Transnational Kinship--Neoliberal Peace and Economic Violence in Vietnamese American Literature and Culture

Vo, Quynh H.
Fujikane, Candace
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This dissertation argues that Vietnamese movement to France and the US is animated by similar rhetorics of freedom under neoliberal forms of choice and the free market: France offers “liberté, egalité, fraternité” and the US offers the “gift of freedom.” This slippage from French colonialism to US imperialism deepens the ideological, cultural, and economic precarity of Vietnamese displaced communities. 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the United States–Vietnam normalization (1995–2020), but the gaping chasm between Vietnamese nationals and Vietnamese Americans remains seemingly insurmountable. This ongoing antagonism is exacerbated by the way that Vietnamese communities still inhabit asynchronous temporalities and navigate different ideological representations that shatter their kinship. An interdisciplinary project, this dissertation weaves together literary analysis and personal narratives to scrutinize Vietnamese Americans’ relationships to Vietnamese nationals; to histories of war, colonialism, and US neoliberal empire; and to each other. While presenting new readings of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (2016), Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt (2003), Le Ly Hayslip’s When Heaven and Earth Changed Places (1989), and Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019) in juxtaposition with testimonies from Vietnamese American communities, this study posits “transnational kinship” as a conceptual approach and political framework to complicate power intimacies, asymmetric economies of memory, trauma and healing; and to illuminate the heterogeneity of Vietnamese American communities in literature and culture. Drawing on the seminal works of David Harvey, Naomi Klein, Michel Foucault, David L. Eng, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Yen Le Espiritu, Mimi Thi Nguyen, and others, this dissertation builds on theories of transnationalism studies, kinship, memory, critical refugee studies and neoliberalism to reimagine a reconciliatory futurity through transnational kinship or borderless migration of knowledge, memory, culture, and history in the face of neoliberal peace or economic violence that engenders assemblages of incommensurable structures and discourses. Structured as four chapters, this dissertation begins by parsing Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt and interviews with Vietnamese American personalities in light of the longue durée of Vietnamese history to show how the colonial apparatus has gone into reverse, highlighting the mobility of colonial subjects back to the center of colonial power, Paris where they negotiate belongings through a transnational kinship. Alongside an exegesis of Vietnamese American testimonies, chapter two revisits the lingering animosity between Vietnamese nationals and Vietnamese Americans represented in Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, investigating how this tension intersects with incompatible representations of war and memory. Chapter three examines neoliberal economies of reciprocation in Le Ly Hayslip’s memoirs in conversation with personal narratives from Vietnamese American personalities. Chapter four centers on Ocean Vuong’s semiautobiogrphical novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous in conversation with voices from the Little Saigon enclave, showing how creating beauty becomes a coping mechanism for refugees in the face of the unequal freedom and incommensurable economies that jeopardize their lives.
American literature, Asian American studies, Literature, asynchronous temporalities, Economic Violence, motherly aesthetics, Neoliberal Peace, transnational kinship, Vietnamese American Literature
256 pages
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