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
- Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks
- Jean-Paul Sartre
- Nicholas Dames, “The Theory Generation“
- Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior
- John Okada, No-No Boy
- Cathy J. Schlund-Vials, Flashpoints for Asian-American Studies
- W.E.B. DuBois, “Double Consciousness”
- Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Double Bind”
- Ocean Vuong
Listen and Read
4.6 Translation is the Closest Way to Read: Ann Goldstein and Saskia Ziolkowski – Novel Dialogue
- 4.6 Translation is the Closest Way to Read: Ann Goldstein and Saskia Ziolkowski
- 4.5a Novel Dialogue Bonus: Jean-Baptiste Naudy Reads from Claude McKay’s "Amiable with Big Teeth"
- 4.5 The Best Error You Can Make: Brent Hayes Edwards and Jean-Baptiste Naudy on Claude McKay
- 4.4 “A short, sharp punch to the face”: José Revueltas’ The Hole (El Apando) with Alia Trabucco Zerán and Sophie Hughes.
- 4.3 Strange Beasts of Translation: Yan Ge and Jeremy Tiang in Conversation
image credit: wikipedia