Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

"the identity politics of exile”: Notes Towards Day 18 (Thurs, Nov. 3)

Anne Dalke's picture

"i speak English because i am a colonised body”--kamara, quoting Nora Chipamuire

I. start by greeting one another
taking a few moments to gather
ourselves back into this space

II. spent some time with your postings
(missing Nkechi, Kamara, Alliyah, Beatrice, Joni, Abby)
with some variations, it seems that we've finally agreed
that it is not productive for us to give class time over to
emotional work. I continue to ask myself (and you)
what might be most useful for us to do in this class.
Though I didn't design this class around  any particular
"learning objectives," I did center it on key questions:
How do American literary texts represent racial intersection?
How do these books reproduce conventional racial categories?
How have those representations changed over time?

How might we re-imagine the cultural work such books perform?
In asking those questions, I was/am asking you to open yourself
to learn new things about race, and theories of how race operates,
to enter into new stories, different from the ones you already think
you know about race (Amaka's formulation) as a form of knowledge.

A number of you said you were looking forward to going
back to Truong's book, which also feels important to me:
only novel in the class by an Asian-American writer,
only one that attends directly to the experiences of
a gay Asian man who is living as an immigrant in Paris,
working for two other immigrants who are white American lesbians.

There is a lot of what Rosa called "linguistic nuance" in this book,
and I want us to look for that now, to try and understand some of it.
I hope that in doing this work we might learn more habits of
careful reading that could also help us "read" one another/ourselves
more carefully, thoughtfully, reflectively than we've been doing.

I asked at the end of class whether such "linguistic nuance" is in tension
with Fanon's assertion that one cannot learn and speak a language
without subconsciously accepting the cultural meanings embedded in it.
Fanon called language a "weapon for colonization," and argued that
"a man who has a language consequently possesses the world expressed
and implied by that language....To speak a language is to take on a world,
a culture.”

Guided by your postings, I'm interested in our finding evidence/
thinking together today about the ways in which Bình is "colonized"
both by the French and English languages;
I'd also like us to look for ways in which he is able to "nuance" the
tongue of the colonizer, to use it for non-compliance or resistance.

III. (2:45) I want us to try to do this in the form of a sort of slowed down barometer;
every time you speak, I want you to use a quotation to back up your claim.

Please bring your books with you, as you get up to stand in line.

All the phrases are taken from your postings; I've picked short phrases,
so they are taken out of context, just intended as conversation starters;
if you feel mis-represented, of course amend/elaborate...but! reminder!
you can't speak w/out a quote to back you up....

The Unknown: Binh frequently remarks on the fact that his own native language is essentially incomprehensible and unpronounceable to the French colonialists who govern Vietnam, and yet, despite his increasing facility with French, he is permanently identified as culturally and linguistically inferior. Truong employs the motif of linguistic nuance--the idea that context and significance can be lost in a literal translation of one's words--to good effect. [But] Binh is isolated by his limited French....Because Binh lacks a strong grasp of French, he also lacks access, a colonialist theme that is sounded throughout the novel.

The Unknown: The elliptical narration, intermittently returning to Binh’s life in Vietnam, demonstrates how fully his present is infused with the past....Binh’s every moment in Paris is achingly chained to the past. Binh is haunted by a family and home that he cannot go back to, and therefore wills his own emotional and mental return through uncontrollable and irresistible repetitions of the past.

smalina: Binh's father's voice seems to function much like a haunting, appearing throughout the novel in almost a ghostly manner as Binh attempts to make a life for himself in France....this haunting might function to drive Binh forward--to make some sort of change--as the ghost does to her host in Beloved.

the cultural representation of asian often formed in terms of has offered me a certain degree of protection—a sheltering from racial stress and once markedly “other,” and simultaneously given the ability to recede into the background, into invisibility....being exoticized into obscurity obscures the way other people can see you. [re-read, substituting asians in european countries/vietnamese in france]

class and race interact with and affect one another.

Ellsworth, via hsymonds:
"[The "face of Learning"] is the look of someone who is in the process of losing something of who she thought she was. Upon encountering something outside herself and her own ways of thinking, she is giving up thoughts she previously held as known, and as a consequence she is parting with a bit of her known self" [re-phrase as: I saw this "face of learning" in TBofS]

IV. (3:15) Write on the board 3 topics of interest:
* linguistic nuance (The Unknown)
* language as a "weapon of colonization" (bluish)
* Asian experience of being "exoticized into obscurity" (calamityschild)
* if needed for a fourth group: "I lie to myself like no one else can" (p. 80).]

Form 3 groups of 5, one each around each topic; discuss--
again: using the text to back up your claims

V. (3:30) Returning to the full group to reflect on what emerged

VI. (3:35) coursekeeping!
* your 2nd paper
(6 pp. equivalent/1500 words) is due by midnight
on Monday; if you cannot meet that deadline, I expect an e-mail @
that time telling me what new deadline you are setting for yourself,
and a paragraph describing what your topic will be/what quote you're
starting from--whatever you can report @ that time.

* for class on Tuesday, please read Part I of Ta-Nehisi Coates's book,
Between the World and Me (to p. 71); we will spend the next
3 classes on his work, its surround: Toni Morrison proclaimed
him Baldwin's "heir"; several heavy hitters in literary studies
weighed in on this; it will be interesting (to me) to compare
how S-ZParks and Coates took on this heritage; we will also
look @ another of his current projects, his picking up
Black Panther, a Marvel comics series.