Phantasmatic Indochina

French Colonial Ideology in Architecture, Film, and Literature

Phantasmatic Indochina

Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society

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Book Pages: 216 Illustrations: Published: January 1997

Asian Studies > East Asia, Cultural Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

This reflection on colonial culture argues for an examination of “Indochina” as a fictive and mythic construct, a phantasmatic legacy of French colonialism in Southeast Asia. Panivong Norindr uses postcolonial theory to demonstrate how French imperialism manifests itself not only through physical domination of geographic entities, but also through the colonization of the imaginary. In this careful reading of architecture, film, and literature, Norindr lays bare the processes of fantasy, desire, and nostalgia constituent of French territorial aggression against Indochina.
Analyzing the first Exposition Coloniale Internationale, held in Paris in 1931, Norindr shows how the exhibition’s display of architecture gave a vision to the colonies that justified France’s cultural prejudices, while stimulating the desire for further expansionism. He critiques the Surrealist counter-exposition mounted to oppose the imperialist aims of the Exposition Coloniale, and the Surrealist incorporation and appropriation of native artifacts in avant-garde works. According to Norindr, all serious attempts at interrogating French colonial involvement in Southeast Asia are threatened by discourse, images, representations, and myths that perpetuate the luminous aura of Indochina as a place of erotic fantasies and exotic adventures. Exploring the resilience of French nostalgia for Indochina in books and movies, the author examines work by Malraux, Duras, and Claudel, and the films Indochine, The Lover, and Dien Bien Phu.
Certain to impact across a range of disciplines, Phantasmatic Indochina will be of interest to those engaged in the study of the culture and history of Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos, as well as specialists in the fields of French modernism, postcolonial studies, cultural studies, and comparative literature.


Phantasmatic Indochina is a model of cultural studies, articulating architecture, cartography, geography, film, and literature, and bringing to the fore the colonial ideology that so often informs them.” — Dina Sherzer , Signs

Phantasmatic Indochina is among the first, if not the first, book-length postcolonial study entirely devoted to representations of Indochina in the French imaginary from the 1930s to the 1990s. Through a critical reading of a wide range of narratives taken from history, politics, literature, architecture, and film, the author shows how the French constructed a space called ‘Indochina’ to sustain the myth of its colonial edification. . . . Norindr’s reading brings out an aspect that has been traditionally occulted in the heavily male-centered colonial studies, be it in literature or history—namely the feminine element. . . . By foregrounding the feminine elements of the different texts under discussion, Phantasmiatc Indochina has the great merit of opening up new approaches to the reading of colonial narratives.” — , SubStance

“An intelligent and admirably thoughtful series of essays on the French colonial presence in ‘Indochina’ from the 1880s to the present.” — Matt K. Matsuda, American Historical Review

“This book makes a welcome contribution to the growing body of scholarship using post-colonial and literary theories to analyze the discursive and psycho-social domains of colonialism in Southeast Asia. It is the first such work in English to bring this body of theory to focus on French Indochina. . . . Norindr comes from a scholarly background in French and Italian Studies, yet his work will be of considerable interest to colonial historians, and to scholars of Vietnamese (and Khmer and Lao) social histories. Norindr’s book embraces an interdisciplinary approach that places the Indochina colonial project firmly at the heart of French history, where it belongs. Phantasmatic Indochina is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the French colonial mentality and its enduring legacy in the public imagination.” — Judith Henchy , Crossroads

"The book is as breathtaking in scope as it is remarkable in its theoretical sophistication, borrowing as it does from psychology, film studies, literary studies, and postcolonial theory to apprehend what most historians would find a challenging object: the French Indochina fantasy in its many incarnations." — Eric T. Jennings , Journal of Modern History

Norindr’s radical revaluation of Indochina as a fictive and mythic structure expands the scope of geographic and political concerns into the broader speculative sphere of cultural identity. Indochina becomes for him a repository of images, a space whose commemorative and iconographic character brings together literary, filmic and architectural forms of cultural evidence. Remarkable for its lucidity and finesse, PhantasmaticIndochina constitutes one of the finest contributions to the field of post-colonial and cultural studies.” — Dalia Judovitz, Emory University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Panivong Norindr is Associate Professor of French and Italian studies at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Indochina as FIction 1

1. Representing Indochina: The French Colonial Phantasmatic and the Exposition Coloniale Internationale de Paris 14

2. Unruly Natives: The Indochinese Problem 34

3. The "Surrealist" Counter-Exposition: La Vérité sur les Colonies 52

4. Indochina as "Rêves-Diurnes" and Male Fantasies: Re-Mapping André Malraux's La Voie royale 72

5. Geographic Romance: "Errances" and Memories in Marguerite Duras's Colonial Cities 107

6. Filmic Memorials and Colonial Blues: Indochina in Contemporary French CInema 13

Conclusion: Retracing the Legacy of "Indochina Adventures" 155

Notes 159

Works Cited 181

Index 199
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1787-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1778-4
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