Putting the Devil in Context

Elizabeth Lorentz was a young maid servant in early modern Germany who believed herself to be tormented by the devil, and who was eventually brought to trial in 1667. We invited Peter A. Morton and Barbara Dähms to discuss their new book, The Bedevilment of Elizabeth Lorentz, and how they give the reader the opportunity to grapple with Elizabeth’s testimony for themselves.

Written by guest blogger, Peter A. Morton

This book is the second translation of trial records from the city of Brunswick in the seventeenth century that Barbara Dähms and I have published with University of Toronto Press. The first was The Trial of Tempel Anneke: Records of a Witchcraft Trial in Brunswick, Germany, 1663. Both trials involved an accusation of a pact with the Devil. A question that naturally arises is what this trial offers that distinguishes it from that of Tempel Anneke. The short answer is that Lorentz’s testimony reveals some of the richness and complexity of early modern ideas of the Devil and his relations with human beings.

The first point to make about the trial of Elizabeth Lorentz is that it was not a witch trial. Although she was accused of making a diabolical pact, no one involved in the case suspected that Elizabeth was a witch according to the picture that drove the witch trials. And this raises the question, why not? It would not have been difficult for the court officials to interrogate Elizabeth about the common aspects of witchcraft, especially the use of harmful magic and attendance at the sabbat. The use of torture was an option open to them, if they had wanted to force such confessions from her. The same court did just that in the trial of Tempel Anneke just a few years earlier. Yet, according to the records, both the court and the legal faculty at the University of Helmstedt accepted fairly readily that Elizabeth was a troubled soul, and that her pact (if there was one) did not derive from a desire to harm others as was commonly assumed of witches. A second point is that the stories of the Devil came from Elizabeth herself, not from the questioning of the court officials. The officials based their questions on what Elizabeth said of her own experiences.

There is here, I believe, a valuable lesson about early modern European beliefs concerning human relations with the Devil and his demons: There was not a single template applied universally to every suspicion of involvement with the Devil. As Stuart Clark long ago emphasized in his book, Thinking with Demons, despite the degree of uniformity in demonological thinking, the concept of human interaction with demons served a myriad of purposes and could be adapted to many circumstances. In the introductory essay to The Bedevilment of Elizabeth Lorentz I tried to convey some of the variety of ways in which concourse with the Devil was conceived of between the medieval and early modern periods. As I emphasized there, fitting Elizabeth neatly into any of these categories is problematic. These trial records will hopefully underscore the importance of not rushing to conclusions when we find the Devil appearing in historical documents.

With regard to understanding Elizabeth’s testimony, the reader of these documents is in somewhat the same position as that of the court officials. We have Elizabeth’s behavior as it was reported by the family and servants of her employer, Hilmar von Strombek, and we have her own descriptions of her experiences. What we don’t have is her presence before us, and so we must use the documents we have as best we can. The objective in preparing this book, as it was with The Trial of Tempel Anneke, was to present the reader with the documents as much as possible in the same manner as they would be encountered in the archive reading room. The opportunity is there for the reader to sift through the evidence so as to determine how best to make sense of the rather extraordinary tales Elizabeth tells.

Readers in the twenty-first century are of course not likely to take Elizabeth’s descriptions of the Devil as literally true, and so they will perhaps look for psychological origins of her testimony. This is an option the court considers as well. But understanding the trial records requires us to recognize that Elizabeth’s testimony conformed with a belief in the reality of the Devil that was universally accepted. There was at that time no reason to reject the truth of her testimony of demonic temptation without some kind of strong evidence against it. For the court, the possibility that Elizabeth was “not of sound mind” was fully consistent with the truth of her stories of spiritual torment by the Devil. We cannot, therefore, simply label or explain away her claims of demonic encounters; to gain a sympathetic reading of the records we must, rather, “think with demons.”

Much the same can be said for the supplementary reading of the book, the preface to a book of prayers for Appolonia Stampke, a girl who believed herself to be possessed by the Devil. There are dramatic ways of imagining cases of possession: violent behavior, strange preternatural powers, and so on. Some of these ideas have their origins in the history of possession. But there is little of this in the behavior of Appolonia, although some of the scenes in the church must have been startling. The story presented to us by her pastor, Melchior Neukirch, is that of a pious girl struggling to maintain her faith against doubts implanted by Satan. Like the attacks on Elizabeth, Appolonia’s actions need to be read carefully against their social and religious background.

The editor and translator of this book hope that the records will offer a chance for the reader to work directly with the complexities and nuances in the responses of ordinary people in early modern Europe to evidence of the Devil in their world.

Peter A. Morton is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Humanities at Mount Royal University and author of the newly-released book The Bedivilment of Elizabeth Lorentz.

Barbara Dähms is a translator.

Canada’s Shifting Energy Sources: A Comparison with eight European Countries, 1870–2000

Written by guest blogger, Richard W. Unger.

Canadians are among the greatest consumers of energy per person in the world. Iceland, with abundant geothermal sources and a small population, is the only country with a consistently higher level of energy use. Even the people in the United States fall behind Canadians in consuming energy. Those living in the ‘true North’ have been leaders on the planet for the last two centuries and probably even longer. Until the first decade of the twentieth century the majority of that energy came from fuelwood. Industrialization promoted a shift to fossil fuels. By 1903, coal supplied more energy than fuelwood. By 1955, oil exceeded coal as a source of energy. And by 1996, natural gas passed oil as an energy source for Canadians. In 2000, oil and natural gas provided almost equal amounts of energy while primary electricity, produced by wind or water power, supplied a bit more than half of either of the other two. That pattern of a series of shifts through fossil fuels was typical of countries in North America and western Europe over the last 150 years. Whatever the source, Canadians used a lot of energy.

Postage stamp In 1983 Poste Canada Post issued a stamp as part of its Heritage Artifacts series of a woodstove, the principal device for consuming massive quantities of fuelwood in the nineteenth and for many years in the twentieth century. It joined items like skates, a decoy, a bucket and other humble household items that were part of daily life.

Energy consumption per person in Canada was already high compared to other jurisdictions in the world through the first half of the twentieth century. Surprisingly, and despite the established position of the country as a leader in energy consumption per person, people in Canada began to use considerably more through the 1960s. Between 1958 to 1973, per capita energy consumption in Canada rose 74 percent. Countries in Europe saw sharp rises in energy use starting in the 1950s. Many of them were recovering from the destruction of World War II and also from the massive disruption in their economies that were created by the war. It was also a period when the full force of the Industrial Revolution reached parts of southern Europe, where a more traditional and agrarian economy still dominated.

Energy Consumption per capita Lines indicate 1958 and 1973 Now the Adam Beck Hydroelectric Generating Stations in Niagara Falls, Ontario, uses waters from the Welland River to produce electricity for the provincial power grid. Subsequently expanded, when it opened in 1922 as the Queenston-Chippawa Hydroelectric Plant it was the largest hydroelectric generating station in the world. Canada remains among the few countries most reliant on falling water to produce electric power.

While the increase in energy consumption in Europe during the 1960s is relatively easy to explain, the same cannot be said for what happened in Canada. In the same fifteen years that Canadians on average increased energy consumption 74 percent, consumption per person in Sweden rose at the same rate during a period of rapid economic growth in manufacturing and starting from a lower base. Sweden experienced the greatest increase among eight European states for which data are easily available – England and Wales together, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Over the same period, France saw a rise of just 58 percent and Germany, going through the Wirtschaftswunder, a considerably lower 43 percent. Canada was already well ahead of those countries in 1958. The gap widened in the 1960s despite the fact that the percentage rate of growth could be, in the extreme case of Sweden, similar. Canadians in 1958 were consuming 1.66 times as much energy as Swedes but in 1973 the figure was 1.71.

The growth in energy use in the years just before the first oil crisis came at a time when all countries were becoming more efficient, getting more value in the goods they produced from each unit of energy they used. It was part of a long-term trend throughout the twentieth century. Again, surprisingly, Canada was able in the same fifteen years from 1958 to 1973 to increase efficiency by some 7 percent while Sweden, increasing per capita consumption as much as Canada, saw almost no improvement in efficiency.

Alberta tar sandsThe Athabasca Tar Sands in Alberta, known since the eighteenth century, have long been thought a potential source of petroleum. Efforts like those shown here between 1900 and 1930 to exploit the abundant reserves proved futile. Technological advances and rising oil prices only made that possible in the latter years of the twentieth century. Library and Archives Canada, 3592868.

The comparison of what happened in Canada with what happened in other countries is the topic of my article “Shifting Energy Sources in Canada: An International Comparison, 1870-2000,” recently published in the Canadian Journal of History special issue on the Material Realities of Energy History. This comparison can reveal a great deal about anomalies, as well as what was important to Canada’s pattern of energy use. Laying the data side-by-side reveals differences and suggests where it might be possible to identify distinct features as well as causes of changes within the energy economy of the country. The changing suppliers of energy, and their relative importance over time, has always had an impact on the environment. Comparisons can point to the sensitive times when those shifts took place and so offer indications of where and when to look for the role of final energy users in shaping the landscape. With eight different European countries with different climates and histories there are benchmarks against which to measure what happened in Canada. While the comparisons point to differences that set each of the political units apart, it proves hard to explain why those differences have appeared and why they may have persisted.

Adam Beck Complex
In the years from 1958 to 1973 energy consumption in Canada moved rapidly higher, extending even more its lead over eight European countries which were enjoying rapid economic growth in those years. See text.

When looking at energy use, Canada is similar to many European countries but different in other ways. The comparison points to questions about the energy history of Canada that could yield productive and informative research. The strange drive in Canada during the 1960s to surge even further ahead of European countries in using fossil fuels, even when those European countries were themselves sharply increasing their energy consumption, is just one anomaly that sets Canada apart. Many possible explanations come to mind, yet preliminary and straightforward tests of the obvious reasons do not yield expected results. It is hard to establish why Canada was different. The preliminary investigation of some of the most obvious explanations such as the nature of climate, different resource endowment, levels of incomes per person in the article yield mixed results. Reasons for different patterns of energy consumption may well be complex. There are many other questions to test that emerge almost automatically from looking at Canada’s energy history in light of what went on elsewhere. Finding answers to those questions offers the potential for extensive productive research for anyone willing to take on the task.

Banner: Horsepower replaced gasoline-powered engines during the worst years of the Great Depression. Called Bennett buggies after the prime minister, R. B. Bennett, this one is crossing the campus of the University of Saskatchewan in about 1935.

Richard W. Unger is Professor Emeritus in the Department of History, University of British Columbia. His work has concentrated on the economy of pre-modern Europe, principally of the shipping and brewing sectors, as well as Canadian energy consumption. Read his article in the latest issue of CJH, “Shifting Energy Sources in Canada: An International Comparison, 1870–2000”—free for a limited time here.

Supply or Demand? Integrating Perspectives on the Historical Transition from Coal to Hydrocarbons

Written by guest bloggers, Odinn Melsted and Irene Pallua.

Icons COAL OIL and NATURAL GAS

Since the mid twentieth century, oil and natural gas – in short: hydrocarbons – have been the dominant energy carriers in industrialized countries. They have been the main energy providers for cars, trucks, ships, airplanes, industries and home heating. What is often overlooked is that the rise of hydrocarbons meant the decline of coal. At the midpoint of the twentieth century, coal was still the fuel of choice in railroad and maritime transportation, for industrial production, in residential heating, as well as electricity production. Yet between the 1940s and 1970s, a relatively short period of time in energy history, coal was largely pushed aside by hydrocarbon alternatives. Recent research on historical transitions and today’s practical experiences in attempting to implement a renewable energy transition have, however, revealed that incumbent energy systems tend to be resistant to change. How, then, could hydrocarbons take over so quickly?

graphs

Total Primary Energy Supply (TPES) in the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) area. Own figure based on data from Arnulf Grübler, “Energy Transitions,” in: Cutler Cleveland, ed. Encyclopedia of Earth (Washington, D.C.: National Council for Science and the Environment, 2008.

One of the main challenges when dealing with energy history is to assess the scale of a transition. One way of doing so is to take a look at historical energy data. The figures above show Total Primary Energy Supply (TPES) in OECD countries from 1900 to 2000 for different energy carriers. The graph on the left depicts the absolute values of energy carriers in exajoules. Here we can see that oil and natural gas multiplied between 1940 and 1970, accounting for much of the simultaneous increase in overall energy supply. In addition, we can identify a diversification from coal to multiple fuels. On the right, the figure shows the same data as relative shares, which reveals that coal lost its dominance in the energy mix as hydrocarbons took over. By looking at both absolute values and relative shares, we can see that coal clearly lost its dominant position to hydrocarbons, but at the same time maintained a status quo; its total supply only decreased slightly at first and then actually increased in the long run. How can this contradiction be explained? In what context did hydrocarbons replace coal, and what accounts for the continuing importance of coal in the energy mix?

Those are some of the questions we deal with in our article entitled “The Historical Transition from Coal to Hydrocarbons: Previous Explanations and the Need for an Integrative Perspective”, which appears in the Canadian Journal of History’s special issue on the Material Realities of Energy Histories. We are currently both PhD candidates at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, and have been working on dissertation projects on the history of energy. As we both focus on continuities and changes in the use of different energy carriers in the second half of the twentieth century (Odinn Melsted on Iceland’s energy system and Irene Pallua on the Swiss heating sector), we have been faced with the challenge of explaining how and why the transition from coal to hydrocarbons took place so quickly in so many different parts of the industrialized world. We each discovered that the existing literature on energy history only marginally deals with the question of why hydrocarbons replaced coal. All too often, oil and natural gas are portrayed as the superior fuels that were bound to take over from coal inevitably. When diving deeper into the vast literature on coal, oil and natural gas, the changes in energy supply systems, evolution of industries, transportation and heating, however, we discovered that many causal explanations have already been provided. Yet the disparity of the literature has made it difficult to grasp them and see them in the context of the over-arching transition from coal to hydrocarbons.

black and white photograph

black and white photograph

black and white photograph

Coal was long the fuel of choice for steam locomotives, industrial production and residential heating, but largely replaced with hydrocarbons in the mid twentieth century. This was due to a variety of causes, ranging from competitive prices and policy to limit smoke pollution, to the physical advantages of hydrocarbons, which are lighter, cleaner, have a higher energy density and are easier to control in combustion than coal. Pictures: Wikimedia Commons.

In the article, we draw together the causal explanations for the transition from coal to hydrocarbons. One of the problems we discovered in the research process is that the literature presents a gap between two perspectives: one on energy “supply” and another on “consumption.” The supply perspective focuses on the diversification of the overall energy supply system, where oil and natural gas were introduced to formerly coal-dominated energy economies. The consumption perspective, on the other hand, focuses on how consumers in different areas of the energy economy decided to switch from coal to hydrocarbon alternatives.

We therefore integrated these perspectives and conceptualized the shift from coal to hydrocarbons as a complex transition that occurred at two levels. On the one hand, hydrocarbons became available as alternatives to coal at the level of energy supply, which created favourable circumstances for energy consumers to shift to hydrocarbons. On the other hand, individual energy consumers in railway and maritime transportation, residential heating, industrial production, and electricity generation actively decided to use hydrocarbon alternatives as substitutions for coal. By revisiting the explanations of the rising use of hydrocarbon energies in the mid twentieth century, we hope to direct attention to this hitherto understudied, yet nonetheless decisive transition in energy history and present an innovative approach to the analysis of historical fuel transitions.

Odinn Melsted is the recipient of a DOC-fellowship of the Austrian Academy of the Sciences at the Department of History and European Ethnology at University of Innsbruck. His doctoral project deals with Iceland’s low-carbon transition during 1940–1990 and has also been supported by the Landsvirkjun Energy Research Fund.

Irene Pallua is a PhD candidate at the Department of History and European Ethnology at University of Innsbruck. Her main research interest is in history of energy at the juncture of technology, society, and the environment. She is currently working on her PhD project on the history of heating in Swiss households.

Read their article in the latest issue of CJH, “The Historical Transition from Coal to Hydrocarbons: Previous Explanations and the Need for an Integrative Perspective”—free for a limited time here.

How to be a Man: If Beale Street Could Talk brings a new generation to James Baldwin

“We were all men, all fragile and broken in some way, in need of love and grace and the salve of a mother or father or estranged lover. We were all Baldwin’s children. The fact of this lineage and the generosity of our father confirmed that we, his readers, were worthy of love.”

—Barry Jenkins, Esquire, December 2018

Barry Jenkins, director of 2016’s Academy Award-winning Moonlight, admits a feeling of kinship with James Baldwin’s readers, but also his characters: the exuberant Giovanni, the tortured David. Baldwin, the father, offers an emotional tutelage, guides boys into manhood, so that they too can offer a path forward for a new generation. And so: Jenkins’ new film, based on Baldwin’s novel, If Beale Street Could Talk.

Fittingly, Jenkins’ talk of fragile men and Baldwin-the-Father is written for Esquire, a magazine with a long relationship to Baldwin. It was in Esquire that Baldwin published some of his most famous essays, such as “The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy” and “Fifth Avenue, Uptown.” While tackling what was then called “the Negro Problem,” the always shrewd Baldwin tied his writing on race to issues of masculinity, seeking a common understanding with the presumably white, middle- or upper-class readers of a magazine subtitle “The Magazine for Men.” So it is that in “Black Boy,” Baldwin writes:

I think that I know something about American masculinity which most men of my generation do not know because they have not been menaced by it in the way that I have been. It is still true, alas, that to be an American Negro male is also to be a kind of walking phallic symbol: which means that one pays, in one’s own personality, for the sexual insecurity of others. The relationship, therefore, of a black boy to a white boy is a very complex thing.

The lengthiest and most compelling of Baldwin’s Esquire pieces is a 1968 interview, published shortly after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., in which Baldwin addresses social unrest, Stokely Carmichael, and the ideas of whiteness and Blackness. Central to the interview is Baldwin’s appeal that white men acknowledge and confront their history.

Esquire may give Baldwin space to make his appeal, but the magazine does much to undermine it. For example, the cover of the magazine reads “James Baldwin tells us how to cool it this summer.” The image is of seven stylishly dressed, cool Black men lounging on ice blocks. “Cool it” is immediately associated with its demotic or vernacular use—perhaps Baldwin is going to tell readers about his favourite nightclubs or albums. Within the magazine, however, the interviewer uses some version of the phrase “cool it” six times. In the context of the interview, “cooling it” refers to relaxing racial tensions; the cover, and the rest of the magazine, diminishes the seriousness of this situation. One need only flip a few pages to discover a feature offering “Advice for Summer Drinkers: Cool It!” Here, the idea of “cooling it” is not about riots, but a suggestion for how to prepare drinks. Altogether, this single issue offers Baldwin’s compelling critique of masculinity and whiteness to the exact audience who needs to hear it … and then seemingly takes steps to dismantle that critique. The magazine offers contemporary readers a glimpse into the push-and-pull of the cultural politics of race, class, and manhood.

And now, 50 years later, Esquire offers up space to Jenkins to promote his own film, based on Baldwin’s work, and to discuss the author’s influence on his own life and career. In so doing, Jenkins is able to reach out to a similar audience (not identical, but similar enough) to the one Baldwin addressed decades ago, and offer them his own take on the intersection of race and masculinity, his own take on how to be a man.

 

 

Brad Congdon received his PhD from Dalhousie University, where he is an Instructor in Gender & Women’s Studies and English. He is the author of Leading with the Chin: Writing American Masculinities in Esquire, 1960-1989.

 

 

Cold War Entanglements, Third World Solidarities: Vietnam and Palestine, 1967–75

Written by guest blogger, Evyn Lê Espiritu.

In recent years, activist solidarity with the ongoing Palestinian liberation struggle against Zionist erasure has been gaining national momentum and visibility.  In 2016, for example, the Movement for Black Lives Statement (M4BL) included language critiquing the US’s alliance with the State of Israel and, by extension, American complicity with the displacement and genocide of the native Palestinian people.  In summer 2018, following Israel’s violent military response to the Great March of Return, M4BL reaffirmed its demand that the US end its financial and political support of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.  Rather than remain at the level of abstraction, such solidarity rhetoric was grounded in historical and contemporary linkages between the situated struggles of Palestinians and African Americans against entwined processes of settler colonialism, racism, and segregation.  In the words of a recent M4BL statement: “We understand that we are connected to the Palestinian people by our shared demand for recognition and justice and our long histories of displacement, discrimination and violence.”  Palestinian activists, in turn, expressed solidarity with M4BL, citing parallels between occupation in Palestine and Ferguson.

In light of these articulations of situated solidarity, the research and writing of my recent article in Canadian Review of American Studies, “Cold War Entanglements, Third World Solidarities: Vietnam and Palestine, 1967–75,” was driven by my desire to connect contemporary solidarity with Palestine with my own historical inheritances as a second generation Asian American and daughter and granddaughter of Vietnamese refugees on my mother’s side.  In other words, I was motivated by a desire to ground my solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle in the specificity of my situated positionality.  In 2013, the Association of Asian American Studies passed a Resolution to Support the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions, affirming its mission to “advance a critique of U.S. empire, opposing US military occupation in the Arab world and U.S. support for occupation and racist practices by the Israeli state.”  Shaped by histories of American imperialism, militarism, and capitalism in the Asian Pacific, Asian Americans are intimately familiar with formations of U.S. empire and therefore uniquely positioned to critique contemporary imperial intervention in the Middle East.  But what about Vietnamese Americans and Vietnamese history more specifically?

The late 1960s moment was one of anticolonial struggle and Third World Solidarity.  In particular, two major wars in the Global South would influence American geopolitics and shift the balance of world power: the American War in Vietnam (1954-1975) and the June War in Israel-Palestine (1967).  While the former would precipitate the unprecedented defeat of the American superpower, inspiring anti-colonial and anti-imperial struggles around the world, that latter would dramatically expand Israeli occupation over the West Bank and Gaza and consolidate American military and financial support of the Zionist nation-state.

The fates of Vietnam and Palestine, and their concurrent anti-colonial struggles for national independence, were thus entangled.  American withdrawal from Vietnam was motivated in part by a decision to strengthen military presence in the Middle East, in an attempt to curb the threat of Soviet Union influence in the area.  Yet the shared histories of these two revolutionary struggles has been largely neglected by scholarship on the Cold War, American empire, or the Global South, in part due to area studies divisions that dictate the cartographies of knowledge production.

This article seeks to rectify this gap in scholarship by charting political entanglements and demonstrations of solidarity between Vietnam and Palestine that have been structured both by and in spite of US imperialism.  Wary of reproducing American exceptionalism by re-centering the US in its critique of American empire, this article highlights direct articulations of solidarity between Vietnamese and Palestinian freedom fighters from 1967 to 1975, drawing from archival research conducted at the Institute of Palestine Studies (IPS) in Ramallah.  For example, in a message to the International Conference for the Support of Arab Peoples held in Cairo on 24 January 1969, Vietnamese anti-colonial leader Hồ Chí Minh asserted that the “Vietnamese people vehemently condemn the Israeli aggressors” and “fully support the Palestinian people’s liberation movement and the struggle of the Arab people for the liberation of territories occupied by Israeli forces.”  Likewise, in a press interview conducted in 1970, Palestinian Liberation Executive Committee Chairman Yasser Arafat affirmed the “firm relationship between the Palestinian revolution and the Vietnam revolution through the experience provided to us by the heroic people of Vietnam and their mighty revolution.”  On a more quotidian level, following General Võ Nguyên Giáp’s unexpected victory over the French colonists in the 1954 Battle of Điện Biên Phủ, Palestinian soldiers took inspiration from the Vietnamese and adopted the nickname “Giap.”  Remembrances of this historical moment of solidarity still exist today.  When I conducted research in the West Bank in 2016, I was often asked my ethnicity.  When I mentioned that I was half-Vietnamese, some of the older men exclaimed excitedly and shared memories of their celebration of the Vietnamese victory over the French and then the Americans, drawing parallels with their own experiences of struggle against Israeli occupation.

While I draw inspiration from these Third World articulations of Global South solidarity, I also remain cognizant that Asian American Studies and postcolonial studies, rooted in a legacy of leftist political activism, have a tendency to romanticize the anti-colonial rhetoric of revolutionary leaders such as Yasser Arafat and Hồ Chí Minh, ignoring the violent byproducts of their state-building projects.  As a child of a Vietnamese refugee and subject of the South Vietnamese diaspora—many of whom were displaced by the very Communist state established in Vietnam in the wake of Hồ Chí Minh’s death—I also want to take seriously critiques of the Vietnamese Communist state’s retributive justice against the South Vietnamese anti-Communists and its continual human rights abuses against its citizens, as voiced by members of the South Vietnamese diaspora as well as Vietnamese human rights activists currently working in Vietnam.

As an Asian American and South Vietnamese diasporic—that is, as the inheritor of both leftist, anti-imperial politics as well as insistent criticisms of the Vietnamese Communist party—I am motivated by a desire to reconcile these seeming political contradictions between the revolutionary rhetoric of Hồ Chí Minh and the oppressive control of the Vietnamese Communist party.  Here, I turn to postcolonial feminist Neferti Tadiar’s concept of “divine sorrow,” which dwells with the residual affective ghosts of Vietnam’s painful war-torn past.  According to the current Communist Party in Vietnam, 1975 marked a moment of revolutionary victory: independence from American imperialism and the fulfillment of the late Hồ Chí Minh’s Communist plan.  However, the concept of “divine sorrow” entails a rejection of this state-sponsored narrative of teleological success— which works to silence critiques of the current Vietnamese government’s human rights abuses and curtail other political imaginaries— in favor of pre-1975 Third World Liberationist revolutionary promise. “Promise” here refers to the radical potentiality of multiplicitous revolutionary futures, too soon foreclosed by the Vietnamese State’s monopolistic consolidation of political power.

In the 1960-70s, it was North Vietnam’s revolutionary victory that heartened and inspired Palestinian freedom fighters struggling for their own national liberation.  In the contemporary moment, in the wake of Vietnam’s seemingly concluded revolution, it is perhaps the ongoing Palestinian liberation movement that could stimulate today’s Vietnamese activists to reactivate the revolutionary potentials of their seemingly foreclosed anti-colonial struggle and hold the contemporary Vietnamese state accountable to its own revolutionary ideals.

Photo of Evyn Lê Espiritu

Evyn Lê Espiritu is a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow of Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies at College of the Holy Cross. Her research engages with critical refugee studies, settler colonial studies, trans-Pacific studies, and diaspora theory, and has been published in Canadian Review of American Studies, Amerasia, qui parle, and LIT: Literature, Interpretation, Theory.  She is currently working on a book manuscript tentatively entitled Archipelago of Resettlement: Vietnamese Refugee Settlers in Guam and Israel-Palestine.

Read Evyn Lê Espiritu’s recent article in the CRAS Special Issue on Vietnam, War, and the Global Imagination “Cold War Entanglements, Third World Solidarities: Vietnam and Palestine, 1967–75”—free for a limited time on UTP Journals Online.