"Indochine" is an elaborate fiction, a modern phantasmatic assemblage
invented during the heyday of French colonial hegemony in Southeast
Asia. It is a myth that has never existed and yet endures in our collective
imaginary. As a discursive construction that supported financial and po-
litical ambitions, and as a particularly fecund lieu de memoire (site of mem-
ory) heaVily charged with symbolic significance, Indochina continues
today to arouse powerful desires. Its luminous aura sustains memories of
erotic fantasies and perpetuates exotic adventures of a bygone era, while
appealing to the French nostalgia for grandeur. It is my contention that
Indochina is a concept at the intersection of myth and phantasm, an
imaginary structure and an idea that can be located, in Catherine Cle-
ment's words, "in the register of the phantasm, of the imaginary mise-en-
scene, indeed of the dream"
Indochina also has the power to re-
articulate and transfigure the image of history.
Such a bold claim and one that goes against current trends in histori-
cal analysis may baffle, even generate sharp criticism, especially from
those expecting yet another diachronic history of the region. Critics will
undoubtedly challenge and dispute the notion of "Indochina as fiction"
on both conceptual and methodological grounds. Historians, for in-
stance, skeptical of work in cultural analysis that draws on postcolonial
theories and intertextual readings informed by poststructuralism, regard
such speculative pronouncements as far too disengaged from material
reality to be of any significant value. They can point to a large corpus of
historical material gleaned from archives as proof of the existence of
Indochina. Cartographic surveys and maps, ethnographic accounts, geo-
logical studies, journalistic reports, travel accounts, private letters, offi-
cial reports, tourist guides, iconographic representations, personal mem-
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