Trinh Minh-ha

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Trinh Minh-ha


Minh-ha, Trinh. “Commitment from the Mirror-Writing Box.” Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989. 7-28


"Since genius cannot be acquired, sophisticated means, skills, and knowledge are dangled before one's eyes as the steps to take, the ladder to climb if one wishes to come any closer to the top of this monument known as Literature," (17).

In her complex yet beautifully written essay, Trinh Minh-ha offers up a critique to postcolonial writing and also a window to the life of colored female writers living in the Third World. Her essay refers to the work of many writers, most of them being female and colored, and she gives her thoughts on passages from those writers.

Postcolonial Writing

“Being able to read and write, a learned woman robs man of his creativity, his activity, his culture, his language. Leaning ‘unfeminizes,’” (19).

In her critique of postcolonial writing, Trinh Minh-ha uses mirrors as a metaphor for writing whereupon it only captures reflections. Postcolonial writers have to think radically different and, in a sense, have to reestablish a new way of writing. Writers, especially those in the Third World, use hybridity in literature as a way to alter the authority of power. However, this can be difficult since literature, as an institution, was founded by white males and every piece of writing “reflects” previous work. As Minh-ha points out beautifully, “A man’s sentence is bound to be unsuited for a woman’s use; and no matter how splendid her gift for prose proves to be, she will stumble and fall with such a ‘clumsy weapon in her hands,’” (20). It is all the more difficult for female writers who are colored. How can she write well and be seen and praised for who she is? If her writing is still just a “reflection”, then she can’t and in this sense, literature is seen as a tool of power. Literature gives power to white males without them having to be present to exert its power because a female “who writes well ‘writes like a man’ and ‘thinks like a man’; that used to be the highest praise a male reader could bestow upon a woman writer…” and it’s the same even now as Minh-ha states, “The good-equals-male type of judgment is hard to kill even though it is avoided like the plague today for its obsolescence,” (27). In the context of mirrors, we often find ourselves stuck in front of a mirror. Admiring the perfections and criticizing the flaws of the image in front of us only realizing later that it is only a reflection. Instead of wasting time trying to fix it, we need only to step away to see that it was but a fleeting image on a blank canvas. Put back into the context of writing, that’s what female postcolonial writers have to do - step away from the norm because “to write well, we must either espouse his cause or transcend our borderlines. We must forget ourselves,” (28).

Gender and Race

"...the situation of women does not favor literary productivity is to imply that it is almost impossible for them... to engage in writing as an occupation without their letting themselves be consumed by a deep and pervasive sense of guilt. Guilt over the selfishness implied in such activity, over themselves as housewives and 'women,' over their families, their friends..." (7).

Minh-ha's work points out race and gender issues by showing the struggles that a female writer has to go through and how it's multiplied when that writer is a woman of color. As Minh-ha wrote, "Being merely 'a writer' without doubt ensures one a status of far greater weight than being 'a woman of color who writes' ever does," (6). In a society where the male was seen as the dominant figure and where literature was seen as a "man's field", there is very little ground to stand on for female writers, let alone writers who were both female and colored. When a colored female writer exposes her work, it is, more often than not, met with criticisms that "either ignore, dispense with, or overemphasize her racial and sexual attributes," (6). It is clear that a non-white, Third World, female writer is criticized by the white race but she is also stigmatized by her own race. After centuries of the Victorian ideology of "separate spheres", many have questioned it but there are also many that still cling to it; namely members of the Third World. Seen by the illiterate and the ignorant as social parasites, Third World writers feel guilt at partaking in a "useless" activity while most of the community "stoop over the tomato fields, bending under the hot sun," (10). It's considered "useless" because writers in the Third World and their families can't subsist on words alone. Writers are called parasites to the community because they're outside of the norm where women were subjected to back-breaking labor.


Trinh Minh-ha’s essay helps address the struggles of postcolonial writers and when paired with the novel No Telephone to Heaven, it really brings forth the gender and race issues that colored female writers, colored females or just females in general have to go through. Although modern society may try to say that gender issues are gone, a closer look reveals that the male-is-good norm is still represented through institutions. Minh-ha sets her essay up almost as a dialogue, responding to other writers and using their thoughts to propel her own. Her essay utilizes metaphors and although it makes for an interesting piece, it can be complicated at times. Nevertheless, it is beautifully written. She gives insight into the lives of colored female writers and the struggles they have to go through and, in a way, tries to say that writing and literature is not as easy as some of you may think it seems, especially not for women.