Trinh T. Minh-ha (born 1952 in Hanoi; Vietnamese: Trịnh Thị Minh Hà) is a Vietnamese filmmaker, writer, literary theorist, composer, and professor. She has been making films for over thirty years and may be best known for her films Reassemblage, made in 1982, and Surname Viet Given Name Nam, made in 1985. She has received several awards and grants, including the American Film Institute's National Independent Filmmaker Maya Deren Award, and Fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council. Her films have been the subject of twenty retrospectives.

Trinh T. Minh-ha in 2014

Quotes edit

Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism (1989) edit

Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism. Indiana University Press. 1989. ISBN 978-0-253-36603-0. 
  • Never does one open the discussion by coming right to the heart of the matter. For the heart of the matter is always somewhere else than where it is supposed to be.
    • p. 1
  • Time and space are not something entirely exterior to oneself, something that one has, keeps, saves, wastes, or loses.
    • p. 1
  • The story circulates like a gift; an empty gift which anybody can lay claim to by filling it to taste, yet can never truly possess. A gift built on multiplicity. One that stays inexhaustible within its own limits. Its departures and arrivals. Its quietness.
    • p. 2
  • As our elder Lao Tzu used to say, knowing ignorance is strength, ignoring knowledge is sickness; if one is sick of sickness, then one is no longer sick. For a variation, I would say knowledge for knowledge’s sake is sickness. Let her who is sick with sickness pass on the story, a gift unasked for like a huge bag of moonlight. Now stars shine white on a black on a colored sky.
    • p. 2
  • A story is not just a story. Once the forces have been aroused and set into motion, they can’t simply be stopped at someone’s request. Once told, the story is bound to circulate; humanized, it may have a temporary end, but its effects linger on and its end is never truly an end.
    • p. 133

Chapter One edit

  • Substantial creative achievement demands not necessarily genius, but acumen, bent, persistence, time.
    • p. 7
  • S/he who writes, writes. In uncertainty, in necessity. And does not ask whether s/he is given the permission to do so or not. Yet, in the context of today’s market-dependent societies, “to be a writer” can no longer mean purely to perform the act of writing. For a laywo/man to enter the priesthood—the sacred world of writers—s/he must fulfill a number of unwritten conditions. S/he must undergo a series of rituals, be baptized and ordained. S/he must submit her writings to the law laid down by the corporation of literary/literacy victims and be prepared to accept their verdict. Every woman who writes and wishes to become established as a writer has known the taste of rejection.
    • p. 8
  • To capture a publisher’s attention, to convince, to negotiate: these constitute one step forward into the world of writers, one distress, one guilt. One guilt among the many yet to come, all of which bide their time to loom up out of their hiding places, for the path is long and there is an ambush at every turn. Writing: not letting it merely haunt you and die over and over again in you until you no longer know how to speak. Getting published: not loathing yourself, not burning it, not giving up.
    • p. 9
  • Good writing is thus differentiated from bad writing through a building up of skill and vocabulary and a perfecting of techniques. Since genius cannot be acquired, sophisticated means, skills, and knowledge are dangled before one’s eyes as the steps to take, the ladder to climb if one wishes to come any closer to the top of this monument known as Literature. Invoke the Name. Follow the norms. Of. The Well Written. The master-servant’s creed carries on: you must learn through patience and discipline. And what counts most is what it costs in labor to engender a work, hence the parallel often abusively drawn between the act of writing and the birth process.
    • p. 17
  • To write is to become. Not to become a writer (or a poet), but to become, intransitively. Not when writing adopts established keynotes or policy, but when it traces for itself lines of evasion.
    • p. 18
  • It is said that the writer’s choice is always a two-way choice. Whether one assumes it clear-sightedly or not, by writing one situates oneself vis-à-vis both society and the nature of literature, that is to say, the tools of creation. The way I encounter or incorporate the former, in other words, is the way I confront merge into the latter, for these are the two inseparable faces of a single entity. Neither entirely personal nor purely historical, a mode of writing is in itself a function. An act of historical solidarity, it denotes, in addition to the writer’s personal standpoint and intention, a relationship between creation and society. Dealing exclusively with either one of these two aspects, therefore, proves vain as an approach. So does the preaching of revolution through a writing more concerned with imposing than raising consciousness regarding the process by which language works or regarding the nature, activity, and status of writing itself. No radical change can occur as long as writing is not recognized, precisely, as “the choice of that social area within which the writer elects to situate the Nature of her/his language.”
    • p. 20
  • Writing as a system by itself has its own rules and structuring process. The abc lesson says that for letters to become words and for words to take on meanings, they must relate to other letters, to other words, to the context in which they evolve—be it verbal or nonverbal—as well as to other present and absent contexts. (Words are think-tanks loaded with second- and third-order memories that die hard despite their ever-changing meanings.) Thus, writing constantly refers to writing, and no writing can ever claim to be “free” of other writings.
    • p. 21
  • When asked why they write, writers usually answer that they do so to create a world of their own, make order out of chaos, heighten their awareness of life, transcend their existences, discover themselves, communicate their feelings, or speak to others. Some add that they write as they breathe, as they stay alive, or as “birds sing,” to unfold “the comings and goings of a desire” and “exhaust a task that bears in itself its own bliss.” At times Writing is considered as a substitute for something lying beyond it, at other times as a necessity and an activity in its own right, devoid of any ulterior motive or any finality.
    • p. 21
  • Writing necessarily refers to writing. The image is that of a mirror capturing only the reflections of other mirrors. [...] Yet how difficult it is to keep our mirrors clean. We all tend to cloud and soil them as soon as the older smudges are wiped off, for we love to use them as instruments to behold ourselves, maintaining thereby a narcissistic relation of me to me, still me and always me. Rare are the moments when we accept leaving our mirrors empty, even though we may laugh watching our neighbors pining away for their own images. The very error that deceives our eyes inflames them; still, we persist in trying to fix a fleeting image and spend our lifetime searching after that which does not exist. This object we love so, let us just turn away and it will immediately disappear. In the dual relation of subject to subject or subject to object, the mirror is the symbol of an unaltered vision of things. It reveals to me my double, my ghost, my perfections as well as my flaws. Considered an instrument of self-knowledge, one in which I have total faith, it also bears a magical character that has always transcended its functional nature. In this encounter of I with I, the power of identification is often such that reality and appearance merge while the tool itself becomes invisible.
    • p. 22
  • Writing reflects. It reflects on other writings and, whenever awareness emerges, on itself as writing. Like the Japanese boxes that contain other boxes, nest one inside the other ad nihilum, writing is meshing one’s writing with the machinery of endless reflexivity. Footprints of emptiness multiplied to infinity in an attempt at disarming death.
    • p. 23
  • No situation proves too small or too insignificant for a writer, since there is truly no narrow experience, only narrow representation.
    • p. 29
  • Writing, for the majority of us who call ourselves writers, still consists of “expressing” the exalted emotions related to the act of creating and either appropriating language to ourselves or ascribing it to a subject who is more or less a reflection of ourselves.
    • p. 29
  • The task of criticism is to bring to light the enigmatic content of a work by reestablishing the ties between it and its author or reconstituting the latter’s thought and experience through her/ his works.
    • p. 30
  • Writing, in a way, is listening to the others’ language and reading with the others’ eyes. The more ears I am able to hear with, the farther I see the plurality of meaning and the less I lend myself to the illusion of a single message.
    • p. 30
  • Writing, like a game that defies its own rules, is an ongoing practice that may be said to be concerned, not with inserting a “me” into language, but with creating an opening where the “me” disappears while “I” endlessly come and go, as the nature of language requires. To confer an Author on a text is to close the writing. Eureka! It makes sense! This is it! I hold the key to the puzzle! Fear and seek. Fear and seek. The danger we fear most is forgetting to fear. Seek and lose. Lose, freely. When you are silent, it speaks; when you speak, it is silent. Writing is born when the writer is no longer.
    • p. 35
  • We create the dualism, not realizing that death, like life, is a process. The moment I am born, I enter the realm of death. Life and death are together one process, and we are dying every moment.
    • p. 35
  • Writing as an inconsequential process of sameness/otherness is ceaselessly re-breaking and re-weaving patterns of ready-mades. The written bears the written to infinity.
    • p. 36
  • Knowledge leads no more to openings than to closures. The idealized quest for knowledge and power makes it often difficult to admit that enlightenment (as exemplified by the West) often brings about endarkenment. More light, less darkness. More darkness, less light. It is a question of degrees, and these are two degrees of one phenomenon. By attempting to exclude one (darkness) for the sake of the other (light), the modernist project of building universal knowledge has indulged itself in such self-gratifying oppositions as civilization/primitivism, progress/backwardness, evolution/stagnation. With the decline of the colonial idea of advancement in rationality and liberty, what becomes more obvious is the necessity to reactivate that very part of the modernist project at its nascent stage: the radical calling into question, in every undertaking, of everything that one tends to take for granted—which is a (pre- and post-modernist) stage that should remain constant. No Authority no Order can be safe from criticism. Between knowledge and power, there is room for knowledge-without-power.
    • p. 40
  • Theory no longer is theoretical when it loses sight of its own conditional nature, takes no risk in speculation, and circulates as a form of administrative inquisition. Theory oppresses, when it wills or perpetuates existing power relations, when it presents itself as a means to exert authority—the Voice of Knowledge.
    • p. 42

Chapter Two edit

  • The story of man’s infatuation with his language is an unending one. In a remote village of Africa, a wise Dogon man used to say “to be naked is to be speechless.” Power, as unveiled by numerous contemporary writings, has always inscribed itself in language. Speaking, writing, and discoursing are not mere acts of communication; they are above all acts of compulsion.
    • p. 49
  • Language is one of the most complex forms of subjugation, being at the same time the locus of power and unconscious servility. With each sign that gives language its shape lies a stereotype of which I/i am both the manipulator and the manipulated.
    • p. 52
  • Knowledge belongs to the one who succeeds in mastering a language.
    • p. 56
  • Language also reveals its power through an insignificant slip of the pen, for no matter how one tries to subject it to control and reduce it to “pure” instrumentality, it always succeeds in giving an inkling of its irreducible governing status.
    • p. 58
  • The vanity of Metaphysics has the merit of marking time: it leads one straight back to the positivist dream of pure truth and pure presence. Naked, but not naked enough, I would say. The language of Buddhism sometimes speaks of the eighty-four thousand entrances to reality, and thinking reality versus non-reality may also lead to one of them as long as this chatter of the soul doesn’t take the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself. He who represents his own discourse on myths as a myth is acutely aware of the illusion of all reference to a subject as absolute center. The packaging of myths must somehow bear the form of that which it attempts to enclose, if it wishes to come closest to its object. One cannot seize without smothering, for the will to freeze (capture) brings about a frozen (emptied) object.
    • p. 61
  • Anonymous myths give birth to other anonymous myths, multiplying and ramifying themselves without the fear of one being absorbed by the other, and beyond any myth teller’s control. Like leaves of grass, they grow and die following the rhythm of impermanent-permanent nature.
    • p. 61
  • Myths circulate like gifts without givers, and no myth teller (cares to) knows where they come from or who invented them.
    • p. 61
  • Questions are always loaded with the questioner’s prejudices.
    • p. 62
  • Trying to find the other by defining otherness or by explaining the other through laws and generalities is, as Zen says, like beating the moon with a pole or scratching an itching foot from the outside of a shoe.
  • p. 75
  • Words empty out with age. Die and rise again, accordingly invested with new meanings, and always equipped with a secondhand memory.
  • p. 79

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