Occidentalism in Novels of Malaysia and Singapore, 1819-2004

Author: Wagner, Tamara S.
Was Occidentalism ever more than a reaction to orientalism? How did it affect, or effect, the adoption and subsequent adaptation of the English novel in Britain’s former colonies? As it traces the reshaping of the novel genre in fiction written in or about the former Straits Settlements and British Malaya, roughly what is now Malaysia and Singapore, from the nineteenth century onwards, this study brings together reassessments of literary and other values in the intersections between orientalist and occidentalist discourses as they fruitfully clash and thereby enrich locally and globally marketed literature of and about the region. The importance of this simultaneity of commercial and cultural evaluations is exposed as essentially twofold, as the representation of intersecting value systems can be seen to feed on and into the marketing of these narratives locally and abroad. A new theory of Occidentalism that reveals it to be significantly more than simply a reversal of orientalism emerges from this reading of local and international representations side by side.


“In order for the importance of this study of Occidentalism in Singapore and Malaysian literatures in English to be assessed, we must place it within its wider contexts. Occidentalism is less often studied today than what is often regarded as its reverse cousin, orientalism ... Occidentalism looks at a supposed superior culture in stereotypical terms, often with the intention of undermining its assumed superiority. In this book, Singaporean English language literature is analyzed not only internally, in the context of the literature’s own development, but also in the context of British literary works that have their locations in the region, such as the works of Conrad, Maugham, Hugh Clifford, and Burgess ... This is a major contribution in the study of the English language literatures of Singapore and Malaysia. The author knows the literature thoroughly ... Her ideas on occidentalism are also important, and it is likely that her distinction between revisionist and emulative occidentalism, for example, is not going to remain within the covers of the book but will, to a certain extent, inform debates on occidentalism and its relationship to orientalism in years to come.” – (from the Preface) Ismail Talib, Associate Professor, National University of Singapore

“This study deals with the colonial and post-colonial English language literature of Singapore and Malaysia, by analyzing the conflation of Orientalism and Occidentalism ... the author ‘seeks to establish a much-needed distinction between occidentalism’s emulative and revisionist modes and trace its interaction with (neo)orientalist discourses within revisions of the postcolonial’ ... the author finds that economic and financial themes dominate the plots of both Singaporean and Malaysian novels ... this study, both in terms of methodology, concept and subject matter, makes stimulating reading.” – Adrian Hsia, Professor of German, McGill University

“This impressive study is the most comprehensive work on the Straits’ novels in English to date: chronologically spanning three centuries, from the colonial to the postcolonial; and geographically straddling Malaysia, Singapore and the Diaspora. This book situates Singaporean and Malaysian fiction in the context of colonial and diasporic (postimperial) literatures about the region, and also traces the influence of classic British novels on the genre. The study also makes the diversity of contemporary fiction from Singapore more visible, including the neglected genre of science fiction. Scholars may be stimulated to look afresh at more fiction from this growing and understudied literary arena following the author’s original assessments of dozens of postcolonial and postimperial novels, and her tracing of the development of Straits fiction in English ... The initial division the author sees between novels marketed locally and internationally is likely to prompt further scholarship.” – Nicky Garsten, London School of Oriental and African Studies

Table of Contents

Preface by Ismail Tahib
Introduction: Commerce and Commerce Alone: An Introduction to the Financial Straits
1. Literary Malaya and the Management of Romantic Commercialism
2. In the Singapore Grip: Post-War Tropics
3. High-Rise Heartlands: Singaporean Novel Traditions
4. Hybrid Homes: Self- and Other Representations
5. Other or “Othered” Traditions? Narratives of the Occidentalist
6. Beyond the Postcolonial Exotic: The Financial Straits Redefined