Southeast Asian History in Literature (MLA 2023)

deadline for submissions: 
March 15, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
MLA 2023
contact email: 

The CLCS Southeast Asian and Southeast Asian Diasporic Forum invites submissions for a panel at the Modern Language Association Annual Convention on January 5–8, 2023 in San Francisco, California:

Southeast Asian History in Literature

In traditional terms the part of the world between China and India, Southeast Asia lies at a global crossroads where its powerful neighbors, the giants of the continent, have historically spread their influence and where the East met the West in the European scramble for “the (East) Indies.” The region’s position at a Pacific borderland has led it to be conceived, even prior to post–World War II globalization, as a transnational contact zone, thereby to be defined in reference to or from the perspective of external actors—as intimated by a name for its peninsular half, “Indochina”—or in indeterminate ways—as intimated by a name for its maritime half, the “Malay Archipelago.” The multifarious colonial histories—Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, British, French, American—that bear on the different territories in the region, not to mention the diverse precolonial regimes, have, moreover, tended to thwart the development of a regional identity at the same time that the nation-state persistently proves to be a potent political framework despite the area’s global entanglement.

In the context of this indeterminacy rooted in overdetermination, what does the history of Southeast Asia look like from Southeast Asia? Given the undermining of regional autonomy by larger forces and the reassertion of autonomy at the level of the nation, how might an autonomous history of Southeast Asia be told? How has this history been told in literature from (nations in) the region, given literature and history’s shared narrative structure and incommensurability? To what extent can such literature be thought of as postcolonial, given the historical separation of Southeast Asian from postcolonial studies? What might the reading of Southeast Asian literature as a site of subaltern history contribute to postcolonial theory? What do the traces of neglected or appropriated history in liminal literature say about the (im)possibility of learning history from literature? How do gender and sexuality complicate the relation between history and literature as they give rise to alternatives to the discourse of the “motherland” written by the “fathers” of the nation in Southeast Asia?

This panel seeks proposals that reflect on any of these questions to think about the ways in which Southeast Asian history gets narrated in literature from specific, if also emblematic, nations in the region. Focus on any genre of literature in the expansive sense (including not only the novel, the literary medium of the nation, but also, e.g., creative nonfiction, life writing, critical travel writing) is welcome. Send a 250-word abstract for 12–minute papers with your CV to Ryan Ku (English Literature, Swarthmore College) at no later than March 15, 2022. Please note that all accepted speakers will be asked to provide a 100-word bio and must be members of the MLA by April 1, 2022.