"The starting point for a unique "I" is a "we" of a form of life or language-game." This is what is true about Vietnamese society & false about American society. That is, Vietnamese society understands that the "I" emerges from the "we" & not the other way around. I had a lovely conversation with our student Tu Trinh this afternoon in which she told me a little bit about her family. Our conversation. mostly in English, alas, was supposed to have been a Vietnamese lesson, but another language game seemed more important: that of getting to know each other a little better. Trinh did, however, give me a little translation exercise that she had written out. I think she wanted to know if I really knew any Vietnamese or was just bluffing. The paragraph was about her family. Trinh had written, for my first exercise, about living near the Saigon River, her family poor but happy; about playing with her siblings along the river's bank. There's an expression in Vietnamese (that I can't reproduce here because of the lack of a font) that means "happy [as in having fun] and contented with life." I have come to understand that "contented with life" for most Vietnamese means something like "with family at home." Later, Trinh told me that because her father had abandoned them they were ostracized. "My brother and sister & I cried a lot," she told me. But it was clear--& this is important--that the unhappiness occurred within a larger (or smaller?) happiness. Here we enter into the territory in which language games & identity seem to fuse into a single system. In any case, I cannot help but see the Western, capitalist conception of the autonomous self as a kind of pathology. At the same time, I'm not terribly happy with the critique(s) of that conception that have been offered by the various schools of Postmodernism.

"But these games and/or forms must have a start in time." Some have astonishing stability, like the red spot on Jupiter; some are swirls of cigarette smoke in a nightclub in Hanoi.


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