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Aestheticizing Urban Space: Modernity in Postcolonial Saigon and Hanoi Panivong Norindr L'appréciation sensorielle de la ville ne saurait, on le sait, se réduire à celle d'une architecture de pierre, c'est-à -dire à une nature morte. Elle déborde de beaucoup cette matérialité. Ses bruits, ses odeurs, son mouvement constituent l'identité de la ville autant que son dessin et que ses perspectives . La spatialité urbaine n'existe pas en elle-même. Elle se crée dans l'interaction de ceux qui habitent la ville, la parcourent ou la visitent et qui lui confèrent une multiplicité de sens. Elle résulte d'un flux incessant, d'un enchevêtrement de lectures simultanées qui constituent autant de paysages. Elle est perpétuellement saisie au travers du filtre des mythologies, de rituels préexistants , lesquels sont, eux-mêmes, emportés par un incessant glissement.' LET ME BEGIN BY FOREGROUNDING the term modernity that is employed in this essay, which can be defined as "the force of Western cultural expansionism against which individuals have to contend, in order to dwell in this world." In this rather succinct sentence, I want to evoke the long history of this concept, its complex trajectory that originated in Europe, the birthplace of modernity, its journey across geo-political borders, and its ability to penetrate and transform discursive formations in every corner of the world. Although it may seem today like a commonplace, it bears repeating that the emergence of the "modern" also coincided with the heyday of Western colonialism, transforming all aspects of life in the conquered territories . My aim, here, is not simply to examine the legacy of French colonialism in Vietnam, but to focus on the ways the natives, today, are negotiating their passage into modernity. I want to stress the fact that modernity is an on-going project in many emerging countries, which makes manifest my agreement with Habermas' argument that modernity is an incomplete project in the West. I also want to shift the focus away from an analysis of the "natives" as silent subalterns oppressed by this omnipotent cultural force, toward a more dialogic reading of these "modern subjects" as agents who are active participants in the transformation of these emerging modern societies and are negotiating, in imaginative ways, their place within the postcolonial space of cities such as Hanoi or Saigon. The notion of "(alter)native modernities," as it has been articulated suggestively by Dilip Gaonkar, with its emphasis on the plurality of modern experience, is certainly relevant to my discussion.2 But unlike my colleagues in the social sciences, who are able to distinguish the different processes of modernity as distinct categories (the political, the economic, the Vol. XLI, No. 3 73 L'Esprit Créateur social and cultural), my analysis blurs these distinctions in order to identify and understand "the emergent social forces and contradictory processes which are reshaping modern societies today."31 proceed by juxtaposing different discourses (filmic, architectural, political) in the hope of achieving a montagelike effect that aims to suggest the spatial disorientation and temporal discontinuity that also characterize the experience of those who "dwell in modernity," a term that is indebted to the work of Martin Heidegger and echoes Dipesh Chakravarty's most recent study.4 Marshall Berman's classic text, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, published almost 20 years ago, has also influenced my thinking about the "experience of modernity," the notion of "makfing] ourselves at home in this [modern] world" and "being at home in modernity."5 I am not, however, suggesting a facile analogy between the Bronx of the 1950s and contemporary Hanoi and Saigon. I also take issue with Berman's claim that "nineteenth-century Russia [i]s an archetype of the emerging twentieth-century Third World" (175). What interests me here is the way Berman describes the process by which modern men and women are not only objects of modernization but subjects who negotiate their place in this modern world of capital, a concept that intersects with what Homi Bhabha has called the "unhomely," which he describes as "a paradigmatic colonial and postcolonial condition."6 As a way of illustrating this...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 73-87
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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