Sex in the City: The Descent from Human to Animal in Two Vietnamese Classics of Urban Reportage
This article examines the relationship between urban space, normative sexuality and animal metaphors in two Vietnamese classics of modern reportage, namely Tam Lang’s “I Pulled a Rickshaw” (1932) and Vu Trong Phung’s “Household Servants” (1936). Both reportages are set in colonial Hanoi, and both provide a glimpse of the explosive growth of urban space and its perceived effects on the city’s inhabitants. While scholars examining early twentieth-century Vietnamese urban reportages have tended to focus on their historical and ethnographic value, the article pays special attention to a key dimension that deﬁnes the genre: their ﬁgurative lan-guage. The article demonstrates that the distinction between human and animal is intertwined with each author’s critique of colonial modernity. For both Lang and Phung, urban space repre-sents a postlapsarian descent of the human to the animal level. Far from embodying liberation, urban space metaphorically ﬁgures as a disruption of certain ideals of human sociality founded on a moral regime, whereby the category of the “human” is distinguished from the animal by norms of self-regulation and self-moderation. Insofar as it is founded on such a regime, norma-tive sexuality and urban space embody antinomies of each other.
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