From hungry ghost to phallic mother: Linda Lê's doubling of the Vietnamese ancestor in French exile

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The mother figure in the work of Linda Lê, an exiled Vietnamese writer of French expression, is either absent or maleficent (Bacholle-Boskovic). In her novel, Les trois Parques (1997) [The Three Fates], compensatory grandmothering takes a spectral form for three Vietnamese refugees in contemporary France. Their spectral forebear is first represented as a hungry ghost of the Chinese Buddhist tradition, that is to say, a departed soul lacking
descendants willing to provide for her spirit. As an outsider the ghost thus stands as a metaphor for the familial abandonment of the subaltern exile. The contrapuntal vision of the refugee, who looks at the present through the lens of the past (Saïd), in turn incurs a ghostly doubling. I demonstrate that Lê can be seen to add a second, Western aspect to her spectre in the shape of a Freudian phallic (grand)mother, an inherently ambivalent maternal/paternal figure (Ian Brooks). In the context of colonial
mimicry, her guise as a mère-patrie [mother-fatherland] is shown to destabilise the authority of the European Other in the lives of her French-Vietnamese progeny (Bhabha). The potency of the ghost’s real-world presence is most evident in her provocation of
ambivalent feelings in practices of identity in her primary culture, such as cooking and eating. For this reason, and owing to her propensity to act as a vessel for split selves, I argue that Lê’s
spectral double-figure is representative of the disturbing ambivalence endured by the subaltern who faces having to manage a double sense of belonging in exile.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-78
Number of pages13
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Linda Lê
  • Vietnamese-Francophone writing
  • phallic mother
  • hungry ghost
  • ambivalence


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