Short Paper: Prompts, Outlines, Peer Comments

You are strongly encouraged to come up with your own topic.   In case you’re stuck, here are some prompts:

— Hunger seems to be not just a physiological phenomenon for Hemingway and Truong, but a psychological compulsion, made especially acute by the context of Paris.  What do these authors have in common, and where do they diverge?

— In “A Question of Identity,” James Baldwin writes: “From the point of Europe he [the African-American] discovers his own country.   And this is a discovery which not only brings to an end the alienation of the American from himself, but which also makes clear to him, for the first time, the extent of his involvement in the life of Europe.”  To what extent is this statement also true of Hemingway, Stein, and Truong?

— In the hands of Baldwin and Truong, North Africa and Vietnam become significant geographical coordinates for Americans in Paris.  Why are these locations in play?   How do they complicate our understanding of American literature?

26 Responses to Short Paper: Prompts, Outlines, Peer Comments

  1. Jamie Nguyen says:

    Short paper outline.
    Inside Outside Identity and the Social Environment
    1) The inner identity of an individual is unable to be realized in the outer, everyday persona because of constraints placed by an individual’s instinct for self-preservation in social environments.
    2) Definition of what the “inside” and the “outside” of a person is as alluded to by Gertrude Stein in The Geographical History of America.
    a) “I am I because my little dog knows me”…”but perhaps he does not and if he did I would not be I. Oh no Oh no.”
    i) Outside person bares little relation to inside person.
    b) Realized thoughts and emotions are the boundary between outside and inside for an individual.
    c) “Outside” contributes to identity as a whole. So can outside be separated from inside when in regard to an individual?
    d) Outside and Inside must be kept at a balance; otherwise, internal conflicts occur.
    3) Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast overhears Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas have a spat and Stein’s character is revealed to Hemingway.
    a) Hemingway is taken aback at Stein’s “inside” character.
    b) To preserve his mentorship with Stein, Hemingway never mentions the incident.
    i) But their relationship is not of friendship in Hemingway’s eyes anymore and Hemingway discovers that one cannot really be friends with a person.
    c) Gertrude Stein preserves her standing as a social elite by never displaying her irregular responses to her lover Toklas in front of her company.
    4) Zelda in A Moveable Feast is a supportive and endearing wife in Fitzgerald’s eyes while Hemingway believes her “inside” persona is jealous of Fitzgerald’s success and is trying to inhibit his work.
    5) Binh in The Book of Salt is unable to express his feelings about the Parisians who look down on Binh.
    a) Binh does not openly mock the local Parisians who know the city less than he does so that he can earn a drink from them.
    b) Binh does demeaning tasks for the Steins’ pets because he is paid to do so. He often critiques the dogs.
    6) Binh has an internal struggle personified by the Old Man, which arises from his homosexuality, and French Vietnam’s social disproval of homosexuality.
    a) Bleriot dismisses his relationship with Binh in order to secure his position as head chef. Bleriot conforms to the social environment of no intermingling between the French and Vietnamese created by colonialism.

    • Wai Chee says:

      Hi Jaime —

      I think you might be trying to accomplish too much in this essay. It’s probably better to work with a sharper focus — perhaps something like “Two Views of Gertrude Stein”? Begin with A Moveable Feast and what Hemingway says about Stein: that she’s lazy (she “went on endlessly in repetitions that a more conscientious and less lazy writer would have put in the waste basket”); that she ends up quarreling with everyone; and that she is an abject position in relation to Alice. Then contrast that with Stein’s account of her numerous friendships (with Hemingway occupying a relatively minor position); her discipline as a writer; and, above all, her claim that the outside is more interesting than the inside (“hitherto she had been only interested in the insides of people, their character and what went on inside them, it was during that summer that she first felt a desire to express the rhythm of the visible world”). Could you give an account of what that “rhythm of the visible world” looks like?

      • Sarah Oyadomari says:

        Hi Jaime,
        Your idea of having an outside personality to maintain a good standing in society despite different a different inside personality is intriguing in all of the examples that you gave in your outline. However, I agree with Professor Dimock that you should focus the paper on Gertrude Stein specifically, looking at her “inside” and “outside” in Hemingway’s view and contrasting this with her depiction of herself and integrating her own interpretation of the “insides of people” and the “rhythm of the visible world.”

  2. Edward Columbia says:

    Edward Columbia 10 February 2015
    American Literature in the World Short Essay Outline
    Professor Wai Chee Dimock

    Purposefully Adrift / Deliberately Bound
    Baldwin, Hemingway, and the Search for Identity in Paris

    In A Moveable Feast Ernest Hemingway describes his experience as a young writer in Paris in such a fashion as to convince us—and himself, reminiscing from afar—that he and the essence of that city in the 1920s were intimately interwoven. Hemingway takes ownership of the city’s cafés, streets, and local personalities: to the last nook, he channels the city through his pen, all the while insisting on his belonging therein. Hemingway is not content merely to observe; he believes, and would have us believe, that he is of Paris—bound to its whims as he is at the mercy of the races at Auteuil, abreast of its shifts in culture as he is commiserate with the French waiters who must shave their mustaches to remain employed. For, in Hemingway’s recounting, he is a man equally of the expatriate community nesting in Paris and of the deeply rooted Parisian community that provides the branches. At the book’s end, the barman at the Ritz—for who could be a higher arbiter of historical hierarchy—looks to Papa to pronounce judgment on Fitzgerald, and this anecdote may be extended to imply Hemingway’s guardianship of the entire era. At the last, Hemingway believes that it is Hemingway who will dictate what of that period in Paris is remembered.
    Whereas Hemingway actively—in some instances retroactively—threads himself into the fabric of Paris, James Baldwin, writing of his time in Paris as a young writer in the 1950s in Notes of a Native Son, opts to focus on his role as other. While both authors explore the effect of Parisian society on the American expatriate, in particular on his view of the United States from the vantage of Europe, Baldwin, primarily concerned with the experience of the American Negro, chooses to present himself as a lone and unintegrated, perhaps unintegratable, figure in the Parisian landscape. Baldwin’s reflections on the experience of Paris rely on the conceit that he may float about the city unbound to the sort of circles that Hemingway cultivated (and the sort to which Baldwin, in reality, was party), free to operate as an outside observer. In Notes of a Native Son Baldwin exhibits little interest in tacking cosmopolitan adjectives onto his American-ness that would allow him immersion in the ‘real’ Paris, principally because he has departed America with the objective of defining and fleshing out the American identity. Baldwin approaches this goal through a deliberate self-othering, which is complicated by his revelation that in Paris, men of all colors are often equally unequal.
    It is my interest in this short paper to compare the methods of observation and reflection that Hemingway and Baldwin employ in their respective memoirs. On the one hand, Hemingway paints his portrait of Paris as a shifting, but ultimately cohesive collective, in which he is often attached to the beating nucleus. To Hemingway, the core identity of Paris and his own identity in the 1920s are indistinguishable. On the other hand, Baldwin baldly admits that the Parisian culture has nothing to do with him. As he cannot hope to grasp its identity—the wellsprings are too deep and too-long roiling—he must use his individuality, which doubles as facelessness, in Paris to get at the heart of his American identity.
    Because of the page constraints of this essay, a wholesale comparison of the two works does not make sense. Instead, I will concentrate on “Encounter on the Seine…,” “A Question of Identity,” and “Free and Equal in Paris” to inform my critique of Baldwin’s method of ‘self-singling,’ and “A Good Café on the Place St.-Michel,” “People of the Seine,” “A False Spring,” “Evan Shipman at the Lilas,” and perhaps one or two other sections of A Moveable Feast in shaping my take on Hemingway’s art of self-incorporation. A comparison of these selections, as well as a technical focus on the motivation behind the use of personal pronouns (‘you’, ‘I’, ‘we’, namely), will demonstrate the ways in which the identities Hemingway and Baldwin forge align, and the ways in which they differ. I will also discuss some elements of reality separate from the books’ contents—for instance, how the actual social life of James Baldwin in Paris compares to that of his lone wanderer first-person narrator, and why his choice to extricate himself from the social scene in the written work is advantageous to his search for identity.

    • Wai Chee says:

      Edward —

      A wonderful contrast between the “purposefully adrift” Baldwin and the “deliberately bound” Hemingway. I’m not sure, though, if Hemingway’s existence is truly threaded into the fabric of Parisian society, or even claims to be — his friends and associates seem to be mostly expatriate Americans. What he is insisting, rather, is that he is a nontrivial presence: any account of Paris in the 1920s would have to take him into account. Baldwin takes the opposite strategy, as you astutely point out, advertising the “self-singling” fact that he is marginal, inconsequential to Paris. Paradoxically, though, in highlighting his outsider status in France, he is giving new force and meaning to his hybrid identity as African-American (as opposed to purely African), and, in that way, reaffirming a lasting bond to the United States.

      • Erin Krebs says:

        Hi Edward,
        There were a few ideas a found extremely compelling in this outline. I think the idea of Hemingway as guardian and authority is fascinating, firstly because he chose to write this piece of fiction at all and to immortalize and claim his memories of an actual experience with his own crafted details and language. I think it would be interesting to explore to what extent are these two men actually represented by their constructed identities. As you pointed out, there seems to be a discrepancy in Baldwin’s account of his status as “other”. Though Professor Dimock’s note that Hemingway as the nucleic center of Paris might not be the most accurate way to convey his involvement might not be completely factual is questionable, it might be worth exploring in connection to Baldwin’s fabrication of his own experience in France. What are they hiding?

        I’m really intrigued by the technical deconstruction of these works, especially Hemingway. He dissociates using the second person and I am always quite intrigued,

        Thanks! I will get back to this with more thoughts later,

  3. Yoon Chang says:

    Topic: The Conflicts of Racial/Personal Identity (in Paris, Vietnam, and the US)
    • For Baldwin and Binh – the two narrators of color we’ve studied thus far – both grapple with elements of their identity tied to their race and the powerlessness of being subjugated: Baldwin, through the legacy of American enslavement, and Binh, through the experience of French colonialism (in both its psychological and tangible effects).
    o Baldwin: “He finds himself involved, in another language, in the same old battle: the battle for his own identity. To accept the reality of his being an American becomes a matter involving his integrity and his greatest hopes, for only by accepting this reality can be hope to make articulate to himself or to others the uniqueness of his experience, and to set free the spirit so long anonymous and caged.”
    • “Perhaps it now occurs to him that in this need to establish himself in relation to his past he is most American, that this depthless alienation from oneself and one’s people is, in sum, the American experience.”
    o Binh: “I am forced to admit that I am, to them, nothing but a series of destinations with no meaningful expanses in between.”
    • “But to take one’s body and willingly set it upon the open sea, this for me is not an act brought about by desire but a consequence of it, maybe.”
    • “…she has added just for me, her “Little Indochinese.” I know, GertrudeStein, that that is what Miss Toklas calls me when her anger gets the better of her. Her Little Indochinese? Madame, we Indochinese belong to the French.”
    • Discovering The Book of Salt, being aware that he is mentioned in it many times but being unable to read it because it was written in English – indicative of the perpetual dislocation of the immigrant and colonized subject in not being able to communicate or even understand in ‘the new language’.
    • The differences between the two narrators lie in Baldwin’s active exploration of ‘reclaiming’ his identity as an American (in his terms), whereas Binh seems to be less concerned with his identity as Vietnamese (not in the same way as Baldwin, at the very least) and more so with his societal positioning as a colonial subject. Binh is partly dependent on assimilation in the French colonial structure for work, whereas assimilation is written into Baldwin’s history as an African American in that his ancestors’ roots in slavery cannot be divorced from the evolution of the US as a whole. It is also undeniable that their experiences in Paris are very different (perhaps most so in comparison with the US, see Baldwin’s Equal in Paris) and exist in different contexts – this should be examined.
    o Despite this distinction, both seem to struggle with ‘colonization of the mind’ – Binh is haunted by memories of his family (planted in Vietnam) particularly the Old Man, who continues to disparage him as a figment of his conscience although he is dead. Baldwin, in a way, comes to Paris to confront his American identity which he is plagued by regardless of his location – the societal burden of his blackness is something that varies, evidently, but is also inescapable.
    • Both manage to a certain extent to subvert the oppressive gaze that is often focused on them as peoples of color – this is done by analytic narration and critique centered on white societies/communities/behaviors.
    o Baldwin’s entire “Stranger in the Village” essay
    • “There is a dreadful abyss between the streets of this village and the streets of the city in which I was born – the abyss is experience, the American experience.”
     “For this village brings home to me this fact: that there was a day, and not really a very distant day, when Americans were scarcely Americans at all but discontented Europeans, facing a great unconquered continent and strolling, say, into a marketplace and seeing black men for the first time.”
    o Binh’s extensive knowledge of Paris, the “pear…not a pear” episode, and his [first-chapter] musings on the relationship between Americans in Paris and resident Parisians
    • “Ah, I think, a classic move from the material to the spiritual. GertrudeStein, like the collectors who have preceded her, wants to see the stretch marks on my tongue. I taste a familiar drop of bitter in the back of my throat. I point to a table on which several quinces sit yellowing in a blue and white china bowl. I shake my head in their direction, and I leave the room, speechless.”

    • Wai Chee says:

      Yuni —

      A very suggestive, and challenging, comparison of an author and a character. Since Binh is created by Monique Truong, it’s important to bring her into the discussion as well, making it clear that Binh is one character among others in a work of fiction authored by her, whereas Baldwin is giving a largely nonfictional account of his own stay in Paris. To highlight that structural difference, perhaps you should also pay some attention to Truong’s Lattimore — an African-American in Paris, just like Baldwin. In fact, a fascinating comparison could be made between these two, under this title: “African-American in Paris: James Baldwin versus Monique Truong.” It’s a very different paper from what you’re proposing, but intriguing and worth exploring.

  4. Sasha Rae-Grant says:

    Topic: Hunger is a common theme in Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and Truong’s The Book of Salt, describing the main characters’ on-going search to discover themselves. To what extent do they satisfy that hunger, and how much of it is unfulfilled? How do the authors portray this hunger within their books?

    a) Hemingway’s hunger and drive to write, to own the world with his writing. Though he becomes a full-time writer in an effort to satisfy this hunger, he never truly does.
    i) “A Good Cafe on the Place St. Michel”
    ii) “A False Spring”
    iii) “Hunger Was Good Discipline”
    b) Binh’s hunger to accept himself and find love, partially using his cooking as a means of obtaining this. How he feels this hunger is satisfied, until the Sweet Sunday Man uses him to steal from GertrudeStein.
    i) Chapters 2, 4, 5, 9, 10, 12, 14, 17, 18, 21, 23
    c) Use of stream of conscious/first person narration to describe the hunger and have the reader relate to it. Effectiveness for each author.
    i) Hemingway – “On Writing in the First Person”

    • Wai Chee says:

      Sasha —

      It might be fascinating to structure your essay under this title: “Writing versus Cooking.” As you point out, Hemingway uses hunger as a metaphor for his restlessness, his ambition, and his self-discipline to the best writer that he could be — that is his vocation, his calling. Binh’s vocation is not as a writer, but as a cook. His ambition is to claim for cooking the same dignity, subtlety, and aesthetic importance as writing, in some sense measuring his own work against the work of Gertrude Stein. Could there be an aesthetics of cooking? Binh invites us to consider that possibility.

    • Alyssa Patterson says:

      Hey Sasha,

      This is a really interesting idea for a paper. I was also interested in the use of “hunger” as both a physical hunger and the more metaphoric meaning we see in the books we have read so far. Its a good idea, like you already wrote, to start out talking about the connection between writing and cafes. I’ve always wondered why that was such a common trope. I also like how you are then moving to talk about Binh’s hunger for acceptance. A comparison of literal and symbolic hunger is going to make a great paper.

      Great start,

  5. Jake Colavolpe says:

    In The Book of Salt, Truong crafts Binh’s queerness as a metonym for colonialism and French imperialism in Vietnam. She deploys subtle similarities between the two relationships to discuss the lasting and dangerous impacts of both. When the events in Binh’s life are view chronically – contrary to the novel – we see the deep connection between identity and imperialism.

    Relationship between Binh and Bleriot
    Intimate, but still distant
    Unspoken and secret, denied by Bleriot – it only arises when
    Difference in power and status
    Bleriot as head chef, Binh as sous chef. This power dynamic immediately relegates Binh as below Bleriot, just as Vietnam is below France.

    Relationship between France and Vietnam and its connection to Binh / Bleriot
    Intimate, but still distant
    Governor’s Palace as physical presence, but presence of French officials is distanced from Vietnamese public
    Difference in status
    Colony vs. Colonizer
    Imperialization of values
    Christianity, etc.

    Importance of using this metaphor:
    Allows for a deeper understanding of the intricate and damaging relationship by analyzing power in both the mental and physical imperialism.
    “Tongue is the organ of truth”
    Applies to food in both locations (country identities)
    Applies to the lies tasted about Bleriot (pg. 123)
    “pear… but not a pear”
    Erasure of language for survival
    Erasure of identity for survival

    I worry at present the scope of this paper would be enormous. I would love advice as to how to trim it down.
    Should I shift my focus/structure for efficacy?

    • Wai Chee says:

      Jake —

      It might be difficult to align queerness solely with French colonialism, since Binh’s relation to Lattimore is likewise intimate and yet distant, happening at all only because of the disparity in power and status between the two partners. To acknowledge that parallel — and make use of it — it might be better to shift your focus slightly, to something like “Queer in Paris.” Begin with Binh’s relation to Lattimore, and ask why memories of Bleriot in Vietnam come back to haunt this relationship in the present. What do they have in common? In what sense is Lattimore a replay of Bleriot? What difference does it make that Lattimore is African-American? How does the history of race in the United States complicate this romantic liaison between a black man and a Vietnamese man? This should make for a fascinating, multi-threaded discussion.

      • Yuni Chang says:

        Going on Professor Dimock’s note, I believe it would still be useful to include at least some analysis of [French] colonialism in discussing the parallels between Binh’s relationship with Lattimore and that with Bleriot — perhaps the ‘metonym of colonialism’ that you want to analyze ultimately boils down to the difference in status and power between Binh and Bleriot, but I believe there is still potential to explore the implications of a queer relationship between a Vietnamese man (the colonized subject) and a French man (the colonizer) [and then the relationship in Paris between a Vietnamese man (still the colonized subject) and a mixed, part African American man (not colonized, but definitely subjugated)]. In terms of trimming down the focus of the paper, I would personally stray away from involving food in your essay. However, if you choose to keep an analysis of colonialism in your paper, talking about language would definitely be interesting, since – as you describe it – the erasure of language for survival is very much a colonial tool.

  6. Emily Xiao says:

    Topic: Narrative ownership and intertextuality between Truong and Stein/Toklas

    Truong situates The Book of Salt within a pre-existing historical and literary narrative

    – Epigraph: “We had certainly luck in finding good cooks, though they had their weaknesses in other ways. Gertrude Stein liked to remind me that if they did not have such faults, they would not be working for us.” — Alice B. Toklas

    Intertextual references at the most basic level of detail/description

    – Description (almost ekphrasis?) of Miss Toklas’ face on page 25 consistent with other descriptions of her physical appearance (for example, in A Moveable Feast)
    – Gertrude Stein’s driving:
    — In Book of Salt: “She lapses, however, when she has to go in reverse. She would rather keep on driving until she can turn the automobile around, a 360-degree arc of obstinacy. That way, she is technically always going forward” (29).
    — In Autobiography: “She could not back the car very successfully and indeed I may say even to this day when she can drive any kind of car anywhere she still does not back a car very well. She goes forward admirably, she does not go backwards successfully” (Stein 173).
    – Reference to a copy of Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas on page 145

    At the next level, Truong uses conjecture/imagination to “fill in” details about Stein and Toklas

    – p. 35 – GertrudeStein’s language experiments on Binh as source of her own distinctive prose style

    Moreover, Truong injects a degree of subversion into the lens she chooses to use to explore the home of this already well-known and well-discussed pair – namely, that of a domestic servant

    – Potential inversion of master/servant relationship hinted at in A Moveable Feast (episode in which Hemingway overhears a compromising dialogue between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, an encounter apparently facilitated by the servant)
    – “I have seen pastry chefs who think nothing of sticking a finger into their ear, giving it a good swirl, and then working the wax into their buttery disks of dough. Merely a bad habit or a purposeful violation? The answer depends on their relationship with their Monsieur and Madame” (64).
    – Binh’s position, with its accompanying intimacy with his Madames, also provides a sort of justification for his narrative authority
    — “Bao’s words can often be unkind, but I did not mind because he himself was never that way. That is not an implausible thing. Believe me, I am the one who knew him, shared the darkness of sleep with him, heard him humming during the hours before light. So I am the one, really the only one, who is qualified to say what is implausible about Bao” (55).

    Binh’s relationship to Stein/Toklas as his employers, but also as Americans

    – “But when it became clear that the Americans had no intentions of leaving and no intention of ever becoming sober, the Parisians wanted their city back” (7).
    – “Her Little Indochinese? Madame, we Indochinese belong to the French. You two may live in France, but you are still Americans, after all. Little Indochinese, indeed” (142).

    French colonization of Vietnam (manifested in French building new railroads) contrasted with Binh’s deep, almost subversive familiarity with the pre-existing streets of France can be seen as a parallel to Truong’s familiarity with and literary manipulation of Stein’s work

    – “The French had tattooed the countryside with tracks, knowing that mobility would allow them to keep a stranglehold on the little dragon that they called their own” (43) / “How can this little Indochinese, who can’t even speak proper French, who can’t even say more than a simple sentence, who can’t even understand enough to get angry over the jokes that we’re making at his expense, how can this Indochinese know this city better than we?” (16).
    – “I only know streets. The poorer they are, the easier, and I am sorry to say, but impasse Compoint is one of the worst off in this city” (94) – for Truong, the “poorest street” can be likened to the character of Binh as an immigrant laborer as her choice of narrative lens

    Widen scope – implications for storytelling and who has “ownership” of a story

    – Bin’s own recognition of the subjectivity of truth/recollection: “I place undue trust in my recollections of the past because there is no one here who cares to contradict me, to say in defiance, No, that is not true. The truth for me has become a mixture of declarations, conjectures, and allegations, which are all met by a stunning lack of opposition” (105).
    — Note that resistance to his narrative does come in the form of the Old Man
    — “Shut your mouth, Old Man, and let me finish. This is my story. I will tell it, and you will lie there mute” (196).
    – Ability to highlight or relate to different aspects of the same story depending on author/audience: “My dear mother would have stopped the stories [of the scholar-prince] if she had known in whom I found solace and in whom I found love” (81).
    – Power in appropriating pre-existing words or literary products
    — “Bao would be proud. ‘Slip your own meanings into their words,’ he said, a bit of advice that has saved me.
    — p. 46 – “As if in France!”
    – “I did not give you my permission, Madame, to treat me in this way. I am here to feed you, not to serve as your fodder. I demand more money for such services, Madame. You pay me only for my time. My story, Madame, is mine. I alone am qualified to tell it, to embellish, or to withhold” (215) – consider reciprocal implications (i.e., Binh “telling” Stein’s story)
    – “How true, I think. A gift or a theft depends on who is holding the pen” (215).

    • Wai Chee says:

      Emily —

      A thought-provoking and intriguing topic. In thinking about ownership and intertextuality — with a special focus on the input coming from servants — what you seem to be exploring is something like “Stories from below.” Perhaps this could even be the title of the essay, aligning The Book of Salt with the epigraph in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, and with two other moments in Hemingway (not just the oblique but mistakable telltale signs by the maid-servant in the Stein/Toklas household, but also the unexpected stories coming from the bartenders in “Even Shipman at the Lilas.) Whereas ownership is not raised as an issue in Stein and Hemingway, in Truong it is front and center. A great way to create yet another dialogue among three texts that are already richly in dialogue.

  7. Sarah Oyadomari says:

    In the face of hardship, people can manipulate their sense of truth to find comfort. This comfort can be easily achieved in Paris. Baldwin, Binh, and Hemingway each fall under the illusion that is Paris, and when the glow begins to fade, they are faced with reality, allowing them to gain inspiration and insight into their identities.

    Paris is an idealized romantic illusion 129, 130
    He is under the illusion that he can escape racism and the cruel nature of humans 161
    “the social climate does not encourage an outward display of racial bigotry” 121
    “do not discuss the past […] remark instead the considerably overrated impressiveness of the eiffel tower” 122
    –> his time in paris helps him realize the struggle of the black man’s past is his identity 139, 174

    Binh hopes there were moments of tenderness
    He falls under illusion of love. Sweet Sunday man
    Illusion that he can bury his dad, escape his criticism, and find peace by leaving home 249
    –> realizes that he shouldn’t have left home.
    Wants the picture of the man on the bridge who symbolizes patriotism 247

    Hemingway enjoys spurts of luxury with Hadley in the midst of poverty. 47, 43, 5, 102 They indulge in fancy meals, but are constantly faced with hunger. 65
    Seeks out an ideal cafe atmosphere 16-17
    –> Coping with this relatively poor lifestyle in Paris helps guide his writing
    Values of discipline 61
    Hemingway’s theory of omission. People can create their own illusion and see what they want to see. 71

    • Wai Chee says:

      Sarah —

      Very suggestive focus on illusion as a common ground shared by Hemingway, Baldwin, and Binh. Since this is a short paper, and since the first two are authors writing about their stay in Paris, while Binh is a character in a novel written by Monique Truong, the three are not actually on the same page; it might be easier to leave Binh out of the picture for the time being. Also, it occurs to me that, rather than critiquing Hemingway and Baldwin as laboring under an illusion (I’m not sure, for instance, that Baldwin is really under the illusion that race could be escaped), perhaps you could reorient your approach somewhat, and analyze the ways these authors create partly illusory views for the reader — Hemingway leading us to think that he is as poor as he claims to be (when Hadley actually had a small but reliable inheritance), or Baldwin leading us to think that he is as isolated as he purports to be (when he actually had many friends). Omission is crucial here; each author leaves out some inconvenient details, Perhaps the title of your paper could even be: “Omissions and Illusions”? It would make for a sharp, incisive analysis.

    • Jamie Nguyen says:


      I feel as though Baldwin has a grasp on his identity in Paris and is not as disillusioned as Hemingway. It might be wise to exclude Binh and focus primarily on Baldwin and Hemingway. I do, however, believe the points you have for Hemingway are very interesting and should be pursued.


  8. Alyssa Patterson says:

    (This was my first idea for a topic, but after reading My Year of Meats, I may be changing it. I will meet with Professor Dimock later to talk about it).

    In this paper I want to explore the boundaries of language in “The Book of Salt”.

    What defines language in this novel?

    • Colonizers and the colonized are directly separated by language
    • French vs. Vietnamese: language becomes linked with identity when the colonizer has a language all to their own
    • The Vietnamese are then forces to learn French to advance themselves

    Are there some things that go beyond language? What can language not explain?

    Pg. 11: the first part of language acquisition is knowing enough words to communicate but not express
    • Pg. 35: “a pear-not-a-pear”
    • Pg. 36: stretch marks on his tongue

    • Colonizing gives the colonies the false connection to the colonies

    Sex: connected with language multiple times in the novel
    • Sex as an exchange pg.83
    • Sex goes beyond language pg. 63

    • Food: The identity of Binh and of his brother (kitchen as a metaphor for how countries work)
    o Sous chef position of Minh
    o Vietnamese are chefs in kitchens but are ultimately under the control of a French person

  9. Alyssa Patterson says:

    I am not sure at this point, after reading My Year of Meats, that I want to stick with this topic. I am currently developing another one. Here is the first outline anyway.

    In this paper I want to explore the boundaries of language in “The Book of Salt”.

    What defines language in this novel?

    • Colonizers and the colonized are directly separated by language
    • French vs. Vietnamese: language becomes linked with identity when the colonizer has a language all to their own
    • The Vietnamese are then forces to learn French to advance themselves

    Are there some things that go beyond language? What can language not explain?

    Pg. 11: the first part of language acquisition is knowing enough words to communicate but not express
    • Pg. 35: “a pear-not-a-pear”
    • Pg. 36: stretch marks on his tongue

    • Colonizing gives the colonies the false connection to the colonies

    Sex: connected with language multiple times in the novel
    • Sex as an exchange pg.83
    • Sex goes beyond language pg. 63

    • Food: The identity of Binh and of his brother (kitchen as a metaphor for how countries work)
    o Sous chef position of Minh
    o Vietnamese are chefs in kitchens but are ultimately under the control of a French person

    • Emily Xiao says:

      Hi Alyssa!

      This is a fascinating topic, and one that I was personally curious about, so I’m looking forward to seeing where you go with your paper. As reflected in your outline, language serves many (related) functions in Book of Salt (i.e., colonialism, sex, communication, etc), which can get quite complicated beyond the reaches of a five-page paper — as I’m sure you’ve already realized. You could choose to highlight one or two key relationships, such as language/colonization and language/food, and the way that language is used to link those two. I’m reminded of the following quote: “[Miss Toklas’] cook has to adopt her tongue, make room for it, which can only mean the removal of his own” (211).

      Your view of the kitchen as a sort of microcosm of colonialism on a national scale is an interesting one, and there’s plenty of material relating cooking to language and cultural exchange for you to work with. (If you haven’t already, check out page 14!) I also like your point on language as a tool of colonization. Something in the novel that might help you think about the colonial environment that has shaped Binh is the dialogue between Binh and Lattimore, who are both non-native French speakers — but whereas Binh enjoys listening to Lattimore speak in his native English, Lattimore is unable to engage with Binh’s Vietnamese.

      Hope this is helpful and good luck!

  10. Erin Krebs says:

    Hunger as a metaphysical presence in American / Parisian literature
    literal references to the importance of cuisine in French culture: significance of the personal chef (The Book of Salt) and the cafe culture
    food and the preparation of food are figuratively very significant
    Hemingway – tenacity as a writer, evolution of the meaning of emptiness, the distance in his relationship with his wife
    Binh’s power despite his status as colonial Vietnamese house chef, his connection to his roots/mother
    the shared element of craftsmanship- Hemingway as writer/ Binh as culinary artist
    Hunger in a moveable feast
    hunger as Hemingway’s voracity for more
    Chapter 8 – Hunger as “A Moveable Feast”
    Shift from Chapter 1- Writing story leaves him initially with a good feeling of emptiness that he fulfills with the oyster scene
    The entirety of chapter 8
    use of second person as something that disassociates
    “Hunger is healthy and the pictures do look better when you are hungry. Eating is wonderful too and do you know where you are going to eat right now?” – Discuss how hunger can improve his writing
    “ Hunger is good discipline and you learn from it.”- self-denial and focus as tactics for writer

    Hungering for gambling
    Shift in the way that he feels about emptiness – “By then I knew that everything good and bad left an emptiness when it stopped. But if it was bad, the emptiness filled up by itself. If it was good you could only fill it by finding something better.”
    Hunger as distance in the relationship
    Michaud’s family scene- the concept of fulfilling – notably set in a restaurant
    “Standing there I wondered how much of what we had felt on the bridge was just hunger. I asked my wife and she said, ‘I don’t know, Tatie. There are so many sorts of hunger. In the spring there are more. But that’s gone now. Memory is hunger.” – Acknowledgement of an emptiness in their relationship
    Ever-present emptiness: “It was a wonderful meal at Michaud’s after we got in; but when we had finished and there was no question of hunger any more, the feeling that had been like hunger when we were on the bridge was still there when we caught the bus home. It was there when we came in the room and after we had gone to bed and made love in the dark, it was there.” –
    Binh’s connection to food
    Connection to his mother
    Sense of connection to Vietnam
    Habituality of “threading silver”
    Food as truth
    “After all, the tongue is an organ of truth.” (178)
    Salt’s omnipresence
    “Before I could take in my mother’s milk, I tasted the salt on her nipple.” (217)
    Preparation as Reclamation of Power
    He has complete power as to what enters the bodies of those who eat his food.
    “Madame, please do not forget that every morsel that slides down your dewy white throat has first rested in my two hands, coddled in the warmth of my ten fingers.” (154)
    Food as equalizer; challenger to colonial structure
    Craft as Identity – Hemingway as author and Binh as Chef
    Hemingway is owned by his text
    Binh and Hemingway’s relationships defined by artistic milieu
    “A cook who has no desire to eat is a lost soul. Worse, he is a questionable cook.”
    “Thinness” as a reflection of Binh’s unhappiness and as Hemingway’s sense of control over artistry
    “We practice a craft whose value increases tenfold once its yield is shared and consumed.” – Their values are predicated on dissemination, evaluation and appreciation.

    • Wai Chee says:

      Erin —

      Rather than focusing on hunger (which we’ve discussed quite a bit in class), it might be more fun to think about its obverse: food. Begin with a couple of passages from A Moveable Feast — the oysters, perhaps the meals at Schruns — and discuss the way food is actual food for Hemingway: he enjoys it, and often describes it in detail, but for the most part it is the physical substance that goes into his mouth, and — unlike hunger — has no metaphysical dimensions. Then, move on to The Book of Salt, and analyze the ways food is both physical and metaphysical for Binh: the basis for a vocation, an aesthetics, and an ethics. It should be a great paper!

  11. Alyssa Patterson says:

    (Sorry for posting a million times guys! I’m indecisive)

    New topic: A discussion of Akiko and Binh’s self harm through the lens of the quote in “My Year of Meats”: “Guns, race, meat and Manifest Destiny all collided in a single explosion of violent, dehumanized activity.”

    Self harm in “My Year of Meats” and “Book of Salt” both have to do with characters that self harm as a way to deal with the stress of being dehumanized. This dehumanization and repression comes from an outside, colonizing force.


    She doesn’t have bulimia–> her vomiting is a way to cope with intense anxiety and creates a sense of relief when she is done
    She also shoplifts–> means of relief from domestic violence (verbal and abusive)
    Her domestic violence is comprised of dehumanization because of her inability to have a child and repression by her husband that is acting as a tool of a American propaganda (he is the middle man for a form of colonization)
    It isn’t the food itself that she avoids, its the feeling of “life” inside of her–> because she cannot conceive a child, she doesn’t want to consume things that are alive


    His self harm stems from an incident of cutting himself and being immediately comforted by his mother–> although the incident had to do with pain, the resulting feelings of love and belonging then create the habit of cutting to remember that feeling
    Cutting himself and letting his blood drip into the food is his way of fighting the French colonizers that have forced him into being their chef–> although Binh likes cooking, he resents the idea that he is simply the cook and doesn’t matter

    Both Binh and Akiko fight their anxiety and emptiness brought on by some colonizing force through self harm

    • Wai Chee says:

      Alyssa —

      An unexpected and illuminating connection between Akiko and Binh, through their shared irregularities toward food. You are right to see these as responses to conditions of life that each finds intolerable. However, be careful with the language of “colonization” — while it reflects the geopolitics of Vietnam, it doesn’t exactly capture the dynamics of Binh’s work as a cook with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in Paris. It is also too massive to be used as an analogy for Akiko’s marital situation. Perhaps you could shift your focus a bit, away from a critique of colonialism to an affirmative view of Akiko’s and Binh’s acts as creative acts, improvised and satisfying forms of resistance to stifling circumstances. The working title would then be something like, “Self-harm and Self-Expression.” It should make for a stunning essay.

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