Beyond Diaspora and Towards Bansa Malaysia: Postcoloniality and Malaysian Literature in English

Author Name

Sharmani Patricia Gabriel

Author Address

Professor Department of English Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences University of Malaya Kuala Lumpur 50603 MALAYSIA Email: [email protected]


Malaysia, national identity, Bangsa Malaysia, race, national policies, literature in English, homeland


The lack of critical attention and scholarly engagement in Malaysia with new cultural practices and identity transformations on the groundhas meant that much of the discursive constructions around national culture and identity areinformed by outdated ontologies of race, which in turn derive their salience from old understandings and conceptions of diaspora. Unlike Singapore and other Southeast Asian nations, Malaysia, officially at least, is no longer an immigrant-receiving country; it ceased accepting immigrants in large numbers from the 1930s.  However, in right-wing and populist discourse, the foreign other– the “squatters”, “immigrants” and “new arrivals” –in Malaysia comprise the nation’s main minority ethnic communities, most of whom are generational descendants of the nineteenth and early twentieth-century diasporasengendered by colonial labour policies whoregard Malaysiaas their cultural homeland. The trope of diaspora, along with its critical vocabulary of “original” homeland and “return” to the putative centre,merely serves to reinforce the racial and national marginality of these communities. A close analysis of Malaysian literature in English can offer vital insights for unpacking the salience and purchase of diaspora and its familiar interpretative frameworks.  It will also allow for anuanced interrogation of some of the dominant tropes of diaspora theory that have been given articulation by hegemonic forces, particularly by state actors.  In this sense, Malaysian literature in English, in contrast to cultural productions in other Malaysian languages,performs a critical transgression.  The task of the postcolonial criticis to recognize the historical impact and importance of the old diasporas generated by colonialism as well as to capture the complexity of the new (multi)cultural politics of race and national and cultural identity constructionthat these historical diasporas have created


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