An Introductory Lesson
In Vietnamese Ethnohistory
The problem of the 'meaning' of Asia has been complicated…by the tendency of many western writers to exploit its ambiguities--to exaggerate the element of mystery and to dwell (consciously or unconsciously) on its more exotic aspects. As a result, the Orient of belief became scarcely distinguishable from the Orient of the imagination. Supposed fact and conscious fiction combined to produce a geographical fantasia as legendary as the geography of medieval maps and as unreal as the landscape of a dream…(Steadman; 1969: 35-36)
Exoticism and vagueness--these are hallmarks of romanticism,…like most myths, the myth of Asia evokes romantic echoes, fantastic overtones. The west has always interpreted the east in poetic terms. Geographical remoteness has given it 'aesthetic distance''. Unfamiliarity has made it a byword for 'the marvelous'…(Steadman; 1969: 36-37)
…Many Europeans and Asians still believe that these concepts distinguish fundamental differences between the civilizations of the Orient and the Occident. East and West, they maintain, are not merely demographic or geographical terms, they are also modes of thinking and feeling…modes so different as to be virtually irreconcilable. Underlying the manifold and obvious diversity of the Orient there is nevertheless an Eastern psyche distinct from that of the West, a mentality peculiarly and characteristically Asia. The genius of the East, they insist, is static and introspective, while that of the West is dynamic and extroverted. The Orient, passive and contemplative, has displayed this genius in the civilization of the spirit; the Occident, active and practical, in the amelioration of its environment. The Eastern psyche, resigning itself to physical and social restrictions, attempts not so much to master them as to escape them by self mastery. The Western mind, confronted by similar obstacles, endeavors rather than harness them in the service of its own desires. The one espouses thought; the other embraces action. Eastern man, in short, renounces the world to cultivate his own soul; Western man subordinates spiritual requirements to material needs. The one looks for happiness in the microcosm the other in the macrocosm. The gulf between East and West is as profound as the difference between spiritual discipline and scientific techniques, nirvana and utopia. (Steadman; 1969: 26)
Ethnohistory is a brand of mythology that has been literally turned inside out and strait jacketed by the imperative of chronology. It is a process of translating mythical space into real time, such that its mythological content becomes rationally sanctioned by the absolute gulf between an immutable Past and a 'really real' Present. All of history is mythological--'ethno' is merely an appendage delineating the cultural boundaries and hence symbolic content of this form of mythology. Mythology is a sticky morass, a never ending maze way, which, once we enter its inner world through a passageway like 'ethnohistory', we are soon lead into circles, and then there are no longer clear, coherent divisions between one kind of myth, or one family of myth, and any other. Mythology is a Gordion knot which accretes unto itself many different symbolisms from a diverse variety of sources, and mixes them up out of their original context, their rational order.
Ethnohistory is also a kind of mirror of mythology--lift them off the armored veneer of history and look straight in the face and there will be only a reflection of the self. But history is not only a mythological image of the present; it is also, more importantly, and paradoxically, a mythology about a mythology, without any solid ground, but only an ever receding appearance of actual existence. Once engaged within the never ending historical dialectic, there is no longer distinguishing between the historical study of myth and the mythical study of history--mythology and the study of mythology merge, compound, and confound one another until there can only be confusion between subject and object. And once one has entered the realm of myth, there is no escaping until one arrives at the self reflective, self conscientious realization that it is mythology after all--the illusion then disappears into thin air--returning to the nothingness from which it came.
There is a peculiar kind of synergy about the mythology of history. It is the same kind of synergy as occurs in the understanding of culture and in the understanding of human reality. More precisely I am referring to synergism that is defined as "the simultaneous action of separate agencies which, together, have greater total effect than the sum of their individual effects." (Webster's Dictionary, 1983) Though defined it remains a poorly understood, even misunderstood, phenomenon of life, not only of biological life, in which a temporal continuity of integral organismic inter-functioning of the many complex parts creates existence, spiritually as well as materially-mechanically, of an organism--but of human symbolic and cultural life as well. Mythology might be called a kind of synergism of the human mind. Culture, and its counterpart history, is a mythological synergism of the symbolism of humankind.
By mentioning a unique kind of synergism of history, I am not merely referring to the 'super organic' analogy which is a 'logic' of misplaced concreteness. It is a relatively simple matter to look at freeways with their intricate interchange systems and to see blood veins, to look at telephone poles with their electrical high wires and to see a nervous system, to look at police cars and to see white blood cells, to look at track housing complexes and to see the tissue, and to imagine in all this analogy some larger than life organism, with a computer network for a brain. But in any such analogy can only be carried so far before the overlay of ideas no longer neatly fits. It is easy to review history and to see the rise and fall of empires and of societies and to imagine the growth and climax of biotic cultures in the agar of a petri dish. But this is not what I mean by synergism of history.
Indeed, 'synergism of history' refers to a mythological quality to be found in its study which cannot be accounted for by the quantity of 'data' no matter how extensive. It expresses an intensiveness about historical understanding which is derived from its mythological life. It is an elaboration of the trite cliché that 'history repeats itself' but in its study it involves the elucidation and systematic explication of 'how' history thus repeats itself. Thus we are not engaged merely in a mythology of history, but in a systematic, or systemic, chronology, in the context of a rational formal idea of 'past' by which to order and express this systematicity of history.
This synergism of history finds its expression in terms of a thematic continuity of events of the past, a continuity furthermore expressed in dialectical forms--mythological antonyms which arrange themselves in a contrapuntal fashion to create a rhythmic harmony, or concord, or a cacophonous discord, in the form of an antithesis or a synthesis. The chronology of myth is dialectical in function and expression.
The synergism of history expresses itself as a self fulfilling prophecy--the dramatic self actualization of the mythological themes, a 'creation of historical reality' which in it subliminal subtlety and sublimated sublimity, has all the power and illusion of human necessity. And thus history, through its synergistic characterization, becomes recurrent fate and a common destiny. The chronology of history serves to express in dialectical terminology the driving mechanism of this historical synergism, its internal engine, its motivation motor, its pivotal dynamo by which history turns upon itself in thematic repetition. The mythology of history serves to provide our understanding with the provenience of period and place within the mythical realm of the 'past', to determine a context, a structure, a range, a continuum, by which to provide significant, relative meaning for the 'chronological events' of history.
We are not merely witnessing the discrete succession of exits and entrances of a cast of discrete, individual actors upon the mythological stage of historical drama, but we are searching with our chronology of the 'past' with our dialectical terminology, with out mythological structure, to discover, to self realize, a unity in the diversity of characterizations, a convergence in the divergence of events, a continuity underlying the discontinuity of actions and attitudes--in short we are not merely seeing a play in performance but we are taking part in its performance, acting out its mythological reality, from scene to scene, act to act, production to production. This is the synergism underlying the mythos of history.
When surveying the stage, we are looking for common elements of the background, the symbolism, with which the actors pick and choose their ad lib performances, to define the complete repertory of symbols which can be combined and recombined, in an infinite variety of ways, to recreate the performance. We are looking for the structural rules of recombination, rooted in the social context, which delimit the actors range of options. And we are looking for ways by which the actors learn, and relearn these rules of combination and recombination, culturally sanctioned, and in the process of relearning redefine, restructure the rules themselves. The rules are not immutable, unchangeable unless we make them so. They are defined by the context and boundaries of culture, they are variable with the variability of culture, and flexible within the looseness of cultural boundaries, and alterable within the variations of culture change.
In their mythological synergism, history is merely synonymous with culture. History is culture when written in the idiom of and translated into the chronology of, and transformed into the mythology of, the 'past'. Culture is history when written in the idiom of, translated into the organization of, and transformed into the mythology of the 'present'. In their common ground of mythology, they are inseparable except in a dialectic between 'past' and 'present'.
The unifying common ingredient of both history and culture is its synergism which is realized in the form of 'symbolism'. Symbols in their analogical form and metaphorical function, in their contextual significance, meaningful content and social structure--is the atom of human mythological reality. The complete elaboration of symbolism requires a theory and a context all its own quite apart from the ethnohistorical scope of this essay. Here it must only be reiterated that the importance of symbolism in the historical and cultural understanding of human reality cannot be overestimated or overvalued or over explained.
…A culture is a repertoire of symbols that has accumulated as human beings have tried to cope with their environment…However in the process of living, the human beings who inherit access to a particular repertoire are constantly engaged in the active, self conscious construction of cultural systems, or organized, internally consistent sets of symbols for dealing with some aspect of the environment. To construct these symbols, they draw selectively on their culture's repertoire of symbols; they never use all the symbols available.
For example, all human beings are engaged in an active, self conscious attempt to construct definitions of who they are as a people. In their cultural reservoirs are symbols of peoplehood; these symbols I call ethnicity--the symbols of cultural boundary. But people do not draw equally on all these available symbols; they are selectively and the self conscious formulations which they create I call ethnic identity systems. In looking at the history of a people, we might find new ethnic systems emerging and old ones disappearing, although they may all derive from the same ethnicity, or that part of a culture which pertains to symbols of cultural boundary.
In the same way, we may identify other realms of culture or areas of knowledge upon which people draw to construct systematic ways of relating to the world. For example, culture contains symbols pertaining to man's attempts to make a living ('economicity' would be the term comparable to 'ethnicity'); members of a society draw self consciously from their cultural repertoire in constructing economic systems. (Pandian: 1-3)
Just as there is virtual similarity between history and culture, so also is there closeness of fit between mythology and ideology. Ideology is mythology in the process of realization, of self fulfillment, in thoughts, words and deeds. Ideology is the acting out, the enactment, the performance upon the human stage, of the mythological drama. Mythology is ideology in form, in virtue, it is the script, the symbolic repertory, the treasure chest of culture, the Pandora's box of the future. Ideology is the vessel filled with mythological content; mythology is the structure giving meaningful form to ideological function.
Neither, then, can we neglect the ideological function served within the mythological form of history and culture. To the extent that historical process is symbolically self fulfilling, we can see the function of history as ideology. To the extent that history is rewritten, unwittingly or otherwise, for the sake of justification, legitimization, realization of symbolic forms meaningful to whoever is doing the rewriting--that person is engaged in the history of ideology, in its acting out, its recreation. Like mythological form, this ideological function of history and culture has unavoidable consequences for its writing, understanding and realization.
History is what historians do (culture is what anthropologists do), nothing more, nothing less. Furthermore, it provides an idiom of human behavior, of thinking, speaking, writing, acting, about the present in the form of the past (just as culture provides a mythological idiom of behaving in relation to the past in the terminology of the present). Ideologically as well, history provides a means of behaving in relation to the past in the functions of the present (just as culture provides an ideological means of behaving in relation to the present in the functions of the past, i.e. 'heritage', 'tradition'). In history or in culture, there is no escaping the great mythical circle rationality--repairing the many breaches of faith with law and order, patching the many inconsistencies with logic and reason. History then is mythological idiom of talking about human reality. And in writing about history, we soon reach the point of mythological departure (and of no return) where there is no longer distinguishing accurately and securely between historical past and the historical understanding of the past. Past and history as understanding of the past fuse together and become and indistinguishable, inseparable unity. But more, history as the self reflective recording, writing and rewriting of the past, is the dawning of cultural conscience, of collective consciousness, and thus of civilization, just as memory is the beginning of self conscious awareness and hence of symbolism. There is historical distance, the greater the mythological separation from human reality, the broader the expanses of mythological space encompassed. Not only is history reflexive, self reflective, but also it is relative in its mythological form and ideological function. Reflexivity, self reflectivity and relativity are interrelated and interdependent properties of the mythology and ideology of history and culture--together they provide the raison de et're for involvement in the study of history and culture.
The synergism of history and culture confers a certain momentum to their respective mythological and ideological operation within the past and the present, or perhaps more aptly, a momentousness which works like a tidal undercurrent in determining the forward directioning of historical and cultural process. Historical and cultural process is the operation of history and culture, respectively, within their contexts of past and present, in their mythological and ideological idioms. The momentum of this process appears as a repetition, a recurrence, a resemblance of patterning of the dialectical themes of mythology and ideology.
It is always interesting to note that the direction of this momentum of historical and cultural process is always forwardly oriented in time--in other words, it is always, or should always appear to have a rational purpose located in some future happening. Thus history and culture only gain rational ordering of their respective processes in reference to future. The future is the beginning of the mythology of science--scientistic rationalism, or 'scienticism' for short. Science and religion stand in similar relation to one another as history and culture--religion is the ideology of the future. And yet the mythology and ideology of the future is the same as the past, and is reflexive in that it can only be defined in relation to the past and present. In mythology and ideology, past, present, future, co-occur and determine one another, within the context, the structure of forwardly moving, rationally oriented, time.
I have not written a history of Vietnam. Others have done so far better than I could ever hope to do. And others before them have made that history a reality. My work is but an illegitimate bastardization of what others have written and accomplished. I have written as much about the history or the 'histories' that have been written of Vietnam, (about what others have said in an historical perspective) as I have written a history of Vietnam. Let's not confuse history as a human endeavor to study and understand the past reality of people, with that actual reality which is in any case forever, completely absolutely irretrievable and unrelivable. History is dead; and in its death it is reborn many, many times. There is history as an ongoing endeavor and then there is quite another thing, the 'past' which history purports to understand. There is supposed to be a close connection between the two notions, the 'past' and 'history'. History is a formal, on-going discipline, the study of the past, has a life and meaning of its own, to some extent independent of the lives and meanings which have occurred in the past. History provides a formal theoretical structure, serves as a conceptual, rationally oriented vehicle, for recreating the past, both mythologically and ideologically. In a loose analogy it is a time machine which allows us to travel backward through time and thus relive the events of the past. No doubt there are, or have been a few academic eggheads who have actually, literally or rather literary and figuratively at least, relieved the events of the past. But whereas the structure of the past is in its absolute finality and completeness perfect as an ideal, a rational future oriented ideal, the structure of historical inquiry, of historical process, is never so perfect. It is always limited to human endeavors of the present. A positivist would want to say that the past is real in its meaning, synestically, of the 'past', the 'past' is the Past and therefore has reality as the 'past'--that in its reality, in its rational perfection, it has an objective existence. An idealist (and a realist) on the other hand, might very well claim that in its infinite, eternal death, in its future oriented perpetual expiration, the past no longer has a present reality independent of human conception of it--rather it exists only as a collective memory, as recollection, of what's best a document or record--the 'material' history--as perhaps no more than an ideal figment of the human imagination. History and historian finds the historical process important for its dependency upon the past for its realism and truth, but quite often (and often unnoticeably) the relationship between the past and history tends to work the other way around, such that the past becomes dependent upon the historical structure which we provide for it. But always it is history that is the forwardly oriented, emerging process of reality, as it is written and spelled out by the historian, while the past is forever the ideality for which history is given human meaning--in a symbolic, mythological sense. The historian finds the historical process important not so much in the description of an isolated, in a sense 'unrealistic' past but more meaningful in how the historic past is related to the human present through the historic process.
While the past remains essentially unalterable in its perfect finality, and inscrutable in its deal 'unreality', history is subject, contrariwise, to all the complex and subtle vicissitudes of the ever emergent present. History is a process conditioned by and infinitude of possibilities of rewriting, recreation, reinterpretation. Where the past is closed in its absolute death, in its endedness, the historical process is always open ended in its future orientation. Some would claim that history is the written word. The rise of historical 'civilization' is equated with the gradual evolution of the development of writing, literacy, printing, publishing, libraries, etc. as well as with the co-optation of destructive, coercive, persuasive force potentials and the intensification and extensification of energy consumption. The recorded document is not only the end product, the proof of the historical process, but it is also the most basic means of this process. Without the written word there can be no historical process.
It is this realization which has led me to write this 'history' of a 'history' of the past of Vietnam. It is bound up with the notion that we are not so much really looking at the 'past' of Vietnam, except as some manner of 'ideal present' but rather we are looking at the histories of Vietnam--as the writings of those who claim to know and understand what has been written of the 'pasts' of Vietnam. As illicit (and illiterate) as this work may seem, it is inevitable that such a 'History of History' must be done, sooner or later--if we are ever to step outside of the ever widening circles of historical rationality, beyond the purview of the claims of legitimacy to the 'past'. Then we can call into question not so much the 'truth value' of the 'past' but rather we can openly critique the 'objectivity' of those who write histories of Vietnam. Then we can honestly admit that we are caught in infinite regress, a mise en abyme, between past history and historical past, and we can see the two mirrors distinctly without being blinded by the images or enchanted by the illusions they reflect. As unprofessional as this enterprise may seem to some, such an enterprise as this is necessary to overcome the projective rationalism of the historical process, and to come closer to viewing self reflectively and honestly the reality of the historical process itself. And this can, and must be accomplished, not outside of the historical context, of the 'past' of which history writes like some formal essay on the theory and methodology of historical process and practice by historians, but undivorced from the context from which it 'originates' and claims for legitimacy. This is the rub and the difficulty of the task of writing 'objectively' yet self reflexively of both the subject and object of the historical process. The historian is the subject of this process, the rational ideal of the 'past' is the object. It is the difference between writing about 'history' with a capital 'H' as though it were something objectively real and of itself, if you will, another order of 'reified identity' with all its implications of an existence independent of human processes and meanings associated with it. It is rather to talk about the historical process in terms of the 'histories' (in the lower case) of the many 'pasts' (again in the lower case) of many people instead of writing about either 'history' unrelated to 'past' or about 'past' unrelated to 'history' or about 'history of the past' unrelated to 'humankind or human reality' or even a 'history of the past related to the reality of humankind'. We are concerned with writing a 'meta-history' in the idiom of 'history'.
In calling into question and focusing upon the legitimacy of the historical process we must ultimately founder upon the obstacle of final authority, of objective credibility. The 'source' of the 'past' being completely closed and directly inaccessible, we must rely upon written records and other forms of documentation, the sources of evidence about the pasts. There is in contemporary scholarship a high premium placed upon direct access to such primary sources. The traditional academic authority of scholasticism, of reliance upon the respect and authority of scholars, has been denigrated in a positivistic trend towards 'empiricism'--scientific rationalism striving to protect itself from itself. Reliance upon authority is seen as inimical to good scholarship, even though in history there really is no alternative possibility than relying upon someone's authority as the criterion of legitimacy and 'objectivity'. The problem is that access to first hand documentation is more often than not severely restrictive, time consuming, and costly in terms of investment of resources--which serve to enhance the power of privileged positions of scholarship within academia, and deprive equal, even access to others. Thus there is a double standard of empiricism on one hand, defined by access to basic, primary sources, and authority on the other hand, as dependence upon prestige and privilege for access to primary sources.
The 'first hand' sources being readily unavailable, them we must rely upon the 'sources' of the 'sources' or even upon a third or fourth hand generation of rewritten history, for an understanding of historical process. Then we are faced with the choice of muddling through overly technical and boring literature opaque and dense with the 'jargot' of 'professionalese' or else being limited to superfluous, superficial 'travelogues'. And then the 'past' has become so subjected to the human vicissitudes of the historical process that the question of historical validity or accuracy becomes unanswerable. Then we have a choice of either placing final faith (or trust, or belief, or commitment or what have you) in the seemingly best possible authority or else rejecting all history as, in the final analysis, 'unscientific' because of its 'untenable essence', in 'unfalsifiability', its sacred inviolability of 'truth'. And then we have a complex pattern, the historical dilemma, the circle of deception, that it must be true because this person said so, who heard it from another credible authority, and so on down the line, until no one can remember, from where or from whom it first originated.
While science poses this unresolvable dilemma of final proof, it also purports to come to our rational salvation by providing us with the alternative structures of the methodologies of probability. Nothing being absolutely certain or finally certifiable in en ever changing, always relative human reality, then we must accept the second best solution of 'comparing' the many 'histories' of the many small 'pasts' to one another, in order to see which comes up with the best scores or which patterned relationships are most probable. Then we can approach infinity by being as certain as possible, or almost certain, or better yet 'probably' certain, given the conditions of 'control'. But when we boil down these complex methodologies of scientific probabilism, whether it be empirical positivism, statistical correlations, experimental controls, procedural operationalism, analytical reductionism, mathematical accuracy, methodological replicability, logical positivism or parsimonious coherence and empirical consistency, in short all the 'tools' of correct scientific methodology, in a concerted, almost desperate attempt at systematic mutual exclusion of uncertainty based upon a shared consensus of opinion (not too far removed from plain old common sense).
All of this is an extremely elaborate social system of conformity based upon the reinforcement of a basic mechanism of defensive rationalism, the denial of uncertainty, and hence of truth, and a projection of these 'inequities' onto a perverted Religion. What is accomplished is a guarded, strict, almost 'paranoid' scientific 'neutrality' which claims a strict dichotomization between the real and the ideal, between the knowable and the unknowable, the credible and the incredible. Armed with a strict 'two value' logic and an excluded middle ground of uncertainty, of 'betwixtness and betweeness' we have the committed scientist in his clean white lab coat, the true unbelieving skeptic, the ultimate realist and empiricist, who attacks every nook and cranny of human reality to flash out and destroy human reality. He has claimed solid success in the hard sciences where the evidence tends to reinforce itself in appearance in a very indisputable, measurable manner. But even here the scientist inevitably runs up against the Great Absolute Zero, the Beginning of Time, the Edge of the Universe, the Speed of Light, the Null Hypothesis, and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and the Great Void of the Unknown and the Unknowable, and his valiant lance of scientific methodology must recoil upon itself, here at the borderlands of certainty, the unmapped horizons of science, beyond which only uncertainty exists.
Much more difficult is the softer, less 'finite' ground of the 'human' sciences which are bent upon 'discovering' the universal Laws of human behavior, and ultimately of human reality itself. Here the evidence is not so much mathematically definitive, so non-self contradictory, so predictable, so controllable, so tidily organized, here in the middle ground between reality as 'object' and reality as 'subject'. Here the relevant variables are so numerous as to approach infinity, dependent variables are inseparable from independent variables, the relationships between these variables through time becomes even more astronomically complex and thus it becomes well neigh impossible to even reasonably exclude the uncertainty problem except under the most arbitrary, analytical, most 'rigorous', 'controlled' and most absurdly unrealistic conditions. Science must end with the same irresolvable dilemma from which it sprang, and in this sense we can see that 'science' like 'history' is also a process which cannot ever be alienated from its original context of mythological human meaning, without destroying fictionalizing, idealizing, falsifying its reality. Scientific mythology has life, a synergism, and a death, of its own, inseparable from the existential uncertainties, the inherent 'antinomies' of human reality, which created and continually recreate, science. Thus both scientific process and historic process can be seen to be both humanly dependent, and socially paradigmatic, in the Kuhnian sense.
Nevertheless, the scientific paradigm, like the humanistic paradigm of which the historical process is a part, provide very powerful models and very meaningful analogues for the description and understanding of those portions of human reality they claim eminent domain over. Thus we are allowed to think, and write, in terms of historical process being composed of ever changing patterning, forming temporary images which are probabilistic in character, and hence very illusory and credible. History is our own reflection shattered by the rippling interference patterns which continuously disturb and interrupt the surface imaginings of our mind. And we concretize these fragmented imaginings, these concepts at the interface of consciousness, into written recollections. By writing them down we provide them with a concrete reality, and 'objectivity' which is accessible to the thoughts and imaginings of others. In other words we create a symbolism from the available symbols. And when we deal with ideal typologies, with either or definitions, with names and dates, we are recreating a reflection of our present reality at the edge of our conscious imaginings, at the mythological borderland of out symbolic culture. To the relative duration of such patterned imaginings in the historical process, we apply notions of ever growing cyclic feedback, cybernetic repetition, and hence we postulate some motivational mechanism, some causal origin, some 'reason' underlying and driving the dynamics of the pattern. To the extent that the pattern is short lived, in movement through time, transition, mythological transformation, our consciousness cannot define itself, is not allowed enough time to find coherence, completion of the Great Rational Circle, within the surface reflections, the patterning of a self conscious, self reflective, self fulfilling mythology of History, its synergism. And so we are left with nothing else, we can only speak and write in terms of these ephemeral imaginings, giving them a mythological stability, a sense of performance, of rational perpetuation, of future ward perpetuation. And then we have the 'truth' of a well delineated rationally circumscribed, mythologically sanctioned 'past'. Thus does history repeat itself.
And then we conspire among ourselves to elevate 'history' above and beyond the limitations of our personal consciousness to a collective level of awareness; we manufacture symbols to communicate meaning to others, through our words, our actions, our symbolic sanctions. Through such collective 'illusions' we create a social reality apart from ourselves and others, more 'than the sum of its parts' with a 'life of its own', an ongoing momentum, a repetitious, cyclical feedback process, cybernetic, a conservatism of change, a sense of permanence which extends beyond the relative spatio-temporal boundaries of ourselves to incorporate whole communities. The authenticity of meaning, the authority of certainty we doubt within ourselves, we project upon these social symbolisms. Then we sacrifice our personal integrity for the sake of collective security and a kind of apotheosis of the 'super organic' totem, a kind of 'ignorance is bliss' comfort of the soul. Thus does history repeat itself.
Arriving at such realizations, making such conclusions about human reality semi-legible and knowing that these limitations of change and uncertainty are inevitable, inexorable, inescapable conditions of existential, mythological human reality, we are then confronted with the choice of rejection of reality and the oblivion of insanity, of cultural anomie, of meaning of loss, or else we can acquiesce, come to terms with this infernal predicament of human mythology, an consent to continue playing the mythical game of life--this play acting being the only possible meaning we can derive from it. We become our own Arhat and our own best possible destiny. But in such acquiesce to play acting the game, the role of life cast our way, we are able then to affect a kind of 'meta-relationship' with reality, so that we easily learn to play it on our own symbolic terms, without being defeated by a false consciousness. Comprehending the ameaningful meaningfulness of human reality, we free ourselves to construct our mythological reality to our own liking, to extract our own meaning from the symbolism we create. No longer faced with inexorable tragedy, our play acting becomes instead tragi-comic, even sardonic in character. In defeat we conquer the vicissitudes of an uncertain existential fate. And yet we also become tempered by an honest and open dedication to a self reflective view of reality which is otherwise, if we do not come to such conclusions, unavailable. Then we only have the unself-reflective dishonesty of collective illusion, shared symbolisms, which will always be compromising, frustrating, and never satisfying to our thirsty intellects. It is in such a spirit of mythological reflexivity, of self reflectivity, and of relativity of cultural symbolism in understanding and relating to human reality that I have written this History of Vietnam using the historical words and writings of others whom I have found simply to be the most interesting, and for myself at least, to be the most enlightening, for it is exactly and only through the writings of other's that I have encountered and 're-experienced' this historical process. Thus, too, does history repeat itself.
The conventional history of Vietnam is typically composed of 'chapters' which purport to demarcate periods of Vietnam's historical development. This history is true to form, except in that it reverses the usual chronological arrangement of the chapters such that the most recent periods are at the beginning and the most primordial epochs are last. It is my belief that history in general is most appropriately rewritten in retrospective, in reverse chronological sequence with the presentation of the most recent epochs first, then working backwards to the 'beginning' in the hope of delineating core relationships tying together first, last and middle. Arrangement in chronological order creates a spurious sense of order, a mythological veil of illusion about reality not necessarily congruent with the actual past as it happened. From a theoretical standpoint the relativity of the temporal contexts--of the importance of past events upon the 'present'--is destroyed within a formal framework of chronology. The rewriting of history backwards from 'ending' preserves the theoretical relativity of the sense of the past in relationship to the present. This reversal of the chronological order is quite an unorthodox approach to the writing of any history--but I believe such an approach is more than justified by its honesty and faithfulness to the 'present sense of the past'.
Most histories of Vietnam generally share many close affinities. First they are based almost exclusively upon arranging the periodic episodes of war and rebellions in chronological order, to the neglect of many, longer lasting interregnum periods of relative peace and stability (if not prosperity). The result of this historical bias in favor of the more dramatic and perhaps decisively seeming events is a superfluous appearance that Vietnam is a warlike nation with a bloody historical path. Brief episodes of peace in which other, perhaps more important social factors and forces were at work 'building Vietnamese culture'. The cumulative influence of this 'cultural drift' may be a more important, though subsurface 'tidal' influence upon the development of Vietnamese histories than all the wars and rebellions combined. The history of any group of people may be written in the red of blood spilled in battle to make it seem as if warfare is the major preoccupation of the majority and not merely the prerogative of the few; the underlying rule instead of the merely outstanding, intermittent (and interrupting) exception. Instead this is so even with American history or European history, and seems so much the case that it might make one wonder whether or not humankind actually does have a natural proclivity towards brutal inhumanity.
Another related habit of Vietnamese histories is to focus devotedly if not exclusively, upon certain key figures or leading historical actors of an era, of rulers and their generals and assassins. Such history serves well the propaganda purposes of states in either glorifying one's own ends or denigrating the means and aims of others. And this is exactly how the more superficial histories of Vietnam unfold in the literature, concerned as they are with rebellions and heroes, foreign invasions, wars, Kings and foreign rulers. The further back in time one pushes the pages, the more sparse, vague, speculative and unreliable the 'sources' become, until, beyond a handful of Chinese chronicles, there remains only heroic myth, legends and folklore supplemented by a few fragments of archaeological evidence and the contrivances of linguistic wizardry. All too often (as in this case) sources are constituted by other 'sources' and no one can really say for sure who started the original rumor that so and so assassinated him. But the forgotten histories of the many nameless masses who constituted the vast majority of the 'past' were not written in the blood of the few, and the pride of 'kings' and 'emperors' and other such entities is not ever lasting, and so we are left to fill up a lot of vacant mythological 'space time' with very little real knowledge and even less empirical evidence.
The historical development of Vietnam's past was not written in cultural/historical isolation. It could not have been written nor understood outside of the larger context of culture contact with other people's historical developments. Vietnamese ethnohistory is properly only defined in the historical relationship which the Vietnamese have maintained with other groups. Vietnamese Identity, as a cultural/group phenomenon is only definable in reference to a larger social/group setting with other groups. Indeed the 'chapters' of Vietnamese 'epochs' of its ethnohistory are mainly defined by its contacts with differing cultures predominating at different periods of time. The ethno-identity of any group is normally only defined by and maintained within a larger frame of reference in its relationships, differences and similarities with other groups. While many have acknowledged the importance of the historical perspective in acculturation studies, even those social anthropologists who normally eschew the historical dimension in delineating social process and structure, few have acknowledged the reverse relationship of the role which acculturation, as a field of cultural/historical studies, plays in the understanding of Ethnohistory. Acculturation in its many forms and guises, as the historically defined process of intercultural connections and contacts, destroys the myth of the cultural boundary of cultural separation and isolation from the rest of the world, and the theoretical view of the internal dynamics of cultural process as independent of and unrelated to events within a larger, supra cultural context, and forms the theoretical basis of ethnohistory--or of the cultural/historical process of how a group arrives at, maintains and reinterprets their distinctive identity as a group. Indeed, acculturation and ethnohistory are to be viewed as virtually synonymous in meaning and implication--two sides of the same coin--though the former is more the function or process of the latter, which itself is more the form and understanding of the former.
Vietnamese Ethnohistory, as a case study of process and periods of acculturation is readily divided into chapters of 'Indianization', 'Sinization', and/or 'Sinicization', 'Francization' (or 'Frenchification' or 'Francocization') and 'Americanization'. Even more broadly the first two periods and processes correspond to a typically 'oriental' pattern of 'Easternization' and perhaps 'Traditionalization' whereas the latter process may be grouped as 'Westernization' and 'Modernization'. It must be remembered that these labels denote classes or ranges of phenomena of culture contact which simultaneously connote many other things as well. They are stereotypes useful to the understanding of acculturational processes--but they suffer from all the disambiguating over simplification and concretization as any and all stereotypical labels share. The point I wish to argue is that these labels are necessary and unavoidable, as the names of the cultural groups or 'civilizations' to which they refer, in the ethnohistorical comprehension of acculturation. The understanding of ethnohistory and the acculturation processes underlying this ethnohistory necessarily a study of the labeling, stereotypes, and symbolizations which culture fashion in relation to one another, and which students of history fashion in relation to one another, and which students of history fashion in relation to their 'past'. The prejudices inherent in such undifferentiated labels like 'Easternization' or 'Westernization', orientalism or occidentalism, or traditionalism and modernism, do not completely negate the basic truths and realities such terms broadly encompass. Furthermore, these are quite relative terms, defined in formal relationship to their hypothetical converses. Thus it can be seen that Easternization versus Westernization, with the implications of orientalism versus occidentalism, and of traditionalism versus modernism--as these terms connote the essential mythological dialectics of the theory of Vietnamese ethnohistory. They are not only the primary dialectic with which historians write about the Vietnamese ethnohistorical past--but they also connote the primary dialectics, every mythological, of the original version of this ethnohistory itself, writing as it was by the very Vietnamese people who lived the past. In such a relationship, through these formal labeling process and the mythological dialectics they belie, does Vietnamese ethnohistory, and the past of Vietnamese ethnohistory, merge into a single, unified, 'living' synthesis.
While 'Easternization versus Westernization' refers to a theoretical level of interpretation, labels like 'Indianization', 'Sinization', 'Frenchification' and 'Americanization' are a bit narrower, referring as they do to particular periods and phases of Vietnamese ethnohistorical process. Each of these particular processes a distinctive qualitative range in the nature of culture contact--involving differing forms of power differentials, differing rates of 'infusion or diffusion', of kinds of influence, and areas of influence upon different cultural aspects of the Vietnamese. Using the model developed by John Berry, outlined in Chapter IV of this work, it can be demonstrated that each successive period of acculturation was more disruptive and even destructive of Vietnamese ethnohistory than the former. The initial process of Indianization, incomplete, partial, fragmentary, very gradual, and overlapping with the period of Sinization and Independence, was also relatively peaceful, nurturant and constructive culture creating process possibly termed 'assimilation' with varieties of 'multiculturalism' and 'pluralism'. The second period of Sinization was both constructive and destructive, to be defined as 'integration' with varieties of 'melting pot' and 'pressure cooker' acculturative processes. The third phase of "Frenchification' was even more cultural disruptive, but not so disruptive, involving process of 'rejection' in terms of 'withdrawal and segregation'. Finally the fourth phase of 'Americanization' was clearly destructive--involving as it did 'deculturation' in terms of enforced 'marginality' and 'ethnocide'. It must be reiterated at this point, as an aside, that these labels connote a range of diverse and varied,, historically unrelated phenomena and must not be read too literally. The forms of 'withdrawal' and 'segregation' under French colonial rule are essentially different from the forms of 'withdrawal and segregation' of Native Black cultures under the white South African regime of apartheid. Also it must be noted that the divisions between these theoretical forms of acculturation processes are not necessarily sharply defined. Elements of all processes, in varying proportions varying over time, are to be found in each of the different phases. This is a theoretical model of simplification, hiding many historical details and differences.
None of these processes of acculturation or the phases they compose are to be understood in relation to Vietnamese ethnohistory without a complementary and often contradictory understanding of a concurrent, concordant, and contrapuntal process of 'Vietnamization'--as the ethnohistorical process of identification, reinforcement and reinterpretation and reorientation of group identity through the mythological and ideological creation, manipulation and recreation of cultural/historical symbolisms. Whereas the various acculturative processes provide and overarching theme of often destructive diversity and disunity in culture contact and intercultural contexts in Vietnamese ethnohistory, the contraposed theme of Vietnamization provides an underlying theme of unity amidst the sweltering diversity--a typically 'Vietnamese' sense of coherence and continuity within the changing contexts. Vietnamization is an ethnohistorical process which is the direct result of acculturation. On the other hand the various acculturation process were the direct antecedents and consequents of the ethnohistorical process of 'Vietnamization'. Thus, acculturative processes, variously defined, and ethnohistorical process, in this particular case 'Vietnamization' are to be understood as mutually interdependent, indeed inseparably interrelated.
There have been throughout Vietnamese history proper, (not including its possible pre-histories) two commonly recurrent principle themes of 'Vietnamization'--themes which I prefer to call 'nativistic' Revitalization movements, encompassing the full breadth of the meaning of that term 'nativism'--from magico-religious millenarian movements to full scale political revolutions and the theme 'of rising and falling' middle class. Both themes are to be found fully played out, and convergent at the level of traditional Vietnamese social organization metaphorically described as the 'village'--both supra-village (and inter-village) as well as infra-village. Both are also to be found convergent upon a social structural dynamic defined within a typical political/religious continuum. Together it is my central ethnohistorical hypothesis that these common themes form the core of the dynamics of the Vietnamization process--accounting for a repetitive and recurrent, almost predictable theme of Vietnamese history--and around which accretes a host of other repetitious 'sub-patterning' like processes of corruption, mobilization, rebellion, warfare, administration, psycho-social personalization and individuation processes, a 'cultural configurationalism' and personality configuration about a 'dependency, paternalistic authoritarianism', migration, of social organization, settlement patterns, and 'aggregation' and 'atomization'--the accordion effect of Vietnamese social history, in essence, these patterning are to be found influential all the way through the social structure even until the individual psyche.
The term 'rising and falling middle class' refers to a distinctive feature of the Vietnamization process. In each instance of foreign acculturation--Indianization, Sinization, Frenchification and Americanization--there is evidence of the rise, in response to culture contact that was uneven and unequal, of a segment of the indigenous population as 'mediating' class which operated as 'culture brokers' between the upper 'overseeing' class and the lower 'underdog' servant class, cross culturally defined. This mediating class was quite a precarious and ambivalent position--in relation to the upper strata it serves as a buffer and an arm for the control of the lower class, and was viewed primarily as part of the servant 'lower' class from which it sprung. On the other hand, in relation to the majority of the lower strata, this mediating 'middle class' serves as representatives of the status quo, of authority emanating from centralized power, and were viewed as members of the 'exploiters'. Consequently, in each of the contact situations, this mediating class shared a fundamental inherent dichotomy--it was the primary politico-religious reinforcers of the conservative status quo ideology (the rich need not need to perform this function, and were usually secure enough no to be threatened by change, directly at least); and it also, simultaneously harbored and generated the basic elements of social disruption and 'revitalization' in keeping with the principle of 'revolution of rising expectations'. They, the middle class, were both the primary instigators of revolts and rebellions, and were also the primary reactionaries of repression of these rebellions.
There is much of importance to mention of this mediating 'middle class'. Of all the elements of Vietnamese society--it was the most unstable and transitory group. As a stereotype, its meaning actually encompasses a very broad middle range of a continuum with the extremes of a landless sub-proletariat on the one extreme, and of a ruling, landed elite on the other, encompassing many different roles, statuses of socio-economic ranking, and positions in-between these two extremes. Thus the conception is seen to be a relative designation. In truth, in any social state organization, the middle class is to be defined by the function of mediation between the basic class differential between upper/lower, rather than by the fact of the existence, relatively fixed and permanent, of a group somewhere in-between the two extremes. Thus the conception is seen to be a relative designation. In truth, in any social state organization, the middle class is to be defined by the function of mediation between the basic class differential between upper/lower, rather than by the fact of the existence, relatively fixed and permanent, of a group somewhere in-between the two extremes. People are rising and falling between the two extremes, but rarely remain in relatively stable positions under mitigated historical/cultural circumstances, for long periods of time. Middle class is actually a myth, mediating between the central social structural dialectic of upper and lower classes--of 'top dog' and 'under dog', of 'master slave', of 'superior-inferior' terms of social race, of 'dominance-submission'. The myth of the middle class both creates the illusion of mobility within a class differentiated system, sanctions the authority of the ruling class and keeps down the lower class. The mythology of the middle class perpetuates and reinforces class differences by mediating between them on an 'ideological' plane.
The notions of 'rising' and 'falling' refer to the principle function of the 'middle class'--that is the function of social mobilization of resources, both human, material and spiritual. It is to be found that the relative position within the 'middle class', at least in part, determine both directionality and decisiveness of this process of social mobilization, whether toward culture change or conservatism. In general radically downwardly mobile social elements will be reactionary or quite subversive and revolutionary--on the other hand, radically upwardly mobile elements may be quite conservative, while only moderately or gradually upwardly mobile elements may tend to become quite liberal or even radically revolutionary. These are general patterns to which there have been many exceptions. There occurs a sequential pattern of development in the 'rising and falling' of the middle class--a gradual consolidation of authority eventuates in the inefficient growth of bureaucracy which is both self perpetuating, with a built in dynamic momentum of self sanctioning, as well as snowballing, in both its size, weight and Parkinsonian inefficiency. This mediating, 'administrative class' is, after a certain point in its internal development, increasingly 'parasitic' and dysfunctional to the social body as a whole--becoming an increasingly onerous burden of the more and more impoverished masses. Contained within it are the seeds of its own transformation and destruction--driving pressures from both above and below eventually shatter the 'crystallized' middle class and force a realignment of its structure and reorientation of the directionality of its resources--in mythological form the social body appears to transform itself in revitalization--while the basic schism between lower and upper class remains unaltered. The parasitic rise and demise of a crystallized mediating structure of social mobilization affects the social body as a whole only relatively and differentially, depending on the turn of events, and upon the relative position of an individual on the continuum of the upper/lower class dialectic. It is parasitic in the sense that its social elements are for the most part motivated by self interest at the expense of both upper and lower classes--it breeds a form of corruption inherent in its crystallization and inefficiency of its operations of mobilization. In the institutional realignment and inauguration or new organizational forms there is inevitably a gradual process of reemergence of crystallization of social parasitism; the seeds of birth and decay are replanted with each new generation of the 'middle class'.
The 'middle class' is to be seen as an evolving development from generation to generation--forms which eventuate in the rise of nation state bureaucratic apparatus, social specialization, multi-tiered multiple hierarchies, division of labor and authority, diffusion of responsibility, delegation of negative authority. From the standpoint of the rise of an independent Vietnamese nation, this evolving form of 'middle class' can be seen to be the core of the Vietnamization process. Education can be seen as the primary means of consolidating state control, of 'co-opting' this process of 'middle class' evolution and marks the point of 'no return' at which the social system stabilizes as a self conscious 'ethno-nationality' of state organization in the modern sense.
From the standpoint of the different periods of acculturation which involved conquest and dominion by a foreign power, the function of the middle class is both particularly healthy in relation to it representing a successful effort of the indigenous culture to deal with an overwhelming and domineering foreign presence, and also particularly harmful in that it consists of a kind of cancerous segment of the social body, which has metastasized under the cultivation and tutelage of foreign masters and guardians, the interests of which are directly contrary to indigenous values. Thus the seed of particularly volatile and explosive crystalline social structures are sown under such circumstances of enforced acculturation. For indigenous elements arise within the social body itself which are directly opposed and contradictory to the synergism of the native culture. On one hand the mediating middle class affect a successful synthesis across cultural boundaries but to the extent that such cultural brokerage is achieved upon sharply unequal cultural relations at cost to the indigenous culture; then there is set in motion a destructive internal dialectic of inimical, conflicting social elements.
The mythology of the middle class is the key operating metaphor underlying the ideology of the 'Vietnamization' process. This ideology is constituted by a central political-religious dialectic, which finds its basic symbolic expression in terms reducible to male/female symbolism. The mythological themes of predominance of the male over the female, the union of the two elements and its disunion, the appropriation of religious symbolisms for the sanctioning and legitimation of political authority, and the rebellion of the female element against the male dominion--constitute the basic mythological themes of this dialectic of the religious/political process of Vietnamization. The symbolism of the dominance of the male over the female element is the principal theme of the consolidation of political authority by a centralized, middle class state apparatus in the Vietnamization. The appropriation of female symbolism represents the appropriation of religious/cultural life for the sanctioning of this authority. The themes of union and disunion represent the process of mythological transformation of the incorporation of the female element into the political world for purposes of legitimation and of the subsequent separation of religious authority from state authority. The conquering of the male over the female element, is the predominating themes underlying the Vietnamization process of Vietnamese ethnohistory. This basic theme works its way down, symbolically, to the basic social dyadic relationship--that between the male and female in Vietnamese culture. The civilized Vietnamese male is supposed to have complete authority over his wife and family--the wife is the culture bearing and child raising fertility symbol. While the ideal is harmonious union between husband and wife, often there is rebellion of the wife against the authority of the husband. This is a continually recurrent, central dialectic in Vietnamese theater, as well as in Vietnamese ethnohistory. The essential political religious continuum based upon this male/female dialectic constitutes the cultural core, the center of focus of Vietnamese history/cultural life. While it is to be found at the heart of any cultural group, and the theme of the male/female symbolic dialectic is to be found in all cultures--it is an especially relevant theme in the Vietnamization process. It must be understood that there is, in this process, no strict dividing line or dichotomization between political and religious worlds of thought and action--they merely represent the two ideal extreme towards which social life may lead. Vietnamization is both a harmonic blending or synthesis of the two elements, or else it can be discordant and destructive conflict between the two elements. This principle dialectic between the male/female is similar to the Yin/Yang dialectic and can be considered the direct result of the Sinization process.
Every group with its distinctive way of life, is faced with the problem of preserving that way of life, of protecting it from major changes that can occur from within or without. Every group must evolve symbols of protection and perpetuation. These are political symbols. The political symbols become vehicles for mobilizing people to defend or protect what symbolic universe they are constantly objectifying.
Since humans live in a symbolic universe they are constantly objectifying or creating order or models of reality, to deal with subjective experiences. Religion offers an arena in which these objectifications of the subjective experiences of suffering, disorder and uncertainty can be shared and accepted by the group without empirical verification. Every group develops religious symbols by which its distinctive way of life is sanctified…Every group passes on the symbols of justification of its way of life as the only true way, thus helping each new generation to acquire and recreate the style of life of the group.
Although the following observation is not intrinsic to the argument that all groups have a cultural repertoire of political and religious symbols and that they draw upon these imageries to construct ethnic identity systems, I suggest that when the symbols are used to construct ethnic identity systems, political symbols are masculine and religious symbols are feminine. In most cultures it is the males who are associated with the political realm; who go to war, make decisions, protect the group. The females are the primary socialization agents; to them is usually entrusted the recreation of new generations and the continuity of group biology. Because they are endowed with the capacity to give birth, they are identified with the recreation of the body of the community itself. Purity and pollution associated with women because they are identified with the sacredness of group perpetuation. Women are involved in creating every generation, culturally or metaphorically, as well as biologically. Those with a sacred task are themselves considered sacred, and efforts are made to keep them pure in order to keep the group pure.
These political and religious symbols exist in a dialectical relationship. Depending upon the focus of the culture, certain combinations and transformations of political and religious symbols will result. (Pandian: 14)
The central themes reiterated in the history of Vietnam are of the survival of the Vietnamese language, and of a traditional memory written in the form of national historiography, of local, indigenous culture heroes who have come to occupy special positions within the Vietnamese politico-religious pantheon. This retention of language and of a 'national heritage' can be viewed as the dual male/female symbolic aspects of the Vietnamization process.
For their part, the Vietnamese retained their own language and with it, memories of their pre-Chinese civilization. The survival of the Vietnamese language is extremely significant, for it means that whatever the Chinese did in Vietnam was conditioned by a cultural realm that remained distinct and separate from the Chinese sphere of thought. The Vietnamese never lost their taste for local heroes such as the Trung sisters, Lady Trieu, Trieu Quang Phuc, and Phung Hung. What China had to say to them was bent through the prism of their own language and culture. (Taylor; 1976: 301)
The Vietnamization process was principally an indigenous reaction to Sinization, and perhaps also to some extent of Indianization. In this respect, it can be seen as part of the theme of Easternization--the constructive consolidation of an indigenous culture within an oriental milieu--fostering the rise of a native 'traditionalism' which was responsive at all levels of the society in a manner which was symbolically deeply rooted. Much different were the later acculturative processes of 'Westernization' brought in on the waves of European imperialism and colonialism. This process featured the introduction of alien values and symbols which frequently interfered quite destructively with native symbolisms. The extent of penetration of this type of foreign influence can be seen on even a personal level in the feelings of dependency, inability, racial and cultural inferiority, as well as with an obsessive preoccupation with things 'western'. 'Innate inferiority' and 'native laziness' become most dangerous when they become incorporated as facets of ethnic and social identity, and become personal excuses for failure.
There deeper roots of Asian consciousness are more profound than frustrated national ambition or the humiliations of the colonial system, and they have not been eliminated by the termination of overseas government by foreign powers. They consist in the twofold crises with which the invasion of western civilization has confronted the civilizations of the east. On the one hand, these cultures face the common peril of disintegration through absorption of western values and reorientation toward western norms. On the other hand, they recognize their relative underdevelopment in terms of western economic and political standards. These factors are interrelated and both have heightened the sense of Asian identity. The first, by confronting Oriental societies with virtually the entire value system of the Occident, has contributed the common denominator of awareness of their own non-European character and of their common danger. The second, by emphasizing the gulf between the political and economic development of the East and that of the West, has implanted in Asian communities both a common sense of material inferiority and a common desire to achieve material parity with the Occident. (Steadman; 1969: 34)
'Modernization' and 'westernization' are not the same thing, but they are on occasion, so closely related that it is difficult to dissociate them. In seeking to achieve a sort of 'industrialization with honor'--to become modernized without becoming altogether westernized--the developing countries of the East do in varying degrees, face a common problem. To modernize their economy means altering their mores; and this in turn means altering (even in minor degree) the national way of life and the national character. There is a difference between absorbing western culture and being absorbed by it; but the line is not always easy to draw, or once drawn, to hold on. (Steadman; 1969: 44)
in emphasizing the symbolic depths of the acculturative processes and of the ethnohistorical process of Vietnamization to preserve a coherent world view and continuity with ethos--it must be remembered that values and meanings forcibly introduced from without, and not born from within internal cultural/historical development, are by and large destructive and destabilizing of the cultural/historical dynamics. On the other hand, there is something to be said for the value of cultural symbolisms which develop from within, through the Vietnamization process, as sources of strength and revitalization, of cultural/historical renewal and vigor, with an inherent harmony, an intrinsic center of gravity, a balance with all the other elements of a culture.
There is an 'ethnohistory' of the 'history' of Vietnam. The 'history' of Vietnam has been written by other people more qualified and authoritative and scholarly and literate than myself. This is a history written of what other historians have written about Vietnam and not about the past itself. It therefore requires a modicum of previous acquaintance with the primary subject matter which this work purports to encompass and comprehend. Utilizing the interpretations of others, though quite unoriginal, has certain advantages. Given that sources of these sources are at least partially credible and that the interpretation are at least partially reliable, then it stands to reason that there should be operating a kind of internal equilibrium, a kind of self editing in the structure of the presentation. A certain validity is obtained by the weight and counterweight of alternative interpretations; such that general tendencies and patterns and underlying themes emerge from the process of rewriting the many histories of Vietnam. In writing about what others have written and not purporting to write about the actual past of Vietnamese history itself, there is a rubbery kind of looseness of context, in sticking to the facts undivorced from the context in which they are presented, which gives both a self reflexive honesty in reporting the details, as well as a dimension of freedom in interpreting these, not available in a strict, mythological history of the Vietnamese past.
Finally, I wish to acknowledge the many people whose encouragement and discouragement have helped me see this project through to completion and especially, the assistance of Dr. Jacob Pandian, who has unwittingly become my academic mentor. Many Vietnamese words are without their diacritical marks, a point unnoticeable to people illiterate in Vietnamese, but a major absurdity to Vietnamese.
This is not a conventional history. It is an alternative ethnohistory which makes no bones about factual accuracy, scholarly expertise, or literary genius. If the study of culture is the study of the history of the present, then the study of history is the study of cultures of the past. Our ability to rewrite alternative ethnohistories is a direct reflection or our ability to create alternative futures. Our inability to write more than a monothetic 'history' of the 'past' or of a monotypic 'culture' as a 'fiction of the eternal present' signifies a prophetic self fulfillment of a millennial apocalypse.