2.7 The Novel of Revolutionary Ideas: Viet Thanh Nguyen and Colleen Lye (AV)

Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning The Sympathizer and its sequel The Committed, joins esteemed scholar Colleen Lye of UC-Berkeley for a candid discussion about the Asian-American novel and the role of literature and theory in radical social movements. Colleen is drawn to the mix of philosophy and suspense in Viet’s work and wonders if he considers himself a member of the theory generation–that is, writers for whom literary theory is not just a way of reading texts but an impetus to create new literary forms for grappling with ideas. Viet, schooled in deconstruction and postcolonial theory, accepts the designation with a caveat: If he is a novelist of ideas, then he is a novelist of revolutionary ideas. Inspired by Fanon’s anticolonialism and Gayatri Spivak’s concept of the double bind, Viet’s defiantly politicizing aesthetic looks to place the colonial subject, particularly the Vietnamese refugee, at the center of multiple stories of American and French imperialism.

Colleen and Viet reflect on the role of academic training in Viet’s transformation from Asian-Americanist scholar into Asian-American novelist and discuss the peculiarities of immigrant Asian identity in terms of language. Mother tongues, bilingualism, orphaned language, and adopted language all become metaphors for how Asian-American writers must balance the loss of heritage and weight of expectation with the call to self-invention. Plus, Viet reveals the not-so-wholesome treats that enabled him to complete The Sympathizer!

Mentioned in the Episode

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Audio: The Novel of Revolutionary Ideas: Viet Thanh Nguyen and Colleen Lye

72 Caryl Phillips Speaks with Corina Stan Novel Dialogue

Our second January Novel Dialogue conversation is with Caryl Phillips, professor of English at Yale and world-renowned for novels ranging from The Final Passage to 2018’s A View of the Empire at Sunset. He shares his thoughts on transplantation, on performance, on race, even on sports. Joining him here are John and the wonderful comparatist Corina Stan, author of The Art of Distances: Ethical Thinking in 20th century Literature. If you enjoy this conversation, range backwards through the RtB archives for comparable talks with Jennifer Egan, Helen Garner, Orhan Pamuk, Zadie Smith, Samuel Delany and many more. It’s a rangy conversation. John begins by raving about Caryl’s italics–he in turn praises Faulkner’s. Corina and Caryl explore his debt (cf. his The European Tribe) to American writers like Richard Wright and James Baldwin. Meeting Baldwin was scary–back in those days before there were “writers besporting themselves on every university campus.” Caryl praises the joy of being a football fan (Leeds United), reflects on his abiding loyalty to his class and geographic origins and his fondness for the moments of Sunday joy that allow people to endure. John raises Orhan Pamuk’s claim (In Novel Dialogue last season) that the novel is innately middle-class; Caryl says that it’s true that as a form it has always taken time and money to make–and to read. But “vicars and middle class people fall in love, too; they get betrayed and let down…a gamut of emotion that’s as wide as anybody else.” He remains drawn to writers haunted by the past: Eliot, W.G. Sebald, the huge influence of Faulkner trying to stitch the past to the present. Mentioned in the Episode James Baldwin, Blues for Mister Charley, The Fire Next Time Richard Wright, Native Son Johnny Pitts, Afropean Caryl Phillips, Dancing in the Dark J. M. Coetzee, “What We like to Forget” (On Caryl Phillips) Graham Greene (e.g Brighton Rock and The Quiet American) wrote in “The Lost Childhood” (1951) that at age 14 ” I took Miss Marjorie Bowen’s The Viper of Milan from the library shelf…From that moment I began to write.” Maya Angelou, Letter to My Daughter William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom Read a transcript here Elizabeth Ferry is Professor of Anthropology at Brandeis University. Email: ferry@brandeis.edu. John Plotz is Barbara Mandel Professor of the Humanities at Brandeis University and co-founder of the Brandeis Educational Justice Initiative. Email: plotz@brandeis.edu. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
  1. 72 Caryl Phillips Speaks with Corina Stan
  2. 71 Jennifer Egan with Ivan Kreilkamp: Fiction as Streaming, Genre as Portal (Novel Dialogue crossover, JP)
  3. 2.7 The Novel of Revolutionary Ideas: Viet Thanh Nguyen and Colleen Lye
  4. 2.6 Dreaming or Thinking: Cristina Rivera Garza with Kate Marshall and Dominique Vargas
  5. 2.5 Stitching the Past to the Present: Caryl Phillips speaks with Corina Stan (JP)

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Published by aarthivadde

Associate Professor of English - Duke University

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