Sexual Affronts and Racial Frontiers French Indochina and the Lover

Sexual Affronts and Racial Frontiers, European Identities and the Cultural Politics of Exclusion in Colonial Southeast Asia. Ann Laura Stoler & Race and the Education of Desire, Fauoult’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things. Ann Laura Stoler Introduction We will be presenting two essays by Ann Laura Stoler. The first essay, “Race and the Education of Desire”, Foucault’s history of sexuality discusses class, race and desire in terms of family and state regulations which are identified as the moral [bourgeois] code in the colonial context of Indochina.

The second essay, Sexual Affronts and Racial Frontiers, European Identities and the Cultural Politics of Exclusion in Colonial Southeast Asia is focused on the construction of colonial categories in relation to people belonging to various geographical and cultural roots. Background of French Colonial Expansion: During the nineteenth century, France embarked on a series of conquests, annexations, and campaigns of pacification.

From 1900 to 1914 the pacification of various colonies continued, agreements were signed with local authorities, and administrative organizations were put in place that imposed French models for schools, hospitals, and the army.

Colonists began developing infrastructures which facilitated the exportation of raw material to metropolitan France. French Indochina It was a colony of commerce which was under the French rule in the 1860s and in the 1870s the Europeans began to settle here, in 1900 approximately 91 thousand settlers were classified European in the Indies. The metis population is also included in this estimate.

Race and the Education of Desire, Foucault’s history of sexuality Stoler represents bourgeois classism in its linkage to racism.

Get quality help now

Proficient in: Colonialism

4.7 (348)

“ Amazing as always, gave her a week to finish a big assignment and came through way ahead of time. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

The Bourgeois code is discussed as a desire to defend its members from the pollution of the primitive others. The former are considered as threat and enemy of the White culture. Bourgeois fear of assimilation [re]establishes boundaries and influences the entire society [the other social groups]. This moral bourgeois code, represented in the film, is politically defended and implemented in everyday life, it presents prescriptions for both, bourgeois [the lower-class Whites] and natives.

In other words the external boundaries of the group are required to be defended by all its members. Hence, racism is established as exposed to the individual and the group explicit regulations. The moral code basically defines appropriate gender and sexual behavior of both men and women. Male and female sexual boundaries are different in that man’s sexuality is less regulated than that of women. Male sexual behavior requires less attention in the colonial context. Man’s outside- camp [home] sexual relations remain unregulated as far as they do not include interracial marriage.

The concombinage with native women turn into wide-spread practice. However, the opposite also became a practice as well [ white women with native men] [p. 183] Masculinity defines its hierarchy: at the bottom the native men. The former’s sexuality became under question. The native men were deprived by their masculinity within the colony; they were effeminized. They were seen as less capable men [in the context of Indochina], both sexually and socially. They were gazed as primitive unable to [reason]…. “it takes two of you to do the job” Crossing the race and class boundaries becomes a morality issue.

The invisible ties separate different classes and races. However, that question becomes more complex in the colonial context. The sexual relations among economically lower status bourgeois and middle class native complicate the race and class categories. Besides, those interracial relations did not challenge the racism [the invisible ties played out their role], neither the created stereotype regarding the native men. Nevertheless, the boundaries were policed from the both sides of the borderline. Natives were also defending the racial purity of their community. They used those stereotypes for their own purposes.

Their weakness became their strength, a strategy to protect the purity of their culture. “No two of me four of me. You don’t know how weak I am” In the geographical setting of French Indochina… I will mention how sexuality plays a crucial role on creating and confusing colonial categories. The French film “The Lover” provides us with a creative insight to see, as Stoler describes, those who “ambiguously straddled, crossed, and threatened” the imperial divides. I will look closely at the story of “metissage” and mention the generation that emerged from it : “metis” in colonial context at the turn of the century.

This will bring us to an overall view of how gender and race intertwined, how racial frontiers are created with respect to sexualities. And how much they mattered… “For general Western spectatorship, Vietnam does not exist outside of the war. And she no longer exists since the war has ended, except as a name, an exemplary model of revolution, or a nostalgic cult object for those who, while admiring unconditionally the revolution, do not seem to take any genuine, sustained interest in the troubled reality of Vietnam in her social and cultural autonomy. The more Vietnam is mystified, the more invisible she becomes. (Trinh T. Minh-ha, When the Moon Waxes Red, 100) Sexual Affronts – European Identities and the Cultural Politics of Exclusion in Colonial Southeast Asia “The neat boundaries of the colonial rule” were maintained by referring to the distinctions between: * Cultural sensibilities * Physical attributes * Political sentiments How did this story reflect the “tensions of Empire”? It’s plot was a combination of: * Racial category * Sexual Morality * National identity Locating Sexuality in Empire The cultural contingency of sexuality… …appears in colonial contexts 1) Sexuality & Race

A sexual subculture emerges in the colonial context: Constructions of racial difference, in turn promotes or restricts particular reproductive relationships. Demography, Eugenics and Moral Degeneration are intertwined within the Imperial codes of race and sexuality. Racial hierarchies regulate sexual desire, by encouraging or discouraging it. 2) Invention of private/domestic realm ? public/civil realm Separation of social life into distinct gendered realms implies, first and foremost, that sexuality is associated with the private realm by masking the sexual politics of the colonial institutions.

The heterosexual underpinnings of colonial imperial hierarchies and domestic / public spheres are always conscious in the colonial setting. Joane Nagel – Ethno-sexual Frontiers An ethno-sexual double standard: Powers of domination prevent “our” women from having sex with “their” men; but our “men” can have sex with their women without sancion. It is important to note that the Empire itself is sexualised as the penetration and domination of feminized primitive lands and peoples by virile and masculine bodies. “Concubinage” as one of the new sexual subjectivities

Emotional and economic shelter for those on the margins of the normative heterosexuality. Sexuality emerges in the colonial context as a “weapon of the weak” (Scott 1985). “Metissage” – a cultural category “Metissage” is both referred to as “cultural creolization” and “cultural cross-breeding”. Metissage is an extension of the word “metis”, encompassing social, cultural, historical, racial and aesthetic concerns that can not be fully translated into English. “Metissage under debate” In Stoler’s essay, we are confronted with the fact that such a bonding was an object of political, legal and social debate.

It was conceived as… * A threat to White prestige * An embodiment of European degeneration * An indicator of moral decay Metis Metis is translated as “half-breed” “half-caste” or mixed blood and carries with it a negative connotation. Discussion of children of mixed parentage – the odd one out in an exotic asylum- Emmanuelle Saada, “Children of The Colonies: The Metis of the French Empire: Citizens or Subjects? ” Associate Professor and Director of the Center for French and Francophone Studies Colonial Representations of sexuality in the moving pictures … The 1980s and 1990s – The colonial syndrome

Colonialism became a topic that was dealt with in many domains, from studies of colonial cultures to research in history and anthropology. ” Cinema played an important role in this exploration of the colonial past. Those films are the imaginings and refigurings of colonial culture and life and of colonial wars: for Africa, Claire Denis’s Chocolat (1988); for Indochina, Jean Jacques Annaud’s L’Amant (1992), Regis Wargnier’s Indochine (1992). Even though these films do not mean to be truthful renderings of the past, they are presenting images of the former colonies, of life in the contact zone from a Eurocentric point of view.

They capture what overseas stood for in the minds of French spectators–tropical, exotic places: the teeming life of the oriental neighborhood of Cholon in L’Amant, the haunting beauty of the Bay of Ha Long in Indochine, the wide landscapes of Africa in Chocolat. Pictures of the landscapes of L’amant and Indochine here! They show the French colony as a territory, and as a multiethnic society where French individuals from different classes and regions lived side by side with native populations under rules, established hierarchies and asymmetries designed to privilege the French and to exploit the land and the natives.

These films provide concrete examples of what colonization meant – the importation of French traditions through the French administration, which organized and ruled different countries of the Empire. The Lover (L’amant) Director : Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Adaptation of Marguerite Duras’ 1984 novel. Narrative of The Lover Set in French Indochina in the 1930s, the narrative explores a young French schoolgirl’s erotic affair in a colonial background. The protagonist is a 15 year-old girl, the daughter of French school teachers who left France to resettle in Indochina in order to better their social status.

She is sent to a Saigon boarding school, and on her trip meets Tony Leung; a 32-year old wealthy Indochinese man of Chinese origins. They look at each and they both see a blinding white flash; it’s kismet. (fate) They meet in his “bachelor room” where they revel in a wide variety of creative sexual encounters. She comes from a troubled family. Having failed in a land-exploitation scheme, the mother falls into semi-madness. She leaves her children entirely free to do as they wish. It appears that her family would not approve of an interracial tryst.

But neither would his father, since in order to inherit his wealth, he must not break from a traditional Chinese arranged marriage. Annaud organizes the screenplay around this interracial relationship, the impossible metissage. The following spot from the Lover will provide for us visual representation of those compicated relations which occured in the colonial context. The Lover, in depth analysis The film is a representation of the socially constructed character of race and the detrimental effects of these classifications had on non-white peoples in the colonies…

Metis in Indochina: In Indochina the term applies to persons of French-Vietnamese descent. “Metisse” or woman of a mixed race always invoked the erotic and the exotic imagination in the French Literature. It is the primitivism that the European appealed to. She is the representation of the “domesticated primitism”. (the film – young metisse – highly eroticised) To a large extent, the female protagonist functions as the “exotic” metisse. The director represents her as an “exotic spectacle” to be gazed, so that the “female subjectivity” is centralized in the film’s representation.

The young Duras is a “cultural metisse” – she is the ideal metisse, a European but born in the colonies. And she is transformed into an erotic figure. “Slender wrists and thick black hair” The young Duras’ physical features indicate her belonging to the Indochina geography, and this very resemblance of her to the girls from Indochina makes her Chinese lover feel related to her… This time, the adolescent white European woman is subjected to the male Oriental gaze – typically contrary to the stereotypical colonial gaze… Screening of the exotic “Other”

The use of eroticism and sexual attraction between the races is inscribed in the films’ screenplay, as well as the fascination for the Other, be it for a geographical or human landscape. The Lover exposes directly the colonial situation from the position of the colonialist. It examines the parameters of an exotic passion between two people from different social and racial backgrounds, but it is limited to the geography of the Cholon bachelor’s bedroom. Braving the Boundaries…

Duras herself braved both French and Chinese cultural taboos by involving in a relationship with a long-time colonial ruler over the Indochinese population. Their romantic affair is an “imperial” narrative which places (class) exploitation out of the picture. Yet the class difference between the young French girl and the Indochinese/Chinese man is one of the major components of their relationship. At least, it is one by which Duras justifies the relationship: she is the daughter of a deprived colonizer in need of money, and he is the wealthy, educated son of a Chinese merchant.

Once this class distinction is established, exploring interracial desire does not lead to rethinking colonial consciousness, but takes the shape of a cinematic tool as sexuality became a power tool… Inter-racial intimacy overshadowed by the colonial ties … The Lover explores the colonial ties between France and Indochina under the primarily erotic and sexual components of a nubile order, leading to a surface exploration of interracial intimacy. The stories conclusion shows the European reabsorption of the colonizer, whereas the native reintegrates the “colonial” space assigned to him/her.

The Chinese “lover” marries his Chinese bride … The film is much concerned with the characteristics that racial difference bestowed upon the Indochinese, neatly illustrated by his discussion of possible mixed marriages. Maurice Rondet-Saint’s book: Dans notre Empire Jaune (1917), is concerned with the characteristics that racial difference bestowed upon the Indochinese. It seems to be more particularly the individual role of the mother who fails to upbring her children as an ordinary member of the White colonial society.

In this sense, those children were exposed to the native culture. Hence, they become less White, polluted by the “uncivilized”. The profoundly gendered view of the issue of culturally mixed race children is emphasized by Stoler that even fully European children in colonial context were seen “White but not quite”. Conclusion Mixed-race sexual relations [especially women] posed a threat because they blurred the sharp distinction between citizens and subjects on which the colonial order rested.

This film explores the central place of the «metis problem» in the management of colonial sexuality. Indochina in that context served as a laboratory for the “metis question”, but it is also an account of a global Empire marked by the persistent challenge of maintaining boundaries between citizen and subject. By exploring the intersection between sexuality, race and class in the colonial context through a cinematographic representation, we hope we have provided with a solid insight on the matters raised by Stoler on Racial Frontiers, Colonial Identities and the place of desire.

Extras: Two figures in academia with an insightful touch on the colonial Indochina: 1) Panivong Norindr, in “Filmic Memorial and Colonial Blues: Indochina in Contemporary French Cinema” in the book Cinema, Colonialism, Postcolonialism. Perspectives from the French and Francophone Worlds. Ed. Dina Sherzer French culture- its love affair with Indochina- resulting in a number of novels and films. He considers three films–Indochine, L’Amant, and Dien Bien Phu–in order to examine how they participate in the construction of a collective memory of Indochina.

He concludes that these films sustain and reinforce the founding myths of the colonial presence in Indochina. 2) Srilata Ravi, in “Metis, Metisse and Metissage: Representations and Self-representations” in the book Asia in Europe, Europe in Asia By Farid Alatas (Syed. ), Srilata Ravi, Mario Rutten, Beng-Lan Goh : Institute of Southeast Asian Studies Works Cited Nagel, 2000. Ethnicity and Sexuality. Annual Review of Sociology. 26 Pratt, 1992 – Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London: Routhledge Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven, CT. Yale University Press.

Cite this page

Sexual Affronts and Racial Frontiers French Indochina and the Lover. (2017, Dec 24). Retrieved from

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7