If we can clear our minds of “Vietnameseness” as the object of our knowledge and instead look carefully at what the peoples we call Vietnamese were doing at particular times and places, then we begin to see that beneath the veneers of shared fields of sounds and marks, or of however one may refer to mutually intelligible languages and writings, lay quite different kinds of peoples whose views of themselves and of others was significantly grounded in the particular times and terrains where they dwelled and in the material and cultural exchanges available in those times and terrains. If we speak of these peoples as oriented toward the surfaces of their times and places rather than as oriented toward an imagined unifying depth, we will shift the effects of our ideological intent upon the archive away from the figurations both of univocal national narratives and of multivocal regional narratives contextualized by the nation. In this essay, I am interested in how the archive can be read to disperse the coherencies of Vietnamese histories as epistemological or hermeneutical categories, whether they be conceived as national histories or as regional histories. Rather than simply opposing regional histories to a dominant national narrative, I believe that regional and national narratives are “cofigured” in ways similar to how Naoki Sakai has written of desires for Japanese originality in realms of language, literature, and national identity being mimetically cofigured with desires for the West (Sakai 1997, 15-16, 21-22, 51-52). Posing a regional identity does not erase or diminish the potency of a national identity but rather mimetically reinforces it in a schema of cofiguration. I endeavor an orientation toward the surface of time and place as a way of thinking beyond histories of region and nation.

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