Communities and Conceptual Limits: Exploring Malaysian Literature in English


  • Philip Holden, National University of Singapore



This paper brings questions raised by a recent research project to bear on Malaysian Literature in English as a discrete object of disciplinary study. The first consideration is historical, in rethinking which groups have produced English-language writing in locations within the boundaries of the contemporary Malaysian nation-state. Literature in English at certain historical moments has promoted what Sumit Mandal has termed “transethnic solidarities.†More provocatively, however, the groups that produced such literary works may plausibly be regarded as ethnic groups in their own right, if we resist following colonial and national governmentality in positing the synonymy of ethnicity and race. The second is geographical: can we look beyond the nation-state to a region or a Malaysian diaspora, or within the nation state to discrete local traditions, as Neil Khor has recently done for Penang? The third is materialist: what happens when we think of literature in terms of its social functions and use of information technologies? Malaysian blogs and indie films that make extensive use of English are perhaps functionally closer to the literary journals of the 1950s than the latter are to contemporary Malaysian fiction.


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Author Biography

Philip Holden, National University of Singapore

Philip Holden is Associate Professor of English at the National University of Singapore. He researches and teaches on postcolonial literatures, with an emphasis on the Anglophone literatures of Southeast Asia, and their relationships to questions of cultural representation. In addition to the publications described in the article, he has recently produced the anthology Writing Singapore (co-edited with Angelia Poona and Shirley Geok-lin Lim, NUS Press, 2009) and the monograph Autobiography and Decolonization (Wisconsin, 2008).




How to Cite

Holden, National University of Singapore, P. (2009). Communities and Conceptual Limits: Exploring Malaysian Literature in English. Asiatic: IIUM Journal of English Language and Literature, 3(2), 54–68.