– Autumn/Winter 2019

Trinh T. Minh-ha Essaying Ethics

Joshua Fausty

I regret the ‘his or her’ ending, particularly in a piece on transcending binaries: not ‘the [singular] writing self and his or her living other’ (as I put it) but rather writing selves and their living others. Yet here we are: a new ban on transgender soldiers by an American president who separates families, cages children, and, obsessed with building his ‘wall of insecurity’1, ‘jokes’ about shooting migrants at the southern border. As Trinh notes, ‘although living in two dualistic worlds (here versus there) proves to be still acceptable to the rational mind, living in two and many non-opposing worlds – all located in the very same place as where one is – inevitably inscribes silence’.2 Not only does silence tempt where power demands black-or-white, us-and-them, with-me-or-against-me ‘ready-mades’; but also, despite everything, we still do not know how to live with multiplicity. Trinh eludes the inevitability of silence, discovering ways to hear/read/speak/write that admit the nearly silent, slight, slippery bits, the heart-bits;3 trans-rationally exploring, questioning, articulating complexity, difference, interconnection; illuminating new horizons for consciousness with urgency, immediacy and perspective – over time, sure, yet also and especially here and now, in this very space we might together learn to share. — JF

Trinh T. Minh-ha and Jean Bourdier, Night Passage, 2005, digital film, 98min. Courtesy Moongift Films

Writing’s slippery, mysterious, protean

  1. Trinh T. Minh-ha, Elsewhere, Within Here: Immigration, Refugeeism and the Boundary Event, London: Routledge, 2011, p.2.

  2. Ibid.

  3. ‘[A]s a resonance event, the heart links the here, the overthere, and the elsewhere, creating new possibilities not yet, not quite known.’ Trinh T.M., Lovecidal: Walking with the Disappeared, New York: Fordham University Press, 2016, p.4.

  4. Books written or edited by Trihn T.M. and on her work include: Lovecidal: Walking with The Disappeared, op. cit.; O Cinema de Trinh T. Minh-ha (ed. Carla Maia and Felipe Flores), Rio De Janeiro: Caixa Cultural, 2015; D–Passage: The Digital Way, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013; Elsewhere, Within Here: Immigration, Refugeeism and the Boundary Event, op. cit.; (with Jean-Paul Bourdier) Vernacular Architecture in West Africa: A World in Dwelling, New York and London: Routledge, 2011 (English version of Habiter un monde); Habiter un monde, Paris: Editions Alternatives, 2005; The Digital Film Event, New York and London: Routledge, 2005; Trinh T. Minh-ha / Secession, Vienna: Secession, 2001; Cinema Interval, New York and London: Routledge, 1999; (with J.-P. Bourdier) Drawn From African Dwellings, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996; Trinh T. Minh-ha: Texte, Filme, Gespräche (ed. Hedwig Saxenhuber and Madeleine Bernstorff), Munich: Kunstverein München, SYNEMA-Gesellschaft für Film und Medien, Blickpilotin e.V., 1995; Framer Framed, New York and London: Routledge, 1992; When the Moon Waxes Red: Representation, Gender & Cultural Politics, New York and London: Routledge,1991; Woman, Native,Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press,1989; En minuscules (poems), Paris: Le Méridien éditeur (formerly Les Editions Saint-Germain des Près), 1987; (with J.-P. Bourdier) African Spaces: Designs for Living in Upper Volta, New York and London: Holmes and Meier, 1985; Un Art sans oeuvre, Troy, MI: International Book Publishers, Russell Ferguson, Martha Gever, Trinh T.M. and Cornel West (ed.), Out There: Marginalisation in Contemporary Culture, New York and Cambridge, MA: New Museum of Contemporary Art and The MIT Press, 1990. Her films include Forgetting Vietnam (2015); Night Passage (2004); The Fourth Dimension (2001); A Tale of Love (1995); Shoot for the Contents (1991); Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989); Naked Spaces – Living is Round (1985); and Reassemblage (1982).

  5. Trinh T. M., ‘Commitment from the Mirror-Writing Box’, Woman, Native, Other, op. cit., pp.18–19.

  6. Ibid., p.36.

  7. Trinh T.M., ‘The Other Censorship’, When the Moon Waxes Red, op.cit., p.229.

  8. Ibid., pp.229–30.

  9. Ibid., p.230.

  10. See Derek Attridge, ‘Literary Form and the Demands of Politics: Otherness in J. M. Coetzee’s Age of Iron’, in George Levine (ed.), Aesthetics and Ideology, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994.

  11. Ibid., p.246.

  12. D. Attridge, The Singularity of Literature, London and New York: Routledge, 2004, p.111.

  13. Michel Foucault, The Uses of Pleasure: The History of Sexuality, vol.2 (1984, trans. Robert Hurley), New York: Random House, 1985, p.9.

  14. Ibid., pp.8–9.

  15. Ibid., p.9.

  16. See Stanley Cavell, Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome: The Constitution of Emersonian Perfectionism, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

  17. Ibid., p.8.

  18. Ibid., p.16.

  19. Ibid., pp.31–32.

  20. Trinh T.M., ‘The Other Censorship’, op. cit., p.226.

  21. Ibid.

  22. Ibid., p.232.

  23. Ibid.

  24. Ibid., p.228.

  25. Ibid., pp.228–29.

  26. Ibid., p.229.

  27. Trinh T.M., ‘The Other Censorship’, op. cit., p.234.

  28. Numerous writers have drawn on and acknowledged Trinh’s ideas in their own scholarship. AnaLouise Keating’s study of Paula Gunn Allen, Gloria Anzaldúa and Audre Lorde, for example, includes numerous
    references to Trinh. However, these references consist either of quotations from Trinh’s work that serve as epigraphs to several chapters in Keating’s own book (pp.1, 81, 134 and 164), or quotations from Trinh’s work used to shed light on the three authors who are the focus of Keating’s study. For example: ‘As Trinh T. Minh-ha explains…’ (p.128); ‘As Trinh T. Minh-ha asserts…’ (p.64); ‘Each writer exhibits what Trinh T. Minh-ha describes as…’ (p.90); and ‘Anzaldúa positions herself at what Trinh describes as…’ (p.142). Like many critics who find Trinh’s work helpful and even ground- breaking, Keating unequivocally acknowledges the importance of Trinh to her own reading of the subjects of her study, although she does not comment on Trinh’s writing as writing. See A. Keating, Women Reading Women Writing: Self-Invention in Paula Gunn Allen, Gloria Anzaldúa and Audre Lorde, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.

  29. In Otherwise than Being: or, Beyond Essence (1974), Levinas writes that ‘Saying states and thematises
    the said, but signifies it to the other, a neighbour, with a signification that has to be distinguished from that borne by words in the said.’ Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being: or, Beyond Essence (trans. Alphonso Lingis), Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1998, p.46.

  30. D. Attridge, The Singularity of Literature, op. cit., p.xx.