Vintage and “Vinastalgia”: The Uncertainty of Nostalgic Objects in Post-Reform Vietnam
Part 1Session 1
Wed 11:00-12:30 Room 0.30
Part 2Session 2
Wed 14:00-15:30 Room 0.30
- Jane Ferguson Australian National University
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Aspiration for the past: Television and Reform nostalgia in contemporary Vietnam
Giang Nguyen-Thu University of Queensland
This paper explores how aspirational stories of the Reform are turned into objects of nostalgia by the ongoing and widely applauded gameshow Ký Ức Vui Vẻ. First launched in 2018 by Vietnam Television (VTV), Ký Ức Vui Vẻ signals a transformation in the cultural politics of memory in post-Reform Vietnam, where the once future-oriented aspiration of the recent decades – the 1990s and 2000s – are churned into a new kind of national memory. This new mnemonic dynamic demonstrates how “the Reform” itself has become “a past”, and its aspirational force has reached a point of saturation where the future is no longer “new” but endless recycling of exhausted dreams. The paper thus uses Ký Ức Vui Vẻ to call for more attention to the waning of the Reform spirit after nearly forty years of mainly developmental narratives.
Between abjection and nostalgia: The afterlives of a cooking fuel
Annuska Derks University of Zurich
How does nostalgia relate to ideas of progress and modernity? Boym (2002) considers nostalgia and progress as mirror images of one another and nostalgic manifestations as “side effects of the teleology of progress”. Also Angé and Berliner (2014) point out how the sense of loss or “longing for what is lacking in a changed present” may be seen as a “reaction to the modern ‘accelerism’”. As modernity has shifted to a higher gear (Eriksen 2016), things become outdated or replaced with new kinds of things at an increasingly high speed. This paper focuses on one such thing, namely the beehive coal briquette. Introduced in the mid-1980s, the beehive coal briquette soon fueled the stoves of urban households and food stalls in Vietnam. Its popularity was, however, short-lived. By now, it is considered to be an unmodern, dirty cooking fuel and officially banned from Hanoi. Hence, far from an object of nostalgia, the beehive coal briquette rather invokes a kind of abjection. And yet, it is coming back in unexpected forms. This begs the question as to what makes something an object of nostalgia? What is it that is longed for and what is rejected within the march of progress?
Moving monuments – shifting meanings: linking past memories with future aspirations in dance
Sandra Kurfürst University of Cologne
This paper approaches “Vina-stalgia” on the basis of the materialities and the performative acts shaping public space. Focusing on young people in motion, this paper examines past memories and present sensations of hip hop dancing in the late socialist city. The paper presents two case studies, the Soviet Vietnamese Friendship Palace, colloquially referred to as cung xô, and the Le-nin Monument in Hanoi, to demonstrate the changing rhythms of use and symbolic communicative functions. Both spaces were built in the period of socialist urban planning as icons of the socialist city. While still serving as stages for official celebrations, both spaces have come to be used for diverse activities, among them also breaking, popping, waacking and hip hop dance. For the young practitioners of hip hop, who were all born after Đổi mới, these spaces connote the origin of hip hop in Vietnam. Although dancers no longer have access to the Soviet Vietnamese Friendship Palace, the palimpsest of graffiti and tags on the walls, invoke past memories of motions conducted in the palace’s colonnades. The Len-nin Monument, by contrast, is maintained as an open space for hip hop in the city, inviting more and more young people to participate. In dance practice, young people link past memories to present sensations, and embody their future aspirations.
Nostalgia for the past with the pain?: Côn Đảo tours, gendered sacrifice, and the “indomitable spirit” of Võ Thị Sáu
Rivka Eisner University of Zurich
The Côn Đảo archipelago has experienced a rapid rise in tourism over the past decades. Once best known by its epithet “hell on earth,” in reference to the islands’ dark history as a colonial era penal colony and continued use as a prison system during the American War, the archipelago’s recently rebranded image as an exotic “green tourism” destination for national and international visitors sits in tension with its brutal past. While many wartime sites in Vietnam have been designed with foreign tourists in mind, the Côn Đảo prisons and Hàng Dương Cemetery have a particular orientation toward Vietnamese nationals. A central aspect of touring Côn Đảo for Vietnamese visitors is to pay tribute at the tomb of national heroic martyr Võ Thị Sáu, who at 18 years old became the first woman held in the prisons to be executed by the French. Drawing on ethnographic research with women war veterans, conversations with millennial-aged Vietnamese students, and visits to Côn Đảo, this paper asks how nostalgia might be a productive lens for understanding the ways in which historical remembering is both represented and practiced on Côn Đảo. Specifically, are Boym’s categories of “restorative” and “reflective” nostalgia useful for thinking with these contexts or are there also other dynamics at play? In particular for women war veterans, and in relation to the gendered sacrifice of Võ Thị Sáu, is there nostalgia for a painful past rather than one cleansed of suffering? Why might this be? Regarding postwar generations: how is Võ Thị Sáu still, and perhaps increasingly, an alluring figure of devotional, nostalgic remembering for young Vietnamese today?
Curating Decay: The Redesign of Socialist Infrastructure in a “Creative City”
Christina Schwenkel University of California, Riverside
Hanoi’s admission to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network in 2019 sparked debate about urban development and the fate of the city’s “socialist heritage” deemed obsolescent and a barrier to growth, from urban factories on the city’s most valuable property to collective housing (khu tập thể), where tens of thousands of residents continue to live. This paper examines the creative reuse and repurposing of socialist infrastructure both within and outside the official context of cultural and creative industries (CCI) projects, and the different meanings and values—historical, economic, and social—that such projects generate across generations and across the creative classes. Drawing on Caitlin DeSilvey’s (2017) notion of “curated decay,” it asks: which salvage opportunities counts as “innovative” urban regeneration that contribute to the creative economy and which are thought to contribute to urban decline? Comparing art galleries in industrial spaces that fit with conventional models of preservation with experimental cơi nới cafes in khu tập thể that seem to deviate from the state’s agenda, I examine the affective politics underlying the different forms of socialist heritage that are singled out for care and protection and those that are slated for removal.
Is Red dead? What “Vinastalgia” tells us about political skills in the Vietnamese post-socialist context
Emmanuelle Peyvel Institut de recherche sur l'Asie du Sud-Est contemporaine
Resorting to Bao Cấp as a recreational asset is a surprising turn, given how difficult it was from an economic and social perspective. Breaking out of a dual vision of history, opposing a before and an after, Vinalstagia offers an opportunity to better understand how socialism and market economy are nowadays subtly intertwined. Indeed, despite a looser control over individual liberties since Đổi Mới, censorship is a reality and political expression remains sensitive. The political skills involved in civil society are therefore often expressed through diverted ways, leading researcher to look at the diversity of places where they are practiced, including places of tourism and leisure. Recreational communism has an ambiguous relation with its politicization and may both demean and exalt the socialist idea. It is thus legitimate to consider whether these recreational places that use Bao Cấp may or not carry political messages, and if so, which ones? How can these sites be invested with political messages beyond their recreational purpose, both in the way their owners conceived them (production) and in the way customers experience them (reception)? I will demonstrate that those establishments nourish a concealed political discourse that is key to their success. Indeed, either they mock the superficiality of consumerism, either they demean Bao Cấp through the tactical use of kitsch. The political payload depends mainly on the social profile of the interviewees and their relatives during the Bao Cấp: those who suffered most are also the most vocal against that period. Recreational communism therefore creates a space for subtle political stances and discussion with the past in a regime that remains authoritarian.
The nostalgia industry is booming in Vietnam, yet few scholars have taken seriously the relationship between material culture and memories of life under socialism. This stands in contrast to the large body of literature on “Ostalgie,” or nostalgic feelings for certain objects or products produced in the Communist East, and the cultural practices and lifeworlds attached to them. While cautious not to romanticize, scholars have theorized nostalgia for objects associated with a difficult past as a means to make sense of the uncertainties of the present, particularly as these material worlds are discontinued or threatened with destruction and removal from contemporary life. On the other hand, many of such objects have been commodified and turned into souvenirs for tourist consumption. Paying careful attention to gender and generation, this panel brings together a diverse set of interdisciplinary scholars across multiple institutions to examine the material legacies of objects that evoke nostalgic memories and experiences among certain segments of the Vietnamese population on the one hand, and non-Vietnamese consumers of de-historicized objects, marketed as “socialist kitsch.” We aim to theorize a new approach to the study of nostalgic objects in post-reform Vietnam, or what the panel identifies as “Vinastalgia,” by looking at coal briquettes, red tourism, collective housing, artwork, the TV show Ký Ức Vui Vẻ (Happy Memories), Bao Cấp cafes, and hip-hop dancing around monuments, to offer new perspectives on the role of the socialist past in the rapidly changing present.