Her mother reminds me of my grandmother who also wanted more than what a woman born in 1919 and came of age during WW2 could have had. Sometimes the events of the world dictate your life more than you do, like being part of that chessboard where you don’t get to move the pieces, you can only get out of their way.
She says it’s hard for her to accept that her mother was happiest without having her family (the time before she met her husband), but I think that’s true for a number of people who could have had a career or something better instead of starting a family for practical reasons.
She makes a good point about how the chessboard of war never contains the people who are most effected by war: the regular people. It’s always generals and politicians and partisans, but not street vendors and grandmothers selling opium to make ends meet, even though it’s their lives that are the most effected by the wars.
“Even standing right in front of our ld house, I had to rely completely on my family’s stories to picture how it was when we lived there.” Funny how memory works as something handed down when we don;t have our own.
Her grandmother was growing opium to make ends meet. Meanwhile the mafia is fighting the new government, Diem, which didn’t ave full control of the south. You can feel the country falling apart.
As he rides the landing craft, it’s like he’s invading his own country the way the allies did with the same boats at Normandy just 11 years prior. Strange to think of refugees as invaders in their own country, fleeing from their own people, but whom they are separated from across an ocean of idealistic differences.
She also shows the ugly side of Vietnamese independence and how 200,000 were killed in the Land Reforms and that nobody was really free and the police made sure you clapped during the propaganda films. Not much of a life, especially if you’ve enjoyed the material luxuries of the French. Hard to go back home again (which he literally is doing but is struggling with seeing the upside to).
It’s like his father is intentionally making him see the country and how people really live so that he can convince his son to side with Vietnam and not the French. Not that he wasn’t already inclined to see the disparity, and even perhaps be sympathetic to the communists, but this is first-hand education, and not idealistic education one gets on school campuses.
It’s interesting how even though the French brought so many luxuries to Vietnam, which her father enjoyed, especially since he had been so poor initially before attending French school, so many people were willing to give it up to claim an independent identity, even if it meant sacrificing family. Speaks to the power that blood has over material things, and how much freedom is more valued than being ruled.
I don’t know if I should admit this, but I agree with her mother about how “Marriage = trap” and “Education = freedom”. I know it’s possible to balance the two, but I know it’s also a struggle and when you have to decide between the two you’re almost always going to side with family rather than freedom – and not that it’s a negative thing to do so, but balancing self vs others is always a conflict and tension.
OK, that was strange about her father being driven mad by his French, female boss who was tormenting him. Usually you learn about how men take advantage of women, but it can go both ways, too and it’s just as despicable.
Her uncle “wasn’t really a communist when he went [to prison], but on the inside, among the Viet Minh prisoners, he became one”. Just like always – when the oppressors start cracking down on everyone, then even the people who weren’t part of the fight get recruited because of how unfairly they’ve been treated – just like Iraq in the early 2000’s post 9/11.
Her mother grew up VERY privileged when the French were the colonizers in Vietnam. She was very rich, had servants, and her mother was sure proud of her lifestyle – meanwhile so many people were living in poverty and were arming themselves to fight the French, and people like her mother = class war. How many times in history has a country been ripped apart by class tensions?
I think I can understand why her mother was more comfortable talking to her daughter’s husband about her past than to her own daughter since it creates a sort of buffer by talking to someone you share no blood and past with and so it doesn’t get all mixed up and confused or misinterpreted or interrupted, though it does suck that the communication can’t be more connected between mother and daughter.
Interesting how her opinion of her mother is tied up with the opinion of herself, as if they are sort of one person while also being two different people, which is sort of the way kids work, I suppose in that we’re a lot like our parents while also our own people.
She draws her mother (as she knows her) as being sort of stiff and like her mind is somewhere else, though she was a lot different before having kids
I see the point Howe is making regarding Jonathan Edwards’ isolation from his congregation with ED’s isolation from the rest of society when she remained skeptical of the revivalist movement. She’s aware of a greater truth, something beautiful and virtuous, but its not something that is easily seen, it has to be squinted at is even harder to explain. Revival is easy, staying revived is a lot harder.
This is what I find most interesting about ED, “the immanent consciousness of Separation”, where “each word is a cipher, through its sensible sign another sign hidden” – “Subject and object were fused at that moment, into the immediate feeling of understanding”. Her words live like electrons that can’t be directly observed, but we infer multiple meanings through the matter (and form) of the poem.
Edwards’ sermon with all its hellfire is fascinating, not least of all because of how un-God like he makes God seem (at least by modern standards; if anyone even thinks of God anymore). God here is vengeful and itching to throw everyone’s soul into the hottest of hells, but is held back only because he has to. These days God apparently wants you to be rich and vote for CEO’s.
I disagree that ED’s decision not to publish – and the shun fame- grew out of a Calvinist theology (even if it’s by the barest of threads). I think she was simply suspicious of fame and of society and mostly she might have worried that being in the world (so to speak) would dilute her poetry. Howe is correct that “Emily Dickinson’s religion was Poetry”, but that means it wasn’t anything else. ED was a social skeptic
I disagree that ED shunned fame because of a Calvinist strain, no matter how threadbare it might be. In saying this it takes away her decision by letting religion be the vehicle, but I don’t think this was her reason to reject fame. I think she saw fame as a road that would dilute her poetry, that being famous was not very original and that she was eternally skeptical of society,
“Grace and Predestination are another contradiction” – I wonder if ED had thought much about this since this is exactly the sort of split / fragmented / contradictory language she loved. If God both offers Grace AND Predestination is real, then how can they co-exist? Perhaps this is a glimmer of insight into her not trusting any of it? ED’s God is above contradiction at the very least.
Howe makes an interesting observation in how ED retained strains of Puritanism in that she describes “Puritan theology at its best would tirelessly search God’s secrecy, explore Nature’s hidden meaning,” and though ED wasn’t going as far as to say it was a Christian God running everything, she does see Something in Everything; no acre of creation is devoid of intention of some sort.
I like the breakdown of the trope of the captivity narrative, especially how the perseverance does not change the “victim” but brings them back closer to God which, ironically, is no longer found in nature, but in Christian civilization which is at war with nature, as well as the people who live in nature. In other words, it’s all cliche propaganda and people will always be susceptible to this shit.
I’ve heard the term Indian Bow before in regard to something other than an actual bow (of a bow and arrow). Does Increase Mather mean a rainbow? Or am I remembering this passage from when I grew up in Plymouth? Weird – but it is very familiar.
It’s interesting that ED was living at a time not only when America was split politically (civil war), but also geographically in that still large swaths of the landscape were unexplored and virgin and people like Cotton Mather were saying that wilderness is a sword (presumably attacking the good Christian). America was still new and unknown and struggling to find an identity – just like ED’s poetry.
I assume Howe is suggesting that ED is reacting to “the idea that our visible world is a whim and might be dissolved at any time” and that people of her day were willing to show “obedience to a stern and sovereign Absence” which “forged a fanatical energy necessary for survival”. The “obedience to a higher purpose” is plain and simple; ED disagrees, though she does still seem to believe in some sort of spirit.
I’m glad she explored her father’s past since it informs so much of the man he became, why he didn’t want to coddle the children because he knew how cruel the world could be and it’s probably better to prepare the kids then tell them it will be alright. Besides, he wouldn’t have known any better since his own childhood was terrible – how would he know how to raise kids?
Wow, that’s interesting, her father’s mother wound up in China and raised a whole other family there. She must have been desperate, obviously – you wonder what she had been thinking about her whole life when she thought about her past and her first family in Vietnam.
Jesus, the story of how her father’s father meat his wife and kicked her out at the height of famine and strife in 1940’s Vietnam – and he never saw his mother again.
The power of a graphic novel (memoir) is that you can have a panel with two characters and in the next one of them, her father in this case, is drawn as a 9 year old, not an old man anymore. There doesn’t have to be an explanation of how this happens, we can just see it and except that we’re going to get his story from when he was a child.
“Perception of an object means loosing and losing it” as in Plato, but also at the quantum level of observation effecting the outcomes, the dual nature of reality at the fundamental level and the impossible divide between the thing and the form of the thing.
How much her dashes are like a woman trying to speak around a man who is trying to interrupt her. How often have we heard a woman speak only to have to pause, then go again, then pause again while she is interrupted? It’s like she’s having to fit her poetry around the voice of men, yet be continuing to write, even when she hesitates (Latin = to stick, stammer), she still perseveres and does not stop.
“Is this world of the imagination the same for men and women?” is a good question. Is it? What exactly IS our imagination? What are the waters of that sea made of? Are they the same temperature? Our our islands at different latitudes (or longitudes)? How much of what we are makes up what we want to be? Or is there a common imagination? That which makes us want to be part of everything else human?
“She built a new poetic form from her fractured sense of being eternally on intellectual borders, where confident masculine voices buzzed an alluring and inaccessible discourse, backward through history into aboriginal anagogy” (which I read as agony, but anagogy means spiritual elevation / passion = might be related, eg. Christ’s passion).
In other words, she invented a “new grammar”.
Howe goes into some detail as to what ED may have seen in George Eliot (herself of two names) and how Eliot may have been something of a kindred spirit. If anything, ED has excellent taste to chose Eliot over Harriet Beecher Stowe (or perhaps even Emerson, at least in person).
Interesting line, “To balance on a precipice of falling into foolishness was often the danger of opening your mouth to speak if you were and intellectually ambitious person with a female education,”. This in contrast to Emerson who visits next door while ED chooses to remain home.
Not that it takes a scholar to figure it out, but I do like that she’s also getting right to the dual-nature of ED’s words, how everything is multiple meanings and that ED didn’t seem too particularity interested in finding answers, for her it was the journey and poetry the only true answer.
I like the lines, “My voice formed from my life belongs to no one else. What I put into words is no longer in my possession.” and there is a sort of paradox working here in that the voice is owned, but anything the voice does is not; the moment the voice is used it becomes the property of the universe.
And now she’s onto Joyce, specifically Ulysses and Molly’s section ending with the affirmative, “yes”. Which itself is odd because it is written by a man, yet he was more recognized as an innovator than G. Stein was at the time even though she was pushing even harder than he was.
I wonder if it’s still worth making the distinction between Joyce saying “I hate intellectual women,” with the fact he didn’t say he didn’t need them? Sometimes I feel that the best writers sort of have a difficult relationship with people (in reality) and use writing to connect instead (though maybe that’s just me).
I love that Howe starts RIGHT OFF with comparing ED with G. Stein. Howe understands how both poets were attracted to subversion, which is why I love them both, too.
The preface is interesting in how it shows how derided ED was for so long, even up into 1980. Howe also uses the WCW quote about ED as her jumping off point to deal with how ED is seen, though she is quite fair to WCW in saying what he meant was that poets aren’t men or women, they are poets first “salted with fire”.
She talks about Thoreau wanting to get in a boat and see where the river takes him. I did that too.
A lot of her anxieties as a kid are about not being able to find her way home, like the story her father told her about the guy who could astral project but his friends dressed his sleeping body up and his spirit couldn’t find it’s way back and he went insane (great story). Perhaps this is what the experience of the immigrant is, coupled with a sort of Exorcist possession where one culture invades the immigrant.
Maybe it isn’t that her father didn’t answer her questions because he wasn’t interested in making her feel safe, but that he wanted her to understand how the world can be scary and it’s good to learn how to deal with that rather than only be reassured all the time. Not that you can go all in one way or the other, but there should be a balance. So is she being unfair to her father?
Sad how their degrees aren’t recognized in America so their mother has to assemble circuit boards for minimum wage while the father stays home with the kids.
Interesting idea how she talks about her family as being “formed in another time and place to which they could never go back” while the kids are being formed differently in this new country and there isn’t much the parents can do about it.
Funny how so many people learn English through pop culture.
She’s writing about Brenda Spencer who is still in prison for the shootings; she did it because “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.” School shootings are always a part of the American landscape, as is war, and people fearing immigrants which she connects all together here as she becomes more American every day.
There’s always 2 sides to a story in a family, like here when her mother says her father went to the movies when the kids were born, but men weren’t allowed in the waiting room in Vietnam.
She goes further and further back in time as each of her siblings are born, until we get to the first born who died and whose shadow still seems to stretch over her mother all these decades and thousands of miles later.
Wow, the Vietnam shaped hole in her body, more than a tattoo, it goes all the way through her, like an empty space that takes up entirely too much space.
Sad about whatever the history had been between her father and his family that caused him to refuse to go back and see them. Wonder what happened?
In Vietnam being 70 would mean you’re very old, but in America 70 year olds run marathons, so everyone is stuck between two expectations of time and culture. Everyone feels lonely and nobody ever seems to know what expectations should be upheld or not.