Performing Enjoyment

I was thinking about intertextuality from the first page, which called Invisible Man to my mind as soon as I read it, even before I went back and saw the dedication. That told me that the author wants the reader to keep an eye on those relationships within the text. As a subset of intertextuality, the references the narrator makes to various books, musicians, and other elements of American culture, particularly in the first chapter, seem to point to a connection between intertextuality and identity. The assumption that people make and that the narrator proves wrong is that the narrator’s ability to talk about the Rolling Stones, a performed type of enjoyment, and his admitted genuine personal enjoyment of The Temptations and other American music, translates to an American-sympathizing outlook. In a sense, the performed enjoyment is something the reader already expects to not mean what it appears, but it is harder for the reader to accept that genuine enjoyment also does not translate to an alliance with the system and country that produced the media. It does, however, “blur… the lines between us and them…” The narrator also begins to speak about performativity of enjoyment (regarding prostitutes) right after he mentions his tendency to sympathize. “Performers perform at least partially to forget their sadness,” he says. Real emotions while playing a role might appear to be an oxymoron but this suggests that there is another blurring between the real and the fake.


  1. I think the connection you make between intertextuality and identity is really interesting — and what it says about how we understand fictional characters as real people, and evaluate them on their likes and dislikes. As you said, it was hard for me to accept that the narrator’s seemingly real enjoyment of some aspects American culture didn’t translate to a sympathetic view of America as a whole, but the narrator also talks fondly about Vietnamese music (at the bar with Bon in Vietnam) and food (about the pho at Madame’s restaurant) throughout the novel. The narrator felt very real to me in these moments, as someone who lived in Vietnam for most of his life and misses his home, regardless of his status as a “performer.” I would say that it is less a blurring of the lines between real and fake, but rather our understanding of the narrator as a real person, with his own preferences and tendencies.

  2. I also found it really interesting how many references the narrator makes to American culture because it is like he is trying to convince the reader of a false identity that he is able to wear. I think the narrator says at some point that the General finds him really useful because he knows so much about American culture, which begs me to ask the question, how much does the narrator really like these things and how much is it a tool he can use as a spy? I think the answer is a bit of both: he makes sure he studies up on American culture as part of his “job”, but also he actually does enjoy Western music, sports, etc. I really liked your phrasing “real emotions while playing a role.” I think that is really quite accurate to the narrator’s situation. If you come to know a culture close enough, you’re going to find some aspects that you really like, especially for someone so sympathetic as the narrator.

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