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Colony, Nation, and Globalisation

Not at Home in Singaporean and Malaysian Literature

Eddie Tay

Publication Year: 2010

The literature of Malaysia and Singapore, the multicultural epicenter of Asia, offers a rich body of source material for appreciating the intellectual heritage of colonial and postcolonial Southeast Asia. Focusing on themes of home and belong, Eddie Tay illuminates many aspects of identity anxiety experienced in the region, and helps construct a dialogue between postcolonial theory and the Anglophone literatures of Singapore and Malaysia. A chronologically ordered selection of texts is examined, including Swettenham, Bird, Maugham, Burgess, and Thumboo. The genealogy of works includes travel writings and sketches as well as contemporary diasporic novels by Malaysian and Singapore-born authors based outside their countries of origin. The premise is that home is a physical space as well as a symbolic terrain invested with social, political and cultural meanings. As discussions of politics and history argument close readings of literary works, the book should appeal not only to scholars of literature, but also to scholars of Southeast Asian politics and history.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This book evolved from a Ph.D. dissertation written at the University of Hong Kong. I would like to thank my thesis supervisor, Elaine Ho, for her guidance. I owe her an intellectual debt. ...

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pp. 1-12

This book is about the condition of anxiety. It explores literary works that articulate a pervasive uneasiness that attends to the notion of home. It concerns the condition of being deracinated, deculturalised, and displaced, of being neither here nor there—not at home where one should be. We are interested in the realisation that identity markers and cultural signs are perpetually under contestation even within a ...

I - Colony: British Malaya

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1 - Amok and Arrogation: Frank Swettenham’s ‘Real Malay’

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pp. 15-29

In Charting the Shape of Early Modern Southeast Asia, Anthony Reid draws attention to the efficacy of the term “early modern” as opposed to “such older terms as Renaissance, Reformation, or Age of Discovery” (6). He makes the point that “it has the advantage of being less culture-bound to a European schema, less laden with triumphalist values” (6). In doing so, he urges us to recognise that the work of ...

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2 - Discourses of Difference: Isabella Bird, Emily Innes, and Florence Caddy

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pp. 31-43

Isabella Bird’s The Golden Chersonese and the Way Thither (1883), Emily Innes’ The Chersonese with the Gilding Off (1885), and Florence Caddy’s To Siam and Malaya in the Duke of Sutherland’s Yacht ‘Sans Peur’ (1889) are narratives by three very different women who were in Malaya under varied circumstances. By the time Bird embarked on her five-week visit to Malaya in 1879, she was already the renowned author of The Englishwoman in America (1856) and ...

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3 - The Exhaustion of Colonial Romance: W. Somerset Maugham and Anthony Burgess

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pp. 45-60

In the works of Swettenham, Bird, Innes, and Caddy, there is no doubt as to the hierarchical positioning of administrators and natives, coloniser and colonised, England and its Others. If their writings narrate Malaya as domestic space within the imperial nation, the works of W. Somerset Maugham and Anthony Burgess undermine the homeliness of their representation. Maugham and Burgess, unlike Swettenham and the women travel writers, portray the exhaustion of colonial ...

II - Nations: Malaya, Singapore, and Malaysia

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4 - ‘There is no way out but through’: Lee Kok Liang and the Malayan Nation

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pp. 63-75

As we have seen in the previous chapter, in the work of W. Somerset Maugham and Anthony Burgess, Malaya has become a site that is politically and culturally uninhabitable to its colonial masters. Now we shall explore the other side of the colonial picture—that is, from the perspective of a colonised subject who had spent time in London, the imperial centre. In Lee Kok Liang’s novel entitled London Does Not Belong to Me, London is a place of temporary abode: He has gone there from ...

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5 - Nationalism and Literature: Two Poems Concerning the Merlion and Karim Raslan’s “Heroes”

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pp. 77-92

The literary history of Singapore and Malaysia is a history of the discursive formation of the nation. One sees its early incarnations in the Malaya of the 1950s and 1960s, in the form of poetic experiments with Engmalchin (a linguistic combination of English, Malay, and Chinese). Anne Brewster examined these in Towards a Semiotic of Postcolonial Discourse. Engmalchin was a literary project that came out of an emergent Malayan nationhood—the same nationhood that animates Lee Kok Liang’s ...

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6 - Irresponsibility and Commitment: Philip Jeyaretnam’s Abraham’s Promise and Gopal Baratham’s A Candle or the Sun

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pp. 93-106

We can call the state-sponsored discourse evident in Singapore since 1965 one of responsibility. This discourse has been legitimised by the argument some made that Singapore was too small to defend itself, prosper, or govern itself as an independent nation. Even now, as the People’s Action Party remains in power, we find the overriding concern to be as it was initially defined: to create a society capable of meeting the demands of capitalism. To take any responsibility for national survival ...

III - Globalisation: Home is Elsewhere

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7 - The Post-Diasporic Imagination: The Novels of K. S. Maniam

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pp. 109-119

While the more politically engaged novels of Singapore narrate “not-at-home” as a condition within the Singaporean state, Malaysian Anglophone writers are not at home by virtue of their choice of language: It has been policy since the late 1950s that non-Malay writers who do not write in Bahasa Malaysia, the official national language, are excluded from the body of texts known as “National Literature” and are grouped under the term “Sectional Literatures” (Fernando 138). From the outset, ...

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8 - Two Singaporeans in America: Hwee Hwee Tan’s 'Mammon Inc.' and Simon Tay’s 'Alien Asian'

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pp. 121-132

The post-diasporic condition as exemplified in K. S. Maniam’s novels is a function of the cultural dislocation brought about by Malaysia’s ethnic nationalism. Now we shall examine another form of dislocation, that which is brought about by globalisation. Given that globalisation is ushering in a passage in history characterised by rapid flows of capital, commodities, and labour, how is the sense of home and belonging to be understood? Can one truly be at home anywhere in the ...

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9 - Writing Back Home:Tash Aw’s 'The Harmony Silk Factory', Vyvyane Loh’s ' Breaking the Tongue', and Lau Siew Mei’s 'Playing Madame Mao'

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pp. 133-150

In the past decade, an emerging body of Anglophone literary work about Malaya and modern Singapore and Malaysia has appeared under the conditions of expatriation, emigration, and diaspora. These novels include Hwee Hwee Tan’s, one of which we have examined in the previous chapter, Shirley Lim’s Joss and Gold (2001) and Sister Swing (2006), and Hsu-ming Teo’s Love and Vertigo (2000) and Behind the Moon (2005). ...

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pp. 151-152

We have traced through a range of Anglophone literary texts of Malaya and those of post-independence Singapore and Malaysia a history of anxiety that attends the condition of being not-at-home. One finds in colonialist writings and in literatures written after colonialism a situation in which cultural signs are continuously formulated, investigated, and reformulated. In all of these works, identities are ...

Works Cited

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pp. 153-161


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pp. 163-165

E-ISBN-13: 9789888053506
Print-ISBN-13: 9789888028733

Page Count: 176
Illustrations: No
Publication Year: 2010