“Air-Conditioned Socialism” examines the transformative atmospheres of modernity in Vietnam, from the days of revolutionary struggle to the rise of market socialism. This transformation is most starkly visible during the Second Indochina War, or the Vietnam War, when America’s chemical and artillery bombings attempted to kill not the enemy’s body, but to make the environment lethal—what Peter Sloterdijk has called atmoterrorism. This talk extends the concept of atmoterrorism as modernity’s technological design and its all-encompassing violence that manipulate the biological habitus of atmosphere, demonstrating that the violence of atmoterrorism is contiguous with the private atmospheres of contemporary globalization. To do so, I analyze Lê Minh Khuê’s fictional works. In her short stories, written between 1969 and 2012, the Vietnamese author examines the engineered atmosphere of war, nationalism, and market socialism to critique nationalistic violence and the state’s integration into the global economy. Her atmospheric assessments of the revolution’s aftermath are less regretful glances at the past, than a complex view of both the contingencies and tragedies of anti-imperial nationalism and war. The elaboration here of modernity’s atmospheres traces Vietnam’s contemporary globalization back to the violence of the Cold War—an aspect of Southeast and East Asian modernities often neglected in recent articulations of “alternative” or “other” modernities.
Ben Tran is an Assistant Professor of Asian Studies and English at Vanderbilt University. His research and teaching focus on modern Vietnamese literature and culture, twentieth-century Southeast Asian literature, postcolonial studies, colonial modernity, and translation studies.
Organized by Southeast Asian Approaches