A Modern Kiều: Immigration and the Ethics of Sexuality in John Duigan’s Careless Love

In the closing scene of John Duigan’s Careless Love (Australia 2012), the protagonist Linh is seated alone in a dark, imposing hallway outside a university lecture theatre, waiting to take her final exam in social anthropology. Linh’s secret life as a prostitute has just been exposed in the newspapers, following the assassination of her client and friend, Luke, an American art dealer. Linh’s boyfriend has left her, all but her closest friends avoid her, and her parents are overcome with shame and disappointment. By all accounts, this is Linh’s reckoning, the moment at which society will punish her for transgressing its moral codes. The anthropology professor, played by Duigan himself, emerges in the hallway to summon his “next victim: Miss Nguyên.” Throughout the film, when not working, Linh has been writing assignments for this professor, each time addressing questions of religion, morality, and ideology. Specifically, her intellectual pursuits have encouraged her to question how individuals define themselves in relation to the value systems accepted – and often imposed – by society. Her academic training has led her to this final exercise, which she will use as an opportunity to challenge the system that now ostracizes her.

It is in this final moment that the film’s resonances with the nineteenth-century Vietnamese epic poem, Nguyễn Du’s The Tale of Kiều, are most suggestive. The poem, which draws heavily on both Chinese and Vietnamese literary, philosophical, and cultural traditions, recounts the tribulations of a beautiful and virtuous young woman who sacrifices her honour to save that of her family. Kiều’s father has been falsely charged and arrested, and to pay his debts, Kiều agrees to be sold into marriage. She soon discovers, however, that she has unwittingly sold herself into prostitution, and much of the rest of the poem follows her from brothels to unhappy marriages to suicide attempts, and finally, to a return home. The ethics of sexuality and sacrifice at the heart of the Vietnamese masterpiece are no less central to Duigan’s latest film, which is a visually subtle but emotionally complex examination of a theme that has reappeared throughout his career. Duigan’s interrogation focuses on Linh, a Vietnamese-Australian student at the University of Sydney, as she negotiates her two distinct worlds, which are captured visually in the film’s artful contrasts between light and dark, day and night. Linh sacrifices her virtue to save her father from ruin. Her father has lost his job, and without the extra income sent by Linh, who tells her family she works part-time as a model, he will lose the family home. Linh, like Kiều before her, is beautiful, generous, and intelligent. And like Kiều’s, her prostitution can be taken to represent the ethical and political compromises often made in response to impossible circumstances.

But if Duigan’s film evokes elements of the conflict at the heart of Kiều, it nevertheless departs from the epic poem in two main respects, which together give the tale and its heroine their contemporary significance.[1] Figuring prostitution as the central ethical dilemma, Careless Love extends the questions of morality and discrimination to the immigrant context and gives the protagonist the power to judge both herself and her society. The result is at once a distinctly modern engagement with a Vietnamese icon and an incisive examination of the immigrant condition in contemporary Australia. As such, though the bulk of Duigan’s film follows Linh – or “Mai,” as she is known at the Orient Express escort agency – as she frequents her clients, these encounters are not filmed for their titillating potential. In fact, aside from one medium shot of Linh soaking naked in the tub and a few gratuitous glimpses of her partners’ backsides, very little sex or nudity is shown on screen. Instead, just as Kiều’s experiences open onto broader ethical questions in The Tale of Kiều, the film takes Linh’s prostitution as a point of departure, offering each encounter as a detailed study of the way contemporary Australian society treats its outsiders.

While dispossession takes multiple forms in Careless Love, the three most salient examples demand that we situate our discussion within the context of immigration in Australia. Together, the three immigrant narratives that emerge over the course of the film – that of Linh’s family, her client Luke, and her friend Mint – suggest the variegated complexity of the immigrant experience. At the same time, these narratives underscore the equally diverse technologies of discipline, particularly those related to surveillance, that exercise the power of the state through the construction of the immigrant subject. The general function of these technologies, as Michel Foucault has demonstrated, is to observe, classify, and control human life.[2] This is perhaps even more pronounced in the regulation of immigration, a process which is inextricably bound to the definition and preservation of the nation. Though pervasive in the lives of any modern subject, for the immigrant subject, these technologies, which are perhaps most intrusive during the citizenship process but which also police the trajectories of ‘undocumented’ immigrants, determine who is to be included under the protective umbrella of the state. In other words, these technologies are used to differentiate those who belong from those who do not. In Duigan’s film, these disciplinary technologies manifest themselves to varying degrees in the production of social bodies and realities. And as we will see in the latter part of this essay, they also give rise to individual acts of resistance, which enact important reversals of power between those who judge and those who are judged.

The Tale of Kiều is a meditation on adversity and resilience, exploring in the misfortune that befalls its protagonist that of an entire people. Vietnamese history contains no shortage of political and natural disasters, and if the Vietnamese people continue to respond to Kiều, it is because after centuries of struggles against corruption, privation, and political turmoil, they identify with the quiet determination of Nguyễn Du’s heroine. In the immigrant context, where Kiều’s plight is no less relevant, the dispossession resulting from events beyond one’s control evokes not only the experience of exile, but also the hyphenated identities and conflicting allegiances Vietnamese communities overseas must continually negotiate. The first and most prominent immigrant narrative in Duigan’s film, that of Linh’s family, is exemplary of an entire generation of diasporic Vietnamese. We learn during one of her encounters with Luke that her mother and father came to Australia as boat people after her father witnessed the murder of his own father by the Viet Cong. The family’s story echoes that of scores of Vietnamese who fled in the wake of the American war in Vietnam, trading citizenship for refugee status, and then, once on foreign shores, enduring hardship and humiliation to ensure the success of their children in the adopted country.

As much sociological research has demonstrated, however, successful integration presents its own set of challenges. Vietnamese communities overseas frequently struggle with the instability of tradition and the fragility of a collective identity, particularly in Western countries where individualism is privileged over the group, and where the children and grandchildren of immigrants are increasingly ignorant of their ancestors’ cultural practices.[3] In this sense, Linh’s ethical compromise can be understood as an allegory for the gradual assimilation of the Vietnamese in Australia, and thus, for the unwanted but unavoidable loss of Vietnamese cultural values in the adopted country. Linh’s decision to become a prostitute is itself evidence of the extent to which she has been shaped by ideals more Western than Confucian: caught between two worlds, and two distinct value systems, Linh mistakes the exercising of individual choice for the demonstration of filial devotion. Perhaps more importantly, she fails to recognize that her actions will cause her family to lose face, substituting one shame for another.[4] At the same time, these actions, however selfish and misguided they might be, reveal the lengths to which second-generation Vietnamese in Australia can and will go to affirm their commitment to preserving the stability of the group. For as Mong Hanh Vu-Renaud has noted in a study of Vietnamese refugees in France, the individual and the group are mutually constitutive in overseas Vietnamese communities: the longevity of the group is ensured by the actions of the individual, who is unable to manage “the difficulty of being” without the firm sense of belonging offered in the collective action required by the group.[5]

But it is not merely the actions of the individual that reinforce the overseas community and its cultural values. Equally important are the means by which such communities anchor themselves within the adopted landscape. As Mandy Thomas points out in her study of Vietnamese-Australians, home ownership is an essential component of successful adjustment as it simultaneously compensates for previous loss, ensures future stability, and communicates material success.[6] The space of the home represents rootedness, and it allows the construction of an identity that is at once culturally specific and firmly planted in the new country. Highlighting the signal importance of the spatial dimension in the construction of immigrant identities, Duigan’s film connects Linh’s prostitution to the potential loss of the family home. As in The Tale of Kiều, the protagonist’s sacrifice is not only tied to the ideal of filial piety, but also precipitated by the father’s financial woes. But while the debts incurred by Kiều’s father follow from his wrongful arrest, those that loom over Linh’s family are of a more mundane sort. Her father is not the victim of corruption, but of redundancy: he has lost his job and can no longer pay the mortgage. Moreover, the local authorities who pillage the troubled family’s home in the Vietnamese poem are represented in Duigan’s film by a lone Australian banker, who feigns benevolence while threatening to repossess the house.

Though the plight of Linh’s family is certainly not one limited to the immigrant community, the presence of such a monolithic institutional threat only underscores the family’s precarious position within Australian society. After at least twenty years in the country, Linh’s parents still do not speak fluent English. Though their daily lives are not treated in the film, one might presume that this lack of linguistic progress is due to the tight-knit communities overseas Vietnamese regularly establish for themselves. It is often the case, thanks to the presence of Vietnamese businesses, churches, and other community organisations, that Vietnamese immigrants do not need to master English to lead successful, if culturally isolated, lives in Australia. Moreover, in light of the city health and safety regulations that place important limitations on the ways in which Vietnamese communities inhabit public space in Australia, the individual family’s sovereignty within the private space of the home is all the more symbolically charged. The loss of the home not only deprives immigrant families of a physical shelter; it also denies them the means to withstand cultural alienation, creating homelessness within the new homeland and communicating the inhospitality of the state. The physical and linguistic alienation of the first-generation Vietnamese immigrant in Australia, and the refugee in particular, is captured mid-way through Duigan’s film, when Linh must fly home to speak on behalf of her father in a meeting with the banker. The banker’s condescension toward the father, who understands quite well what is being said though he is not equipped to respond, points to the limits of the immigrant’s attempts to assimilate socially and economically. Further, the scene evokes the metaphors of disability commonly found in immigrant narratives: the banker treats the father’s lack of fluency as a handicap, assuming that, because he does not speak English as well as his Australian-born daughter, he is incapable of understanding the gravity of his situation.[7] Such metaphors speak to the immigrant’s lack of agency within the public space, and as Duigan’s scene highlights, reveal the extent to which such “disabilities” are external social constructions, determined by cultural rules and relations.

While Linh’s father’s struggle to maintain ownership of his home highlights the institutional pressures that restrict the successful assimilation of immigrant communities within the adopted country, the experiences of Linh’s client Luke illustrate social alienation of a different nature. Of all the main characters in the film, Luke is the least developed. And yet, he emerges as the film’s most morally complex figure. It is never entirely clear why Luke is in Sydney, why he never fully moves into his comfortable ocean-side apartment, and why, near the end of the film, he is murdered. Though his back story remains a mystery, it becomes clear that Luke has spent some time working as a mercenary in the Middle East, and that he earns his living not by dealing art, but most likely, by illegally trafficking it. He lives in relative ease in his empty apartment, spending his days swimming, painting, and fielding phone calls from potential buyers. In stark contrast to Linh’s father, Luke is a solitary and transient figure, who has no interest in planting roots in Australia and whose only form of intimate contact is his regular date with Linh, or Mai, as he knows her. Indeed, we learn during a visit from his ex-partner and son not only that Luke is a father, but that he owns a home in the United States.

Luke is a peculiar figure, a shadowy, exilic individual isolated in a world of strangers. At the same time, in a way that evokes Kwame Anthony Appiah’s study of morality in such a world, the character also seems to embody a cosmopolitan ethics, a rethinking of that which divides the world along the lines of race, class, and religion.[8] In addition to the significant gap in their ages, and the national and cultural differences that separate them, Luke and Linh are divided by the power structure inherent in their economic relationship. This is made especially clear early in the film, after Linh has agreed to an unofficial weekly tryst, when Luke jokes that he could kill her and no one would know. And yet, though he is her client, he is also clearly her friend and protector. His son tells her after the murder that she was his only friend. Luke, in return, is Linh’s only intellectual partner in the film, the one with whom she shares her family history and discusses her anthropological investigations of morality and fundamentalism. Further, Luke shows her the same guarded but sincere care he displays toward his family. He is the one who warns her that her two worlds will eventually collide, and who takes her in when they do. In Luke we find a study of the co-existence of selfishness and selflessness: Luke offers a particularly salient image of the individual who has freed himself from the local responsibilities attendant to allegiance and community, and embraced instead a broader ethical commitment to others.

But if the philosophical function of the character can be said to introduce a cosmopolitan concern for strangers, the trajectory of his storyline provides a critical social commentary on the welcome such outsiders receive in Australia. Throughout the film, Luke is the subject of a specific disciplinary apparatus. He is being watched, though it is not clear if it is police, criminal, or media surveillance, or perhaps more likely, a combination of the three. Ultimately, however, the source of the gaze is of little importance, as in each case, the act of surveillance aims to identify, and thus control, the subject through a distinct – and hidden – visible technology, here a pair of binoculars and a telephoto lens. Such surveillance technologies, as Foucault has demonstrated, serve as techniques that ensure order, manage bodies and create disciplined subjects. The disciplinary gaze, Foucault argues, operates “through its invisibility; at the same time it imposes on those whom it subjects a principle of compulsory visibility.”[9] Luke’s existence at a deliberate remove from the society in which he seeks refuge is consequently negated by the “compulsory visibility” of his every move. As a narrative device, the incorporation of the surveillance subplot creates a sense of suspense in the film that eventually ends with the character’s violent death. Given the film’s treatment of immigration, however, it also necessarily evokes the “tactics” employed by the state in the regulation of its population and the policing of its borders.[10]

The most striking engagement with the themes of immigration, surveillance and discipline, however, is to be found in Duigan’s treatment of the character Mint, Linh’s Thai counterpart. The film does not comment explicitly on Mint’s immigration status, though the details of her back story combined with her marginalization within the film certainly suggest that even if she is not in the country illegally, she does not benefit from the same forms of societal protection that Linh, as a second-generation Vietnamese-Australian, does. Mint left Thailand as the young bride of an Australian, and after finding herself in a lifeless and occasionally violent marriage in the middle of the outback, left her husband for Sydney, where she finds herself the regular choice for the agency’s more unusual requests. Mint is learning English and saving to open her own business, and yet, despite her attempts to anchor herself within Australian society, her position is precarious. Indeed, next to her studious colleague, Mint is dangerously exposed. She is cognizant of her inferior status both generally and within the immediate structure of the escort service, openly noting at one point that she is always the one sent to drug-fuelled three-ways and impromptu street encounters.

Mint’s liminal position with regard to the law – her prostitution is legal but her immigrant status perhaps not – is drawn into sharp relief midway through the film, when she is raped by a police officer as punishment for lewd behaviour in a public place. The act of rape serves as a disciplinary measure here, one which aligns sexual domination and the sovereign power of the state, governing the body through a specific, sexualized violence. Further, such an act bears a specific social function. For Ann J. Cahill, “the woman victim’s experience of rape is directly related to the constitutive element of a power discourse which produces her body as violable, weak, and alien to her subjectivity.”[11] In other words, rape is an essential component of a discourse that classifies women as “inferior and socially expendable” and governs their physical integration within the social space accordingly.[12] We must not forget that in this particular example, the victim of the rape is also a prostitute, in other words, “the disprivileged other in relation to the determinant site” that is respectable bourgeois femininity.[13] Moreover, she is an immigrant. Mint’s rape can thus be interpreted as not only a form of gendered domination, but also as a means by which the state reasserts its dominance over all those who are perceived as a threat to the identity of the nation, reinforcing the inferiority and expendability of the outsider, be this dispossession determined by class, race, or sex. Indeed, the domination asserted in the act of physical penetration is a manifestation of the Foucauldian biopolitical authority upon which the modern state’s power to regulate its borders depends.[14]

Like Luke’s surveillance, Mint’s rape stages the interplay of power and the gaze. Bent over the hood of the police cruiser and surrounded by spectators – the assault takes place while Linh, their driver, and another policeman look on – Mint’s violation is as symbolic as it is physical. She is the subject of Foucault’s “compulsory visibility,” pacified through the act of sexual domination and by her very exposure. And while the source of the gaze fixed on Luke is never identified, a detail which underscores Foucault’s discussion of the diffusion of disciplinary tactics within modern social institutions, here it is made an explicit component of discipline. Moreover, the state’s visibility necessarily alters the nature of its disciplinary gesture. In fact, rather than determine subjectivity, the disciplinary tactic on display at this moment in the film is one meant to deny the individual’s subjectivity, reinforcing instead her alienation. But the visibility of the disciplinary apparatus also creates the conditions of resistance: Mint defiantly returns the gaze of the ogling policeman as she is being abused by his colleague, reversing in that moment the power relation inherent in their social positions, seizing the right of judgment, and forcing the man to avert his eyes.

It is clear in this brief exchange the extent to which Duigan means for his film to interrogate the ethical conceptions of right action and human good underpinning contemporary Australian society. Framed through the window screen, the police officer’s averted gaze is captured in a level, medium close-up shot, which aligns the viewer’s perspective with that of the immigrant prostitute. This momentary identification with the outsider creates the dissonance necessary to encourage the mainstream viewer to question, however briefly, the value system in which he or she is typically immersed. Not surprisingly, commenting on the difficulty of such an exercise is one of Linh’s academic tasks early in the film. Moreover, while Mint is in this moment the victim of sexualized aggression, Duigan’s film stops short of victimizing her, not only by emphasizing the audacity of her gaze, but also by subsequently suggesting that the event does not deter her from achieving her goals of assimilation.

To conclude, I would like to return briefly to The Tale of Kiều and to the potential significance of such an intertextual echo for contemporary Australian cinema and society. The universal appeal of The Tale of Kiều is largely due to the poem’s status as “a kind of continuing emotional laboratory in which all the great and timeless issues of personal morality and political obligation are tested and resolved (or left unresolved) for each new generation.”[15] Indeed, essential to the poem’s enduring success is the fact that it has allowed Vietnamese readers to foreground the infinite complexity inherent in such moral dilemmas within a wide range of historical, political, and cultural settings. Likewise, in its engagement with the ideal of Vietnamese filial piety in the immigrant context, Careless Love offers its own version of an “emotional laboratory,” one which encourages reflection at both the individual and the collective level. First, while Duigan’s portrayal of a Vietnamese-Australian call girl risks recycling familiar exoticized stereotypes of Asian sexuality, his attention to this community and its struggles also allows for the dialogue between Asians and Australians that Olivia Khoo notes is absent in most Australian cinema.[16] Khoo has argued that despite a political discourse of neighbourly relations with Asia, there is a pervasive tendency within Australian films to link the sacrificing of an Asian character with the affirmation of national identity.[17] Duigan’s film, on the other hand, studies the sacrifices of an Asian-Australian woman as she navigates her multiple cultural identities, and as such, can be read as evidence of a growing trend within the film industry to foreground the transnational dimensions of modern Australian society.

Second, the film pushes the viewer to weigh her moral ideals against any perceived obligations. Linh accepts her role as eldest child in the family and does what she believes is necessary to help protect her father from ruin. This sense of ethical responsibility leads her to ethical compromise, as it did for the feminine hero of nineteenth-century Vietnam, and as it has, in fact, for generations of Vietnamese women struggling to care for their families in times of war, famine, and political uncertainty. Some critics, however, have emphasized that despite her commitment to her filial obligations, Kiều returns from her misadventure only to be punished by a patriarchal system that cares more about her contamination than her sacrifice. Nathalie Nguyên, for example, insists that while Kiều accepts her prostitution as a necessary evil for the greater good of her family – a “submission to the force of circumstance” – she is later qualified as a threat to moral society and denied self-expression.[18] For Nguyên, who examines four mid-twentieth-century retellings of The Tale of Kiều by Franco-Vietnamese female authors, the Vietnamese woman is the ultimate victim of both circumstance and her society. Like the poem itself, each of its Francophone adaptations denies the Vietnamese woman her own moral compass, presenting her instead with a false choice between her obligations and her aspirations.

Duigan’s Linh, in contrast to Kiều, rejects this false choice at the end of the film. Linh answers her professor’s call but refuses to be victimized. Standing before the jury, she assumes her identity as both a prostitute and a child of immigrant parents, in other words, as a doubly marginalised member of Australian society. And then she speaks. She begins by restating the common belief that marriage between a man and a woman is the cornerstone of a moral society. Through this lens, she notes, prostitutes are seen not only as acting against nature, but also as subverting the values on which such moral societies stand. They are criminals, even in a country that does not criminalize prostitution, such as Australia. Her goal, she states calmly, is to understand the effect these values have on the way society treats prostitutes, and to develop her analysis, she informs her audience that she will be drawing on her own experiences. At this point, the film’s credits roll. One might wonder why Duigan chose to end the film before Linh is able to complete her analysis of prostitution and contemporary ethics were it not for the fact that the entire film is a study of this very question.

Linh takes her decision to sell her body not as a source of shame, but as a source of potential power. Bringing her familial obligations in line with her academic aspirations and attempting to reconcile her two worlds, Linh insists on the rational considerations motivating her actions and demands the self-expression that Kiều is arguably denied. Moreover, in stating her position, Linh articulates clear intellectual and emotional boundaries between intimacy and the sexual act, which at the level of the diegesis, has allowed her to preserve her integrity within the commercial transaction. Such a position also inevitably stakes a claim within recent debates about the status of the prostitute, gesturing toward an ethics of sexuality beyond the universal moralizing portrayal of the prostitute as social deviant or hapless victim. Finally, Linh draws on her own story to hold a mirror up to contemporary Australian society and to pass judgment on a modern state which should be caring for its subjects in times of duress, but as we have seen, is not. Ultimately, the success of Duigan’s film is not only that it asks us to critically examine the ways in which we treat our social outsiders, that is, those who come from elsewhere or whose behaviours transgress our ethical principles. The film also challenges the false choices – between integrity and responsibility, assimilation and preservation – that often subtend these principles.

[1] It would be interesting to know whether Duigan was familiar with The Tale of Kiều when developing the scenario for his film. In an interview posted on the AFI Blog on 10 May 2012, he says he was inspired to address the subject by a woman he knew in Melbourne who paid her way through university by working as an escort. He does not, however, discuss his decision to focus on a Vietnamese-Australian student in the film and thus to necessarily complicate the question of value systems and that of attitudes toward sex workers. See “Careless Love: An Interview with John Duigan,” accessed 29 April 2013, http://blogafi.org/2012/05/10/careless-love-an-interview-with-john-duigan/. Regardless of Duigan’s intent, the film will evoke some elements of Nguyễn Du’s masterpiece for any viewer familiar with it. For a contemporary cinematic adaptation of the poem, see Saigon Eclipse: The Curse of Beauty and Cost of Loyalty (Vietnam 2007) by the Franco-Vietnamese director, Othello Khanh.

[2] Though Foucault claimed to have never produced a “general theory” of power, he develops questions of the representation and function of power in much of his later work. See, in particular, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Knopf, 1977) and Society Must be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976, eds. Mauro Bertani and Allessandro Fontana, trans. David Macey (New York: Picador, 2003).

[3] For studies of Vietnamese immigration focused on the question of identity, see Karin Aguilar-San Juan, Little Saigons: Staying Vietnamese in America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009); Lê Huu Khoa, Les Vietnamiens en France: Insertion et identité (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1985); Mandy Thomas, Dreams in the Shadows: Vietnamese-Australian Lives in Transition (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1999).

[4] I am grateful to Tess Do for helping me think through this aspect of the narrative, and for her thoughts more generally on the allegorical uses of The Tale of Kiều.

[5] Mong Hanh Vu-Renaud, Réfugiés vietnamiens en France: Interaction et distinction de la culture confucéenne (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2002), 42.

[6] Thomas, Dreams in the Shadows, 43. Thomas also underscores the symbolic importance of the word nhà (“house”) in Vietnamese, noting the connection in Vietnamese lexicon between the nation and the intimate space of the family: nhà nước (“nation,” or literally, “house country”) and nhà tôi (“my family” or “my wife/husband”). She writes: “The family home is not simply viewed as a physical place where several generations dwell, but the actual house and land are viewed as being inseperable from that family, as being invested with the family’s history and its presence, as being the site of both ancestral bodies and the traces of the work of ancestors in old structures and plantings” (45). In the immigrant context, the sensual and symbolic “traces” cultivated within the new home provide important links both to the lost native country and to other diasporic communities.

[7] See, for example, Nga’s self-comparison to the mentally handicapped boy she cares for in Thomas, Dreams in the Shadows, 95. While the metaphorical illness of the “infected” body politic is a common theme in anti-immigrant discourses, equally prevalent in immigrant literatures are images of disability that point not only to the systematic underrepresentation of the immigrant in the public domain, but also to the physical and psychological suffering endured by these alienated individuals. For studies of disability in the Francophone immigrant context, see Madelaine Hron, “In the Maim of the Father: The Discourse of Disability in French-Magrebi Immigrant Texts,” Disability Studies Quarterly 25, 4 (2005), accessed 16 November 2012, http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/612/789; and Julie Nack Ngue, Critical Conditions: Reading Illness and Disability in Francophone African and Caribbean Women’s Writing (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2010).

[8] Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006).

[9] Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 187.

[10] Another contemporary media representation of Australia’s practices of immigration control can be found in the successful weekly reality television show aired on the Seven Network, Border Security: Australia’s Front Line. This show exemplifies the perpetuation of disciplinary power in the immigrant context through the surveillance and, when deemed necessary, expulsion of others from the country, regardless of their legal immigration status.

[11] Ann J. Cahill, “Foucault, Rape, and the Construction of the Feminine Body,” Hypatia 15, 1 (Winter 2000): 58.

[12] Cahill, 58. Drawing on Sandra Bartky’s analysis of Marianne Wex’s largely candid photographs of men and women in the street, Cahill argues that the threat of rape is a determining factor in the constitution and social behavior of the feminine body: “The men’s sex is expressed freely, almost defiantly, while the women cover theirs, for fear of its being stolen, violated, consumed. The women, conscious of the sexual dangers which surround them, attempt to make themselves even tinier, as if the sagest status they could hold would be invisibility” (55). See also Sandra Bartky, “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power,” in Feminism and Foucault: Reflections on Resistance, ed. Irene Diamond and Lee Quinby (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988): 67.

[13] Shannon Bell, Reading, Writing and Rewriting the Prostitute Body (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), 40.

[14] Duigan makes this connection between sexual violence and state power abundantly clear not only in his staging of the scene – Mint is bent over a police car during the act – but also in the decision to have Linh reading Foucault in the moments preceding the arrival of the police.

[15] Alexander Woodside, “The Historical Background,” The Tale of Kiều. trans. Hùynh Sanh Thông (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), xi.

[16] Olivia Khoo, “Telling Stories: The Sacrificial Asian in Australian Cinema,” Journal of Intercultural Studies, 27, 1-2 (2006), accessed 29 April 2013, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07256860600607587. By sacrifice, Khoo is referring to both the death of the Asian character in such films as Peter Weir’s The Year of Living Dangerously (Australia 1982) and the collapsing of Asian specificity within one uniform category.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Nathalie Huynh Chau Nguyen, Vietnamese Voices: Gender and Cultural Identity in the Vietnamese Francophone Novel (Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2003), 22-23.


Works Cited

Karin Aguilar-San Juan, Little Saigons: Staying Vietnamese in America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006.

Sandra Bartky, “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power.” In Feminism and Foucault: Reflections on Resistance, edited by Irene Diamond and Lee Quinby, 61-86. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988.

Shannon Bell, Reading, Writing and Rewriting the Prostitute Body. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Ann J. Cahill, “Foucault, Rape, and the Construction of the Feminine Body,” Hypatia 15, 1 (Winter 2000): 43-63.

John Duigan, “Careless Love: An Interview with John Duigan,” Interview with Rochelle Siemienowicz, AFI Blog (10 May 2012), accessed 29 April 2013, http://blogafi.org/2012/05/10/careless-love-an-interview-with-john-duigan/

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Knopf, 1977.

—. Society Must be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976. Edited by

Mauro Bertani and Allessandro Fontana, translated by David Macey. New York: Picador, 2003.

Madelaine Hron, “In the Maim of the Father: The Discourse of Disability in French-

Magrebi Immigrant Texts.” Disability Studies Quarterly 25, 4 (2005), accessed 16 November 2012, http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/612/789.

Olivia Khoo, “Telling Stories: The Sacrificial Asian in Australian Cinema,” Journal of

Intercultural Studies, 27, 1-2 (2006), accessed 29 April 2013, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07256860600607587.

Khoa Lê Huu, Les Vietnamiens en France: Insertion et identité. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1985.

Julie Nack Ngue, Critical Conditions: Reading Illness and Disability in Francophone

African and Caribbean Women’s Writing. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2010.

Nathalie Huynh Cha Nguyên, Vietnamese Voices: Gender and Cultural Identity in the Vietnamese Francophone Novel. Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2003.

Mandy Thomas, Dreams in the Shadows: Vietnamese-Australian Lives in Transition. 

Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1999.

Mong Hanh Vu-Renaud, Réfugiés vietnamiens en France: Interaction et distinction de la culture confucéenne. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2002. Alexander Woodside, “The Historical Background” to The Tale of Kiều, by Nguyễn Du, translated by Hùnynh Sanh Thông, xi-xvii. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983.

About the Author

Leslie Barnes

About the Author

Leslie Barnes

Leslie Barnes is Lecturer in the School of Language Studies at Australian National University. She specializes in 20th- and 21st-century French and francophone literature and film, with particular emphasis on Southeast Asia. She has published her work in French Forum and Journal of Vietnamese Studies, and is currently preparing a manuscript on Vietnam and the colonial condition of French literature.View all posts by Leslie Barnes →