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The indigenised West in Asian multicultures: Literary-cultural production in Malaysia and Singapore
Asian multicultures
Postcolonial cultures
Global West
Issue Date: 
Paper presented at the English in Southeast Asia Conference (2008), National Institute of Education, Singapore, 4 - 6 December 2008
This essay examines what happens to the cosmopolitan culture of the ‘West’ for postcolonial societies when economic and political power has shifted away from a geographical location to a less locatable planetary position in the ‘globe’. The essay also investigates whether postcolonial Others in the semiperiphery ever effectively lay claim to a cosmopolitan Anglo-Asian multiculture that has a part ownership, no matter how fraught, of what can be called the global West. Is this West, or the relevant parts of it, ever indigenized? Effective dealing with the status of the global West and its various cultures within and without diverse postcolonial Asian societies requires historical and comparative dimensions because the history of the British (and increasingly the American) West cannot be the same history for every location. Even Malaysia and Singapore, despite common historical British colonial rule and shared cultural characteristics, display different post-independence manifestations of the global West. Malaysian and Singaporean literary-cultural production is the main subject to be investigated in relation to the issues articulated. A comparative culturalist examination via two indicative texts – Malaysian Huzir Sulaiman’s play, Notes on Love and Life and Painting (1999), and Singaporean Tan Hwee Hwee’s novel, Mammon Inc. (2001) – suggest that even in what might be described as our ‘postmodern’ moment in history when cultural identities seem to be in flux, the nature of this ‘flux’ in relationship to the West ‘within’ them is simultaneously revealingly similar and dissimilar in the way ‘national culture’ is articulated. ‘Postcolonialism’ is not about direct resistance to an ‘outside’ dominating West. The West clearly is in many ways a part – whether comfortable or not – of the Asian multicultures Sulaiman and Tan write about, where the local can clash with/negotiate with/manipulate regional cosmopolitanisms and the Anglo-American global West.
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