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  • Introduction:Articulating Southeast Asia and the Antipodes
  • Weihsin Gui (bio) and Cheryl Narumi Naruse (bio)

In Merlinda Bobis's poem "word gifts for an australian critic," the speaker (possibly an extension of the poet) recites various Tagalog words to inductively trace her relationships with the Philippines and Australia in ways that signal both connection and difference between herself and an imagined Australian interlocutor. The word for laughter brings a sense of community:

so now i can laugh with youhalakhak! how strange.your kookaburras roost in my windpipewhen i say, 'laughter!'as if feathering a new word.

(ll. 18–22)

But two stanzas later, Bobis's speaker vocalizes something different:

this is how remembering begins—ah!—and is repeated—lah!-ah!-lah!alaala. this is our word for memory.

(ll. 33–37)

While laughter brings the Filipino speaker closer to Australia, with halakhak evoking the call of the famous kookaburra "roost[ing]" in her throat, the verb "feathering" subtly modulates such identification. Aside from its association with a bird's plumage, "to feather" means to shift or rotate the angle of an oar or a propeller blade in motion. This perspectival shift emerges when the speaker brings up "our word for memory": the pronoun "our," coming after the word alaala, implies that the task of beginning and repeating acts of remembrance belongs to the speaker and her diasporic community from the Philippines, a collective recollection that the Australian interlocutor might potentially observe but cannot play a central role in. Toward the end, the speaker repeats all the Tagalog words and observes "how they flow east-west-east-west-east" into everyday conversation (ll. 40–42). Within the Australian sociocultural context, these words become conjoined with, yet remain [End Page 267] distinct from, the English language, as seen from the hyphens that both connect and separate "east" and "west." What Merlinda Bobis performs on a verbal, poetic register is akin to what the cultural studies critic Stuart Hall calls "articulation."

Hall builds on the work of Marxist thinkers such as Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser, and Ernesto Laclau to develop his idea of articulation and finds it a useful critical approach because it "has a nice double meaning," as he tells the interviewer Lawrence Grossberg: on the one hand, it "means to utter, to speak forth, to be articulate. It carries that sense of language-ing, of expressing, etc. But we also speak of an 'articulated' lorry (truck): a lorry where the front (cab) and back (trailer) can, but need not necessarily, be connected to one another. The two parts are connected to each other, but through a specific linkage, that can be broken." Examining how different elements are articulated with one another rather than spotlighting any particular one "enables us to think how an ideology empowers people, enabling them to begin to make some sense or intelligibility to their socio-economic or class location or social position" (Grossberg 53). For our purposes, what is at stake in articulating various Southeast Asian countries or cultures with Australia and New Zealand is what Graham Huggan (speaking about Australian literature) calls a "transnational imaginary," in which struggles over race and racism construct a national literature as "always effectively transnational, either derived from an apprehension of internal fracture (e.g. via the figure of the culturally hyphenated migrant), or from a multiplied awareness of the nation's various engagements with other nations, and with the wider world" (viii). The essays in this special section, combining Hall's and Huggan's thinking, reformulate internal fractures and multiplied awareness as articulations: through works of literature written in verbal and visual language (articulation as utterance) that illuminate the linkages between two or more sociocultural or politicoeconomic elements (articulation as joining) that matter to specific authors or texts.

Here it is worth stating that all but one of the special section's essays are about Southeast Asia and Australia. Without the intention of conflating Australia and New Zealand, it is possible to trace similarities in the way both countries have engaged with Asia, especially in their various "White Australia" and "White New Zealand" policies, which were designed to exclude Asian immigrants and which were discontinued in the 1970s...


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pp. 267-277
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