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Diasporas, Cultures of Mobilities, ‘Race’ 2

Sarah Barbour
David Howard
Thomas Lacroix
et al.

Questions of Theory, History and Memory

Fighting against Post-Colonial Optimism: In Search of Subaltern and Diasporic Agency in Vietnamese American Fiction

Debora Stefani


The late eighties and early nineties saw the publication of such works as The Empire Strikes Back (1989) and The Location of Culture (1994). Despite their crucial influence on the development of postcolonial theory, these works contributed to an idealization of the post-colonial subject—a trend that continues to this day embodied by Ashcroft’s horizonal space. They enthusiastically answer Spivak that, indeed, the subaltern can speak. However, The Book of Salt by Monique Truong and Linh Dinh’s short stories ‘!’ and ‘Prisoner with a Dictionary’ fight openly against this post-colonial optimism. Through an eclectic approach to these Vietnamese American works, which combines diasporic and post-structuralist theories, I question the usefulness of Ashcroft’s concepts of horizonal space and transnation and Bhabha’s notions of interstices and third space in representing the subaltern condition. While Ashcroft and Bhabha highly praise any attempt by the colonized to resist colonial hegemony and celebrate the state of ‘in-betweenness, ‘ I caution that these ‘spaces’, these ‘interstices’ are not inviolable; they do not operate in isolation, but they are challenged by other, possibly differently constituted ‘spaces’. I prove this by analyzing the interplay of identity modalities, in this case language and colonization, in the three texts.

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  • 1 In a previous article entitled ‘National Identity Reconsidered: The Intersection of Ethnicity and S (...)

1The late eighties and early nineties saw the publication of works such as The Empire Strikes Back (1989) and The Location of Culture (1994). Despite their crucial influence on the development of postcolonial theory, these works contributed to an idealization of the post-colonial subject—a trend that continues to this day with Ashcroft’s (2010) idea of transnation. They enthusiastically answer Spivak (1999) to announce that, indeed, the subaltern can speak. However, The Book of Salt (2003) by Monique Truong and Linh Dinh’s short stories (2000) ‘! ’ and ‘Prisoner with a Dictionary’ fight openly against this post-colonial optimism. These Vietnamese American works show that Ashcroft’s interpretation of transnation—a fluctuating space where the local intersects with the global, thus decentering the power of the nation state— and Bhabha’s (1994) concept of interstices aggravate the diasporic person’s and the subaltern’s lack of agency rather than functioning as the ultimate strategy to fight their state of powerlessness.1

2Both protagonists of Linh Dinh’s short stories fight their status as subalterns in an American neo-colonialized Vietnam, even if to no avail. ‘!’ is set in Vietnam, and it spans from 1952—the year when Ho Muoi, the protagonist of the story, was born—to 2000. Ho Muoi has a mission in life: to learn a foreign language. The opportunity comes when an American soldier is wounded. Ho Muoi sits by his side and patiently records everything the soldier says in a delirium. The notes the Vietnamese takes become the foundation for what he thinks is English but, in reality, is a false language. Years later, Ho Muoi is arrested for teaching this false English. In ‘Prisoner with a Dictionary’, a naïve narrator tells of a nameless man, identified only as ‘the prisoner’, who finds a foreign dictionary in his cell and starts to study it. Even though he doesn’t know the meaning of the words, he is convinced he is learning the foreign language, but as he builds a new vocabulary, he forgets his own native tongue. The story ends with the narrator pitying the prisoner because the latter never realized that what he had learned was a language that never existed but for him.

3In French-colonized Vietnam, Bính, the protagonist of The Book of Salt, works as a ‘garde-manger’ at the Governor General’s house together with his brother Anh Minh. Their seemly uneventful lives are soon disrupted by the hiring of Chef Blériot. Blériot, summoned from France, destroys Anh Minh’s dreams of becoming one day the sous-chef of the Governor and causes Bính to be fired once their sexual relationship is exposed. Bính is doubly victimized by the Governor’s decision, because not only does Bính have no saying in the matter—the subaltern here literally cannot speak—but he is also forced to leave his father’s house and he is forbidden to return. His father cannot accept that Bính lost his job because of his homosexuality. Forsaken by his lover, abandoned by his family, and jobless—the Governor made sure Bính could not find employment in the whole province of Saigon—Bính has no alternatives but to leave Vietnam, with no hopes of returning home, thus becoming a diasporic individual.

4In her Critique of Postcolonial Reason, Spivak claims:

When a line of communication is established between a member of subaltern groups and the circuits of citizenship or institutionality, the subaltern has been inserted into the long road to hegemony. Unless [one] want[s] to be [a] romantic purist or primitivist about ‘preserving subalternity’—a contradiction in terms—this is absolutely to be desired.

5By choosing to leave Vietnam and move to France, Bính participates in colonial hegemony. Does this move allow him to ‘generat [e] new sites of power rather than simply forms of resistance’? (Grewal and Kaplan 2001: 671). After a dark period of adjustment, Bính seems to gain agency. He becomes a cook for Gertrud Stein and Alice B. Toklas and even has a brief love affair with Lattimore, an African American passing for white. When the Steins leave for the United States, Bính has the possibility of joining them, but he refuses in hope of finding love in Paris. In fact, earlier in the novel, he meets his scholar-prince, his ideal life-long companion, Ho Chi Minh, but unfortunately the latter returns to Vietnam. Ashcroft would say that Bính remains in France to search for a lover with whom he could form a transnation based on the same sexual orientation. The transnation is a space that

extend[s] beyond the geographical, cultural, religious and imaginative boundaries of the state, both within and beyond the boundaries of the nation, [and] it [is] a space in which those boundaries are disrupted, in which national and cultural affiliations are superseded, in which binaries of centre and periphery, national self and other are dissolved.
(Ashcroft 2012: 10)

  • 2 I borrow the term from Avtar Brah. Modalities refer to the different aspects of one’s identity: sex (...)

6The transnation cannot be limited by national confines. In fact, it can involve people from a number of ethnicities living in the same nations or in nearby nations, because its main-characteristic is in-betweenness. However, as Ashcroft concedes, this in-betweenness ‘suggests location without acknowledging the agency of subjects in their interstitial subjectivity’ (2010: 16). Ashcroft acknowledges that these in-between spaces do not empower the individual per se. Yet, by recurring to Clifford’s notion of articulation, Ashcroft points out that diasporic subjects are free to ally with other diasporic individuals through religion or any other modality.2 They may form transnations also with natives based on any modality. Clifford’s ‘ “articulation” returns us to the rather spasmodic and contingent way in which subjects “hook on” the various positions they may occupy, returning us to the very powerful element of individual agency in the process’ (Ashcroft 2012: 17). In other words, the idea of articulation offers the subject the possibility to reinvent himself and establish new alliances, and this, in turn, guarantees agency to the subject.

7The transnation that Bính could potentially form with his lover may offer Bính a space in which he could find a way to fight colonial hegemony. In spite of this possibility, at the end of the book, Bính is still stateless, has no job and no lover, and therefore I cannot but question how the transnation empowers Bính. Although I agree with Ashcroft that people may ally with ‘identity modalities’ other than nationality to establish new communities, he seems to imply that these modalities operate in isolation; however, that is simply not realistic because they conflict with each other. They form new alliances depending on the experiences of the individual and the historical and geo-political context in which the individual lives. For instance, in some cases, the individual may not in fact be allowed to join a transnation based on same sexual orientation because his family doesn’t allow it. In order to disprove that the transnation empowers the diasporic subject, I analyze the interplay between identity modalities of language and colonization in The Book of Salt.

8In the beginning of the book, if only unconsciously, Bính realizes that the bond between colonizer and colonized is not simply ‘antagonistic’ but is also ‘agonistic,’ to use Bhabha’s terms. Colonial power is forever fluctuating since the subaltern mimics, scorns, and in this process, defies authority. In the interstices of this agonistic relationship, Bính seems to find room for resistance as is shown by the following quotation. Blériot, his French lover in Vietnam, believes that his mother tongue sets him apart and above the Vietnamese, but ‘he fail [s] to comprehend, though, that the tonalities of sex are, like those of desperation, easily recognizable and instantly understood, no matter the language, no matter the age’ (Truong 2003: 123). Bính is aware that Blériot cannot and will never publicly recognize him as his lover; nonetheless, Bính sleeps with him to gain sexual pleasure and status among the rest of the staff at the Governor-General House. Both of Bính’s lovers, Chef Blériot and Lattimore inhabit more powerful subject positions than the Vietnamese does. The first one is not only a white man; he is Bính’s supervisor. Though the second one confesses to Bính that he is of mixed-race, part Caucasian part African American, his white father paid for his education and for his travels. Yet, Bính does not passively endure either man’s power. Even if the relationship with Bleriot ends Bính’s employment, Bính seems to understand, as Bhabha would say, that the colonizer feels repulsed but at the same time attracted by the colonized, and he later uses Lattimore to feed his own sexual appetite while searching for his scholar-prince.

9While Bính’s brother, Anh Minh, ‘believe [s] absolutely and passionately that the French language [will] save us, [will] welcome us into the fold, [will] reward us with kisses on both cheeks’, Bính resists colonization by refusing to learn to speak the language of the colonizer well (Truong 2003: 14). While Anh Minh is convinced that learning the language of the colonizer will allow the subaltern to speak, Bính believes that to be a good employee for a foreign employer is not determined by how well one can speak the other’s language but by how well one can swallow it (13). Bính is unconsciously aware, in Ngugi’s words, that the ‘most important area of domination [for the colonizer] is the mental universe of the colonized’ (1986: 16). Bính observes that when the governor and his wife reprimand their employees, they speak pure French not a mixture of French and Vietnamese as they address them, when they want to be understood. When they scold the servants, the employers’ goal is not to communicate but to re-establish hierarchy and to remind the employees that they are not allowed to protest, not only because they are servants, but because they can’t speak French (Truong 2003: 13). Yet, the employers are so naïve and ‘so enamored of their differences [and] their language’ that they do not realize their employees are actually challenging their authority by refusing to speak French well (13). Bính learns enough so he can get by but not enough to transform him into a French man.

10Bính’s empowerment is, however, conditioned by the geographical and political context. Had it been possible for him to remain in Vietnam, Bính might have been able to build a better life for himself under the care of his brother, but in France Bính’s poor French is an arduous obstacle to overcome. Due to his lack of French vocabulary, Bính cannot explain to his employers what he has been doing since he worked for the Governor-General, and so he appears not to be reliable to the interviewers. Some hire him for a brief period but soon have to let him go. Bính doesn’t explain why he loses these jobs, and one could argue he is fired because he drinks, but certainly his poor French renders him even more inscrutable to the Caucasian employer. His limited knowledge of French isolates him and reduces his chances of forming himself as a subject in a foreign country. He cannot interact with other people so he is nonexistent to others, thus he does not exist. ‘No longer able to trust my own voice, I carry a small speckled mirror that shows me my face, my hands, and assures me that I am still here’ (Truong 2003: 19). Bính fights hard against colonial hegemony, but the only weapon he has at this point is his own reflected image.

11Not to speak the language of the colonizer well might at times impede the satisfaction of sexual needs, as Bính has learned enough words ‘to fuel [his] desires’ but not enough ‘to feed them’ (11). Other times not sharing the same language intensifies carnal desires or so Bính believes. ‘Words I will grant you, are convenient, a handy shortcut to meaning. But too often, words limit and deny’ (117). Bính is partially right here. Because he can’t say ‘Bính,’ Lattimore calls his lover ‘Bee’. The word ‘bee’ allows the Vietnamese cook to be a different person, but this new identity doesn’t empower him, and he doesn’t understand that it is exactly by way of not pronouncing his name correctly that Lattimore diminishes him. In the relationship with Lattimore, language reinforces Bính’s already subaltern position. The Vietnamese and the African American might share the same sexual orientation, but Lattimore’s disinterest in learning Vietnamese pushes Bính further down the subaltern ladder.

12Once Lattimore abandons him, Bính is left with only Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, who are about to move to America. Scholars such as David Eng and Wenying Xu have pointed out that Truong’s protagonist cannot join Stein’s circle of friends because he belongs to a different social class. Neither of them, however, mentions how language is as much responsible for Bính’s exclusion as is class. Although language and class are interconnected, it is important to note that it is specifically through language that Gertrude Stein aggravates Bính’s subaltern position. She calls him ‘Thin Bin,’ doesn’t tell him what it means, and merely suggests that it describes his ‘most distinctive feature,’ thus silencing him and treating him as a mentally challenged person (Truong 2003: 32). Bính’s subalternity is also emphasized by Bính’s interiorized father’s voice that claims the meaning of ‘thin’ is stupid. Yet, Bính contrasts the colonizer by repeating his name correctly every time Gertrude Stein mispronounces it. ‘Hearing it said correctly, if only in my head, is a desire that I cannot shake’ (32). Stein scorns Bính for his lack of French vocabulary and tests Bính’s ability to understand French in that she makes a list of things in English, translates it into French, draws pictures next to the French words, and finally tortures Bính with her list. She reinforces her superior position not only through her native tongue but also through French. When his father’s voice doesn’t interfere with his own, Bính speculates what ‘Thin’ might mean. As Bão, Bính’s old friend, advised him to do, Bính invents new meanings for the English words he doesn’t know, thus re-conquering language as a tool of empowerment. ‘Language is a house with a host of doors, and I am too often uninvited and without the keys. But when I infiltrate their words, take the stab at their meanings, I create the trapdoors that will allow me in when the night outside is too cold and dark’ (155). Unlike words born from linguistic crossbreeding, Bính’s version of English, if spoken, would be incomprehensible to the colonizer. Bính ‘infiltrates’ the colonizer’s language not to absorb some of its power, but to invent a reality inaccessible to the colonizer. However, this temporary attempt to self-affirmation is threatened when Bính discovers Stein has been writing about him. So devastated is he that he feels as if he were drowning. Each time he sees his name misspelled on paper, his real self is disavowed. Seeing his name alongside so many words he doesn’t understand overwhelms him rather than challenges him, thus Bão’s trick backfires and prevents him from challenging what Stein wrote about him. Moreover, through language she appropriates Bính’s story, the only thing left to him. ‘I am here to feed you, not to serve as your fodder. I demand more money for such services, Madame. You pay me only for my time. My story, Madame, is mine. I alone am qualified to tell it, to embellish, or to withhold’ (215). The American writer violates Bính’s own self and robs him of it. Even though Bính and the Steins could form a transnation since they share the same sexual orientation, this community never really consolidates because of the interfering of the identity modalities of class and language. Thus, the subaltern here is only able to murmur; his voice so feeble he is not empowered.

13Both Bính and Ho Muoi, the protagonist of Linh Dinh’s short story ‘!’ create a world from which the colonizer is excluded. While Bính’s strategy to resist colonialism is private in that he doesn’t share the new meanings he invents, Ho Muoi challenges the dominion of the invader openly, even if involuntarily. Nonetheless, unlike the protagonist of ‘Prisoner with a Dictionary’, Bính and Ho Muoi maintain their native selves. Even though he is afraid of losing his identity, Bính knows he is Vietnamese, and Ho Muoi is conscious of teaching a foreign language, but the prisoner forsakes his native identity in favor of the colonizer’s.

14Creating an alternate world, as Dinh’s characters do, seems the only way to fight the hyperreality advertised by the United States via the Vietnamese media. In Symbolic Exchange and Death, Baudrillard states that after WWII reality

collapse[s] into hyperrealism, the meticulous reduplication of the real, preferably through another reproductive medium such as advertising or photography. Through the reproduction from one medium into another the real becomes volatile, it becomes the allegory of death, but it also draws strength from its own destruction, becoming the real for its own sake, a fetishism of the lost object which is no longer the object of representation, but the ecstasy of denegation and its own ritual extermination: the hyperreal. (72)

15If in a remote time there was an equal relationship between an object and the word designated to name it, between the thing signified and the sign, in a consumer society, signs have gained control. Through advertising and other media, the market creates the need for something before that something is produced. In other words, the image of that something that we are ‘forced’ to want exists before the product. Baudrillard calls this phenomenon simulacrum—a copy without origin. In a Vietnamese context, American media invent the image of the Vietnamese that speaks English and enjoys all the advantages Americans have before that Vietnamese even exists; thus, America creates the need for the Vietnamese to learn English. ‘People do this [learn English] willingly too because they are seduc [ed by] it’ (Dinh 2004c). Dinh expresses his concerns about the relationship between Vietnam and the United States when he claims that ‘Vietnam has become a blind statement about the United States (...) Not technically, but in the way they try to adjust to American standards, so to speak. They are becoming a satellite of the United States. There are many negative aspects to this, but one of them is that Americans tend to view a foreigner as an imperfect American’ (Dinh 2004b). North American movies, songs, TV-programs, websites often interpret and integrate aspects of Vietnamese culture as part of the North American cultural landscape, but Vietnamese migrants and their descendants are often not identified as ‘American’. Ho Muoi and the prisoner then have no opportunities of thwarting this socio-historical scenario.

16Ho Muoi seems to buy into the hyperreality created by the Americans. When he is twelve, Ho Muoi has an altercation with one of the foreigners who are entertaining the village crowd. The foreigner says something to Ho Muoi in his (the foreigner’s) native tongue, and the people at first wait for the Vietnamese boy to reply, but then they start to laugh at him. Ho Muoi is so angered at the foreigner that he shouts ‘!’, which the boy has learnt from his teacher and which everybody believes to be a foreign word (Dinh 2004a: 12). The foreigner remains speechless, while the crowd is pleased that a twelve-year-old boy had the courage to stand up to the foreigners in their own language. In this scene, Ho Muoi, as well as the people from the village, believe power comes from somebody who is not Vietnamese, somebody from another reality. ‘In his mind, foreign words became equated with a terrible power’ (12). Ho Muoi is overwhelmed by the power he thinks ‘!’ carries and even considers it magic. Ironic of course is the fact that ‘!’ is not a word.

17The language Ho Muoi invents is a Cubist painting. For example, as in a Cubist painting the nose is not where one expects it to be, Ho Muoi pairs the meaning of ‘wife’ to the sound ‘basin’. Like Cubists, who were fascinated by the possibility of a fourth dimension, Ho Muoi attempts to create a new dimension. His language works as a mediator between himself and a hostile world. It is interesting how the language stems from an American soldier’s delirium, from pain. For the eighteenth century philosopher, Johann Gottfried Herder, the process of generating a language does not start from naming an external object but from an unmediated externalization of pain. In the primitive human being, ‘all violent sensations of [the] body, and the most violent of the violent, the painful ones, and all strong passions of [the] soul immediately express themselves in cries, in sounds, in unarticulated noises’ (qtd. in Ferber 2010: 210). The words that the suffering soldier pronounces are like the sounds and screams of the primitives for Ho Muoi. They might have linguistic meaning for another English-speaker but not for the Vietnamese young man. To continue the development of his language, Ho Muoi assigns linguistic meaning to the sounds he hears by matching each sound with the facial expressions the soldier makes. In creating a new language, Ho Muoi disrupts the binary relationship between sound and object since the same facial expression corresponds to more than one sound/word. He is so confident in his matching ability that he believes he can make sense of chaos caused by years of colonization and war. ‘Everything seems so chaotic at first, but nothing is chaotic. One can read anything: ants crawling on the ground; pimples on a face; trees in a forest (...) any surface can be deciphered’ (15). The illusion that by establishing an organizing principle one can arrive at the truth can explain what happened seems to be Ho Muoi’s driving force. Through this new language, Ho Muoi creates a third space, as theorized by Bhabha, which can possibly empower him to fight against American imperialism.

18One could in fact argue that Ho Muoi’s disciples are resisting imperialism by continuing to study the language invented by their leader even though they know it’s not English. The narrator confirms that for them, ‘English is the world. These students also know that Vietnam, as it exists, is not of this world’ (17). However, in a recent interview, Dinh agrees that this fake English is ‘a way of negating American reality’, but he specifies that Ho Muoi and his students ‘are also trying to negate the Vietnamese reality they are caught between. In a place like Vietnam, America is so seductive and the Vietnamese model is so appalling. People are so disappointed with their own society and they want to reinvent themselves’ (Dinh 2004b). Ho Muoi’s followers manage to create an alternate reality, but this third space does not guarantee agency because their language reinforces their colonial condition rather than subverting it. Ironically, by replacing the meaning of the original English words, Ho Muoi silences the colonizer in that Ho Muoi’s invented world ‘corresponds to no English or American reality’ (17). Yet, it also does not ‘correspond’ to a Vietnamese reality, and that is where the problem lies. It is an imprisoning reality rather than a liberating one because it excludes the rest of the Vietnamese population and it isolates its speakers from the rest of the world.

19In the beginning of ‘Prisoner with a Dictionary,’ the prisoner doesn’t know what to do with the dictionary. He treats it as a stool, as a pillow, and he even rejects the idea that it might be useful for other than wiping himself. Although the narrator at first says that the prisoner approaches the dictionary ‘out of sheer boredom,’ he later admits that he ‘suddenly felt challenged to learn’ the foreign language (1). It is as if the dictionary creates the urge in the prisoner to study what it contains. The colonizer sells the colonized this new sparkling world, even before the colonized realizes he needs it. As in ‘!’, the prisoner assigns meaning to a sound/written word deliberately. He would be Saussure’s perfect pupil. If the story ended here, postcolonialists would be tempted to praise the prisoner for twisting and bending, for reinterpreting the colonizer’s language in his own terms. However, the prisoner begins to forget the names of body parts in his original tongue. His body is still intact but is becoming a foreigner. The prisoner is becoming estranged from his own country. How is he more equipped to fight (neo) colonialism? Nonetheless, the colonized is made to feel ‘victorious’ because ‘through a heroic act of will he has remade the universe’, a new world for himself, albeit an illusion (4). The colonizer’s power is so insidious that it even lets the colonized believe that he embraced, or substituted, as in the case of the prisoner, the culture of the colonizer for the culture of the colonized out of his own will. By the end of the story, the prisoner’s situation has worsened. He is a prisoner twice. He is physically still imprisoned, and he has been mentally and culturally colonized to the extent that he has completely sacrificed his native identity.

20Dinh’s stories and Truong’s novel seem to warn that those postcolonial theories, which highly praise any attempt by the colonized to resist colonial hegemony and celebrate the state of ‘in-betweeness’ a little too enthusiastically, should be embraced with caution. Bính, Ho Muoi, and the prisoner may only be fictional characters, but the works examined here invite us to question how empowering Ashcroft’s idea of transnation and Bhabha’s concept of third space are in real life, at the individual level. I don’t deny that they might offer hope, and I don’t necessarily advocate a disavowal of these theories, but they should not function as blanket statements for the subaltern condition. Although Ashcroft admits that diasporic subjects may develop different types of transnations contemporaneously, he fails to recognize that these transnations do not operate separately from one another; other modalities may delay or disrupt the process of establishing a transnation. In The Book of Salt, language and class hinder the formation of a transnation based on sexuality; indeed they leave the protagonist unable to create one. Since the third space Ho Muoi and the prisoner build correspond to no actual reality, despite mimicking the colonizer, Dinh’s protagonists are not empowered, and they are relegated to a reality only they know. If we want to avoid idealizing the subaltern into a combatant of the French revolution, it is imperative that we take Truong’s and Dinh’s warning in consideration.


Works Cited

Ashcroft, Bill. ‘Globalization, Transnation and Utopia’, in Locating Transnational Ideals, Walter Goebel and Saskia Schabio, eds. New York: Routledge, 2010.

Ashcroft, Bill. ‘A Borderless World: Literature, Nation, Transnation’. MELUS and USACLLS Conference. Fairmont Hotel, San Jose, CA. April 21, 2012. Keynote Address.

Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin, eds. The Empire Strikes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-colonial Literatures. London: Routledge, 1989.

Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

Brah, Avtar. Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities. London: Routledge, 1996.

Baudrillard, Jean. Symbolic Exchange and Death. London: Sage Publications, 1993.

Dinh, Linh. Fake House: Stories. New York: Seven Stories Press. 2000.

Dinh, Linh. Blood and Soap. New York: Seven Stories Press. 2004a.

Dinh, Linh. ‘Linh Dinh with Matthew Sharpe’. By Matthew Sharpe. The Brooklyn Rail: Critical Perspectives on Arts, Politics, and Culture. Phong Bui, May 2004b. books/linh-dinh-with-matthew-sharpe. Accessed on 30 Oct. 2011.

Dinh, Linh. Interview. PennSound. University of Pennsylvania, 2004c. Accessed on 30 Oct. 2011.

Dinh, Linh. ‘The Personal Becomes Political: the Powerful Intensity of Linh Dinh’. By Marianne Villanueva. PRRB. The Pacific Rim Review of Books, n.d. Accessed on 30 Oct. 2011.

Eng, David L. ‘The End (s) of Race’. PMLA 123.5 (2008): 1479-93. MLA. 20 April 2009.

Ferber, Ilit. ‘On Pain and the Origin of Language’. Germanic Review 85.3 (2010): 205–33. MLA. 10 Nov. 2011.

Grewal, Inderpal, and Caren Kaplan. ‘Global Identities: Theorizing Transnational Studies of Sexuality’. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 7.4 (2001): 663–79. ProjectMuse. 19 May 2009.

Ngugi, wa Thiong’o. Decolonizing the mind: the Politics of language in African Literature. London: Heinemann, 1986.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason. Boston: Harvard UP, 1999.

Stefani, Debora. ‘National Identity Reconsidered: The Intersection of Ethnicity and Sexuality in The Book of Salt’, in Ethnic Literatures and Transnationalism, Aparajita Nanda, ed. New York: Routledge, 2014.

Truong, Monique. The Book of Salt. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

Xu, Wenying. ‘Sexuality, Colonialism, and Ethnicity in Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt and Mei Ng’s Eating Chinese Food Naked’. Eating Identities. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2008; 127–169.


1 In a previous article entitled ‘National Identity Reconsidered: The Intersection of Ethnicity and Sexuality in The Book of Salt’ (2014), I embrace Ashcroft’s concept of the transnation, but since then I have felt the need to revise my position.

2 I borrow the term from Avtar Brah. Modalities refer to the different aspects of one’s identity: sexuality, age, ethnicity, class, etc. While the word ‘aspect’ suggests a more fixed meaning, ‘modality’ emphasizes the conflicting nature of the interplay between these components.


Southern Polytechnic State University, North Carolina
Earned her PhD from Georgia State University in 2012. She also has an MA in Foreign Languages and Literatures from Ca’Foscari University (Venice, Italy). While teaching Composition, American and World Literature at Southern Polytechnic State University, she is working on turning her dissertation into a book, tentatively titled ‘Dismantling Power Structures: The Interaction of Identity Modalities in Asian American Literature’. She has two forthcoming articles. ‘National Identity Reconsidered: The Intersection of Ethnicity and Sexuality in The Book of Salt’ is to be published in a book tentatively entitled Ethnic Literatures and Transnationalism. ‘Students as Distributors of Knowledge: Participating in a Community of Scholars’ will appear in Technology in the Literature Class: Assignments and Materials edited by Bedford/St.Martin’s Press. Her interests include ethnic American literature and sexuality, gender, race, and diasporic studies.

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