Emotional geographies and geographies of emotion are concerned with spaces constituted by material places. There is a distinction between emotion and affect whereby emotion connotes personal responses and affect refers an objectified approach (Probyn, 2004; Anderson, 2009), however my aim here is not to provide an analysis of the distinctions between the two terms, rather I embrace their ambiguity.
Feelings about place matter and places have atmospheres. Places can be familiar or other. Feelings influence relationship to place and the meanings and narratives that may be ascribed to experiences of places. They affect our sense of the past; present and future in particular places. At the start of the introduction to Topophilia, Tuan (1974/1990) asks, “What are our views on the physical environment, natural and man‑made? How do we perceive, structure and evaluate it?” (1) He defines topophilia as the affective relation that exists between people and place. The symbolic importance of places can derive from their emotional associations and the feelings they inspire such as love or disgust.
According to Plutchik’s psychoevolutionary theory of emotion (1980), disgust is one of the eight primary emotions. Usually it is characterised by a disproportionate fear of bodily secretions and waste products. It is also associated with fear of the other that is alien and separate from us however we happen to define ourselves. The basic opposite of disgust is trust. Love, on the other hand, is classified as an advanced emotion and is composed of joy plus trust. Each of these emotions is also a spatialising practice. Disgust creates boundaries and zones of exclusion. Love blurs boundaries extending zones of inclusion. Each emotion has a substantial role in shaping public imaginaries and perceptions of places.
Material spaces have emotional charges that draw on both the past and the present that can structure the experiential. Relationships to places are coloured by memories and projections of memories. Places with a history of occupation by colonial or invading forces may contain patinas that stimulate emotions of love and/or disgust. Places that were the sites of significant cultural or historical events will have symbolic qualities, which affect their meanings and processes.
The built environment in Vietnam is in constant transition since the economic reforms in 1986 known as Doi Moi, which aimed to shift the economy from socialism and central planning to one that is market driven in Vietnam. The past remains inscribed to create urban palimpsests where its traumatic history leaves emotional charges. Cultural memory, an integral part of national identity is contested and adjusted to reflect new aspirations. There are tensions between generations, between the colonial past and the present, and between memories and postmemories of the American War in Vietnam. Acts of remembering are framed by desires; identities and national mythologies and these in turn give rise to different way in which places are conceived in both public and private. These underlying preconceptions are often unconscious; indeed they often can appear to be self-evident common sense. However, there are tensions with both material and affective dimensions between how public and private spaces are conceptualised, as well as collective and individual memories of those places and spaces. Each of these tensions is played out in the public places and non-places in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
The turbulence of the 20th century from French colonialism, through to the American War, its aftermath and Doi Moi was and continues to be framed by different competing and contested discourses inside and outside of Vietnam. For many of the young in Vietnam the turbulent history of the 20th Century through French Colonialism, the American War and its aftermath are events in a distant and epic past which has little bearing on the here and now. For the old these events occurred during their lifetimes and continue to frame the here and now. In Australia and USA collective memories of Vietnam include the American War and the flood of refugees after the Fall of Saigon in 1975 and their stories of survival in tiny boats. Vietnam is at one and the same time “a war-ravaged landscape and a symbol of American failure” (Stuteman, 2006, 37) as well as a symbol of a heroic nation that freed itself from colonialism and imperialism. Memories, in turn, are framed by emotions. In this article, I will draw substantially on Plutchik’s psychoevolotionary conceptualisation of human emotion as a means to showing connections between place, memory and emotion.
In 1986 Vietnam instituted Doi Moi, which comprised a set of economic reforms to allow private enterprise within a socialist state. This in turn led to a relaxation of visas to encourage tourism in 1989. Vietnam has become a desirable destination for Western travellers looking for an encounter with the exotic other. Such encounters often have strong emotional charges including love, trust and disgust.
In 2011, Vietnam is a robust participant in the world economy. Memory narratives about Vietnam participate in a field, which has been expanded and altered by the forces of globalisation and developments in internet technologies. Free wifi networks are ubiquitous in urban environments in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City providing almost instant access to information and images as well as the ability to upload and share these through social media. Mass media and the internet “contribute liberally to the vertiginous swirl of memory discourses that circulate locally and globally” (Huyssen, 95). The expanded field thus created means that artistic expressions and acts of remembering may readily cross borders of time and place. On the internet images of Bui Xuan Phai’s Hanoi may sit side by side American War photographs and contemporary video art by Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba exploring the Vietnamese diasporas. Artistic expressions that provide a commentary on places and change are framed by emotions including love, trust and disgust.