Duy Lap NguyenJul 25, 2022
The Unimagined Community
Imperialism and Culture in South Vietnam
Manchester University Press 2019
Duy Lap Nguyen's book The Unimagined Community: Imperialism and Culture in South Vietnam (Manchester UP, 2019) proposes a reexamination of the Vietnam War from a perspective that has been largely excluded from historical accounts of the conflict, that of the South Vietnamese. Challenging the conventional view of the conflict as a struggle on the part of the Vietnamese people against US imperialism and its puppets, the study presents a wide-ranging investigation of South Vietnamese culture, from political philosophy and psychological warfare to popular culture and film. Beginning with a genealogy of the concept of a Vietnamese "culture," as it emerged as a product of modern print media in the context of European imperialism, the book concludes with a reflection on the rise of urban mass culture during the period of the American intervention. In addition, the study provides an extended analysis of one of the most remarkable, but least understood aspects of this particular history of imperialism and culture: the attempt by the early South Vietnamese state to overcome the Communist Revolution by carrying its own "Personalist revolution" in the countryside. Contrary to the conventional view of Vietnamese Personalism as a religious and authoritarian ideology, the study contends that the latter was in fact an anticolonial form of communitarian socialism, derived from the Marxist theology developed by the French philosopher, Emmanuel Mounier. Reexamining the war from the South Vietnamese perspective, The unimagined community pursues the provocative thesis that the conflict, in this early stage, was not an anti-communist crusade, but a struggle between two competing versions of anticolonial communism.
Duy Lap Nguyen is Assistant Professor at the University of Houston in their School of World Cultures and Literatures and holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Irvine. His research interests include Critical theory, visual Studies, Vietnamese studies, world cinema and literature
Thomas Kingston is an incoming Berkeley Fellow in South and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. His PhD research looks at the intellectual history and political economy of Southeast Asia.