera and iPhone ever-faster memory. Show, tell, record. On the one h&, such an unquestioned economy of display-so-as-to-remember should be problematised in relation to everyday practices of forgetfulness và khổng lồ indigenous economies of preservation-through-burial, for example. On the other h&, the more you attempt lớn forget & evade what you try to forget, the more it comes back to haunt you. Vietnam’s spectre still haunts the White House, as it has the world at large. The question of remembering và forgetfulness could never be separated. For me, it remains a non-binary pair, two faces of the same coin.

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LM: I would lượt thích lớn discuss the problem of heroism because it appears to lớn stretch all the way baông chồng in your work lớn Lovecidal: Walking with the Disappeared (2016), which articulates a critique of the heroic version of war, war seen in terms of victory vs. defeat. The discourse on heroism seems lớn loông chồng memory on every side. Memory is locked by the discourses of victory, that is, in the official Vietnamese discourses of history & state, as well as in a left-wing discourse which maintains a melancholic relationship to that moment – with its svào internationalist commitment against the war that hasn’t since achieved comparable momentum. In the US, you also have sầu the two sides of, if you will, ‘defeat’: the Vietnamese diaspora for whom it is still difficult to lớn speak about the war now, as well as the American veteran’s side.

TMH: Your take on heroism in this context is pertinent, & I can see the liên kết with Surname Viet Given Name Nam, in which the women interviewed criticise the way they were presented by the foreign truyền thông, that is, always as ‘heroic fighters’. In Forgetting Vietnam and especially in my last book Lovecidal, it is the victory mindset that I see regulating war, paradoxically bringing together the two warring sides. It is a mindphối that divides the world inkhổng lồ winners và losers. When you think about it, it is absurd to lớn always want to lớn be the winner & lớn always consider the other lớn be the loser. Heroism righteously trotted out khổng lồ disavow suffering & distress partakes in such inanity. In today’s ‘new wars’ it might be more appropriate khổng lồ say that the line between winning và losing has been so muddled that there is no longer a loser. Every war champion claims victory at all cost, and hence, battles are only fought between victor & victor.

For example, one of the most striking and puzzling moments for me during the 1991 Gulf War was when the Americans were declaring victory over Iraq. As television screens were filled with talk about the war coming to an over, thanks lớn the glorious results of Operation Desert Storm và the swift victory by American-led coalition forces, we, earnest spectators, were briefly shown images of Iraqi’s celebrating their own ‘victory’. This is what in Lovecidal I Gọi the ‘Twin Victories’. Of course, for Western media reporters, it was mind-boggling to see such a celebration when Iraq had lost the war. Everyone said at the time that Saddam Hussein was deceiving his people. For me, it’s not the same concept of victory. Same word, similar striving, but not the same thing. The West is always probing and measuring the other in their terms, but it would be more relevant to ask seriously why Iraq claimed victory where the Western world only saw defeat. As with the Algerian or the Vietphái nam wars, the West may obtain military victory temporarily via a power from the sky, but nations of lesser means ultimately gain political victory via a power from the underground. These persist through elaborate subterranean structures built khổng lồ fight those who clayên ổn to lớn see everything from the sky.

Victory can also be a victory like 9/11. Who is winning? Who is losing? Such senseless questions evade the full significance of war. There is political victory, there is symbolic victory, & then there is this victory achieved by force of arms, which ultimately serves the military empire, allowing those considered all-powerful to lớn prevail over those fighting through guerrilla means. It is this imbalance of asymmetrical warfare and the rise of singular forms of everyday resistance that I raised in Lovecidal. Not only bởi they speak to the absurdity of war, they carry the potential to lớn change the landscape of struggles for justice.

In the war against the French, the moment I focused on was also the moment of victory và defeat at Dien Bien Phu – that memorable closing instance when a Viet Minch combatant asked the French colonel, in French, ‘c’est fini?’ and the officer replied, ‘Oui, c’est fini.’ It’s lượt thích hearing two children play fighting and then turning to lớn one another as they over the game: ‘Is it over?’ ‘Yes, time’s up.’ War comes down lớn something so infantile, so insignificant. You thua thảm so many lives just for that moment of victory. Together with the affective dimension of war, this is the absurdity that I wanted lớn highlight. The same thing goes with the so-called ‘kết thúc of the war’ in Iraq. The Americans’ exit strategy was khổng lồ pull out during the night so that you couldn’t see their withdrawal. Then they continued the war through means which were not explicitly martial, but were fed by their military-industrial complex: arms industries promoting not only the circulation of American weapons, but also private security contractors & more.

It is interesting that you links heroism to memory in the context of state discourse (the official voice of Vietnam) as well as left-wing discourse. The orthodox Left could not hear women speaking critically within their midst; it could not tolerate the complex positioning of Mai Thu Van, whose interviews I adapted for Surname Viet Given Name Nam. She’s a well-informed Marxist herself, but her book was shunned by Leftists because she exposed the shortcomings of the system through the voices of women – from both North and South — who dared express their disnội dung và Gọi into lớn doubt the Party’s patriarchal structures và State feminism. Of course, the absurd question that arises in these cases is: Who is more Marxist than whom? Is her stance more Marxist, because she is critical và she remains true lớn these heroic fighters’ voices? Or is it the oblivious dogmatic Left that can just unfold its own narrative, without having lớn involve sầu themselves in the struggle of women throughout history and His-story (history by và for men)?

LM: If you don’t mind, as we are currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of 1968, I would be interested in shifting this reflection baông xã in time. I’m thinking of two works that were made around ’68 on the Vietnam War that explicitly tackled the issue of heroism. Firstly, the film Loin du Vietnam <Far from Vietnam> (1967) – collectively realised by Joris Ivens, William Klein, Claude Lelouch, Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, Agnès Varda và Jean-Luc Godard – a film in which, in a striking scene, Bernard Fresson monologues to a completely silent Karen Blanguert about the heroism of the Vietnamese people, the rightness of their cause, & the impossibility of living with the idea that he cannot prove his own heroism. The problem of being ‘far’ from Vietnam giới, which Godard develops. Secondly, Susan Sontag’s text Trip to lớn Hanoi (1969), in which she spends a good half of her narrative sầu complaining that her trip is a sort of anti-climax because she was expecting to lớn see a heroic people in action & is disappointed. They are living a great destiny but they don’t seem quite khổng lồ grasp what is happening lớn them.… And the tension is very much about communication; she finds it really hard to communicate with them. In the over she reconciles herself with her ikhuyễn mãi giảm giá và she ends on a praise of their ‘laconic’, ‘flat’ form of communication as a mã sản phẩm of ‘economy of words’. In your own trajectory, how did you react lớn these kinds of engagements with the Vietnam giới War?

TMH: We’re not dealing here with Left versus Right, but rather with a left within the Left, with the issue of gender looming large. This fight is much more challenging. Sometimes we speak the same language, & yet we feel as if we were dispossessed of the very tools that enable us lớn have a voice. The rhetoric of eunique and justice is readily appropriated by the Left’s ‘old boys club’, which is why the ‘linguistic self’ (Gloria Anzaldúa), the ‘verbal struggle’ (Mao) and the politics of representation continue to lớn be fought on the feminist front.

When I made Surname Viet, I did initially get hostile reactions from both the Left and the Right. But the more vicious ones were from the Left, not from so-called ‘rednecks’ as one might expect, but from righteous people who didn’t want to lớn hear any of the views put forth in the film: partly, it seems, because women didn’t really count and their voices didn’t score with theirs; partly because the history of the war in Vietphái nam is a territory they authoritatively owned and controlled. The only thing they would hear was that the Communist Party was criticised, which they immediately interpreted as a stance against the revolution & sociadanh mục Vietnam, which was not at all the point. There was no room in their mind for difference, only for opposition. A film on the plight và suffering of women in the war is commonly viewed as being partial, but it doesn’t seem to lớn cross many viewers’ minds lớn regard as biased & chauvinist all the films made on the War which almost exclusively feature male anguish và male heroism.

In the aftermath of Vietnam’s victory, many people who fought dearly for sociadanh mục Vietnam giới couldn’t voice their thoughts. They spoke almost as if they were muzzled. You couldn’t speak unless you did so about the fatherlvà in positive sầu terms. Even sadness & mourning were state-mediated; it took decades of struggle for writers in Vietnam giới to lớn concede with quiet laughter that they have sầu at long last ‘gained permission to be sad’ and ‘can now weep without being gagged.’ I’m thinking here of the wonderful writer, archivist & translator , whose novel The Crystal Messenger (1988) was banned in Vietphái mạnh, và who is now living in Berlin. During wartime she was an enthusiastic revolutionary of North Vietphái mạnh and yet she has come around since then lớn asking aloud the question: What happened lớn that revolutionary spirit? What is left from that revolution?

This is where we can situate my response to a work lượt thích Loin du Vietnam. I don’t want khổng lồ bình luận too much on Susan Sontag because the kind of expectation she had for ‘a heroic people’ in action could, at best, be qualified as naive, &, at worst, as arrogant in its paternalism. This is the tension around communication, which is somewhat similar lớn the early situation of feminism, or should I specify ‘White feminism’, in which the fight for ‘women’ excluded or barely acknowledged the plight and contributions of women of colour. So in its exclusive claim for equality, ‘woman’ could remain oppositional và discriminatory from within. Going khổng lồ Vietphái nam with a superiority complex and a preconceived idea of what the revolution should look like, and expecting communication with the locals to be readily friendly and forward lớn an American foreigner, is much less interesting to pay attention lớn because, as an attitude, it is highly patronising.

But Godard is an interesting case. Although Loin du Vietnam is a collective sầu work that seemed khổng lồ be put together quite expeditiously, it was an activist gesture of tư vấn. The short section titled ‘Camera Eye’ that Godard contributed, appearing on screen with his camera – lens và apparatus – was quite to the point. Unlượt thích some of the other sections that endorse unquestioningly the norms of reportage (omniscient voice-over running throughout the footage, in which the relation between the verbal and the visual was not thought through), Godard’s section critically đơn hàng with the core of reportage. For this kind of eye-witness genre, being present and shooting on site is essential. But Godard told us from the outmix that he was denied permission to lớn go khổng lồ Vietphái mạnh to shoot và he accepted the North-Vietnamese government’s refusal because, as he interpreted it, his politics were rather vague & that perhaps what he would come up with might vị more harm than good for their cause. Rather than abandon the project, however, he offered a work that spoke khổng lồ his being ‘far from Vietnam’. Such a position has disadvantages, but it could open up a wealth of possibilities such as acknowledging that ‘Vietnam giới is in us’ & that one should create three or four Vietnams…

More generally speaking, và just lượt thích with the film Godard made on the Palestinian struggle, Ici et ailleurs, <Here & Elsewhere>, whatever he is critical of, he is right in the midst of it. He is reckless in the way he attacks & exposes himself as a film director. The criticism is not pointed outward, it is pointed right at himself. Sometimes what he offers can be offensive but it is actually offensive sầu – with hyên ổn right in the middle of the picture, so lớn speak. For me this is far more dangerously challenging than the position in which criticism is voiced from a safe place, as if what one points khổng lồ is outside, external khổng lồ oneself và to where one stands. As I just mentioned, Godard actually put khổng lồ use the government’s rejection to assume his position as outsider and his being genuinely ‘far from Vietphái nam.’ He is not claiming khổng lồ speak và show from ‘inside’ Vietnam.

When I came up with the title ‘Forgetting Vietnam’, I was staying away from the righteous, moralistic connotation of one lượt thích ‘Remember Vietnam’. With all the wars going on today, the White House nhà trắng is not remembering well. Every time war looms, the spectre of Vietphái nam haunts the President’s speeches, even though he may assert that no, this is not its repetition. But the mere fact that its name repeatedly crops up means that the spectre of the Vietnam giới War still walks the halls of the White House.

Contextually, Godard is explicit in his positioning. He is far from Vietnam. In Ici et ailleurs he makes us smile và cringe at the kind of grandiose speech that struggles of liberation & sociadanh sách regimes are so fond of, & with that the grandiose notion of heroism. It’s discomforting to listen to lớn grandiosity in its in-progress construct: militant speech coming out of a child’s mouth innocently performed with pompous gestures, its being awkwardly rehearsed by a woman on screen.

LM: It seems khổng lồ me that with this question we are really in the midst of your own research inlớn another way of relating to lớn politics. Do you feel that the critique of anthropology và ethnography that you were leading in the early 1980s is still current? Is it still urgent for you? Or has it lost some of its urgency?

TMH: Well, the first thing lớn reGọi is the link between anthropology và colonialism. Anthropology has done a lot to disengage itself from the fact that it was born with Europe’s colonial expansions, but in its pseudo-scientific claims anthropology remains steeped in a colonial ethos. The questioning of the anthropological apparatus and its essentialising constructs was urgent when I was living in Senegal và doing retìm kiếm in West Africa. It was not as if I didn’t encounter such a colonialism-inflected discourse in Vietphái mạnh, but I was very young at the time và was not as puzzled as I had been in Senegal by a discourse that turned you inkhổng lồ an ‘other’. What was so baffling for me in Senegal was not just the white administration or the Trắng anthropologists & researchers who carried on this colonial structure of the mind, but actually the insiders themselves, African intellectuals & city-dwellers who often enacted the anthropologist’s mindset in speaking authoritatively about their own culture. So at the time it was urgent for me, and especially when making the film Reassemblage (1981).

I’ve sầu moved on since, và today when some viewers tell me they find my films khổng lồ be ‘ethnographic’, I take it positively, especially when coming from an ethnographer. You can be ethnographic without making an ethnographic film, not because you adopt a process recognised or approved by anthropology, but because of the rigour you bring into lớn your work when you look at another culture. Having learnt khổng lồ see anthropology through my studies và research in ethnomusicology, I think anthropology is at its best when it acknowledges the crisis at the core of its being, and when it assumes the precariousness of its status, rather than evade or deny this by trying to lớn institute its authority. It is a vulnerable field because you are trying to vì retìm kiếm in a context that is unfamiliar to lớn you, & then trying to lớn nội dung it, khổng lồ translate it to another context. You are constantly in the position of mediator and translator. If one recognises the impossibility of the task of translation (the way Walter Benjamin discusses it) and the impossibility of translation in one’s work, it becomes an interesting work — one that is situated at the edge of being no longer valid. Offering something valuable while questioning its validation is a way of de-positioning while positioning. So that’s where anthropology could be at its best. And I bởi find a small number of scholars & young people working in that direction today.

LM: In order to bring the different threads of our conversation together, I’d like lớn ask you to say a bit more on the way in which you reflect on 1968 today, & in relation to lớn the Vietnam War?

TMH: There are many ways lớn answer such a vast question. I’ll give sầu it a try, first by drawing on the context of our discussion, taking Vietnam as an example to relate to the revolutionary spirit of that transnational moment. On the one hvà, as stated in Forgetting Vietnam, ‘can one simply place the War in a museum?’ Through what is made visible & put on display for memory, what precisely is kept invisible and erased from memory? In other words, how khổng lồ remember the historical ‘defeat’ of ’68’s emancipatory ideas so as to lớn keep their legacy alive sầu in today’s so-called ‘free-market’ ideology (a mere alias for corporate greed)?

For example in Vietnam, 1968 was the memorable year when the Offensive sầu of Tết Mậu Thân was launched. The message which informed North Vietnamese forces that they were about lớn inaugurate the largest chiến dịch of surprise attacks against South Vietnam’s military và civilian control centres was relevant enough: ‘Crachồng the sky, shake the earth.’ In its zealous mission of liberation, Hanoi firmly believed that the Offensive would trigger a spontaneous, supportive sầu uprising of the population which would lead to lớn a quiông chồng, sweeping victory. But the outcome of the Offensive sầu was far from what was expected: the loss of lives – mainly civilians, but also troops from both sides of the battle – was staggering. Nonetheless, the failure khổng lồ achieve their main objective sầu of spurring uprisings throughout the South was still translated inkhổng lồ a victory for the North, as the media’s coverage of the atrocities & the extent of these human losses during the Offensive exposed the truth of war in all its messiness & changed the American public’s perception of their role in Vietnam giới.

Today, the 1968 Huế carnage allegedly perpetrated by the National Liberation Front during their occupation, as well as by America’s firepower in their resolution to recapture the thành phố, remains a ‘most sensitive sầu case’. On the one hvà, placed inlớn oblivion in the official version of War history và conveniently absented from the government-operated War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minc City. On the other, persisting in people’s collective memory, thereby revealing the utter delusion of war when lớn win & regain control means to destroy what one phối out lớn protect. In this bitter lesson of war, victory in defeat for the Northern forces was followed by defeat in victory for the Southern forces & the US. As stated in the film, no matter how carefully selective sầu memory is in rewriting history, the ‘scars of war have sầu surfaced publicly’. The survivors’ harrowing testimonies as well as the mass graves discovered in and around the đô thị, which revealed victims buried alive sầu in addition lớn those clubbed or shot dead, have sầu had a massive impact on the 1975 refugees exodus. They have sầu also triggered the exodus of human remains since the 1990s. The War’s many faces cannot be reduced nor simply buried.

Must victory thrive on selective forgetfulness và the erasure of its defeats? The sociadanh sách Vietnamese government has never acknowledged the slow but unprecedented exodus of ‘boat people’ & refugees – some two million persons by 2001 – who continued to lớn leave Vietphái nam following the War’s over. As Pđắm say Thi Hoài remarked, ‘It took the winners ten years lớn realise that victory was not something that could be eaten … It took the US twenty years to lớn sign a peace treaty with its own past.’ Her analysis also informed how the War provided the Communist Party with justifications lớn fight and rule with ‘the mandate of Heaven’ – a principle borrowed from Đài Loan Trung Quốc whose legitimacy must constantly be reified and deified. This is how the war-heroes’ monopolising authority và the war-military leadership, turned now inkhổng lồ totalitarian control, continue to thrive.

Decades after the Vietnam War, the foundational cultural values of the revolutionary cause have sầu lost their validity and the consecrated ideas of communist ideology have sầu become a farce – blatantly betrayed, at best relegated lớn die-hard nostalgia. Social inechất lượng has increased at full tốc độ. To give you an example of the Vietnamese flavour of state capitalism today: while foreigners talk avidly about a booming real estate market and the new Housing Law which allows them khổng lồ invest in Vietnamese property, lớn the consternation of Los Angeles’ South Vietnamese diaspora, the upper echelons of socialist Vietnam’s ruling class are buying up luxury properties in Orange County and elsewhere in the US. When this crony class comes khổng lồ America for a visit, they reportedly bring regiments of house servants, moving in with style.

Whose victory is it? This is a question one could also ask in relation lớn the ’68 of the West & the rest of the world, whose notions of ‘revolution’ have sầu since been so hollowed out by racial, sexual & fiscal backlash that rather than radically changing, for one, America, the old values have sầu been comprehensively reiterated. With the ‘Alt-white’ effect and the dire political situation in the US today, the country continues at core khổng lồ be a ‘nation at war’ – not only abroad, but also, more destructively, at trang chính. We are undergoing a virulent revival of the old orthodoxy. There’s no voice of reason, no discursive sầu xúc tích, no psychiatric name-calling that could be effectively used in response to lớn the kind of belligerently segregative rhetoric coming from the Oval Office, and its Alt-right mouthpieces, which is tearing the country apart và letting loose all forms of bigotry and human debasement in social relations.

What happened to ‘the revolution of values,’ which Martin Luther King Jr. used to lớn dream of, during which the established political and cultural institutions lost their legitimacy & patriarchal colonial systems came under attaông xã, triggering the decline of Western hegemony? In the present climate of disappearing ethics, of an unbridled revival of sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia và Islamophobia, to lớn mention a few examples, America’s heartsichồng society is suffering a huge throwbaông chồng khổng lồ its past. However, to acknowledge this state of things is not khổng lồ assume a defeatist stance. As I discussed in Lovecidal, the transgressive sầu phenomenon of women marching across nations in their struggles for justice has now amplified in scope lớn become the Women’s March, built on diverse alliances around the world. Highlighting a different focus each year, it contributes to changing the way people take up political action as they become aware of their agency as political & social actors.

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