In Camera Obscura 28:1 (82) (May 2013): 69-101.
(Photo by Hoai Nam/Ao Trang, 2008)
A unique aesthetic and artifact for what might loosely be dubbed “Vietnamese America,” the Ao Trang (White Dress) calendar draws from a reservoir of images and feelings of the so-called traditional Vietnamese dress — and specifically, its most iconic form as the uniform of the schoolgirl — for the collocation of chronological and nonchronological times with the heterogeneous spaces of diaspora. But the diasporic archive that is this calendar also illumines for us certain media for ensuring a beloved body's continued presence, the photograph and also the calendar being formal contracts to repeat and return to the object of desire. In arguing that the ao dai (long dress) photograph as a copy-image of a lost or disappearing referent is central to a contemporary diasporic erotic — a feeling-state of disrupted history rendered (and recovered) in mythical terms through love and desire — this essay cannot consider the photograph in isolation from others like it, because the calendar serializes and is itself a serial and because the photograph is a copy-image of a beloved object that itself becomes beloved. It is the copy rather than the original that must stay behind, that brings presence into being in the present. That is, the Ao Trang calendar is an archive of citations that builds toward an idea of a diasporic history — disrupted, but also continuous — as an accumulation of copies that serve as evidence for an object of desire's inimitable reproducibility, promising both a past and a future imbued with fantasies of love and being loved in return.