Academic journal article ARIEL

Interrogating Diaspora: Wang Gungwu's Pulse

Academic journal article ARIEL

Interrogating Diaspora: Wang Gungwu's Pulse

Article excerpt

In June 2000, the British entertainment company Altitude introduced one of the first of a now growing number of the multiplayer online game universes. Altitude's universe enabled participants to pilot spacecraft between planets and build up communities of "guilds," if not ethnicities. The game proved exceptionally popular, its denizens engaged--surely rather schizophrenically--in "trading, killing and socializing" while exploring what was at the time one of the largest environments ever created. In such a globalized utopia, transnational capitalism was not neglected--the game, as initially described, had a full range of advertising and sponsorship options available, from "bladerunneresque" ship sponsorship through banner ads to 3D branding of the bars on different planets" ("Games Oasis"). Searching for a name for its new environment, Altitude chose a word that had gained increasing currency in both academic and popular circles in the previous decade: Diaspora.

In the global community of literary and cultural studies, the term diaspora had enjoyed a similar explosion in popularity. Initially used largely in the context of the dispersal of Jews from Palestine, and by analogy to describe the forced migration of African peoples to the Americas, the term has gradually widened in scope. Since the late 1980s it has been common, for instance, to write of the Indian and Chinese diasporas, and, from the middle of the 1990s, diaspora has been increasingly divorced from the description of a single community: diasporic consciousness is, it seems, something that we all share in an increasingly transnational world.

Diaspora clearly answers a critical and theoretical need in cultural studies as the area has developed over the last twenty years. After the failure of the emancipatory projects of the new nations born from anti-colonial nationalism in many areas of the world, the idea of a national culture has come under sustained critique. National cultures may homogenize, neglecting minority or subaltern traditions and lived realities within the nation, or alternatively commodifying and essentializing them within various "multicultural" frameworks. The production of a national culture may also cauterize and seal off cultural flows which existed before the nation, and which continue to exert powerful forces: the use of a national culture as an explanatory framework, especially in the context of a past marked by the disruption of colonialism, may result in a neglect of the importance of migrant or regional cultural forms. Thus if the creation of specifically national cultural traditions now holds less appeal, diaspora seems to answer a ready need--it looks beyond the nation in a world that we perceive as increasingly globalized.

Like postcoloniality, a critical concept that preceded it and is now perhaps losing some of its critical edge, diaspora thus enables a critique and deconstruction of the national and regional cultural traditions which much commentary on Commonwealth Literature from the 1960s to the 1980s sought to construct. In the case of Singapore, for instance, it has become much more difficult to establish a coherent canon of Singapore and Malaysian writing in English, a project that was readily feasible twenty years ago. The two nations have taken very different developmental paths and stressed the use of English differently in their educational systems. Neither country now has a recognizable small elite of "English-educated" younger writers similar to those who produced the seminal works of the Singapore/Malaysian Literature canon in the 1970s and 1980s: in Singapore, the use of English is more wide-spread than during that period; in Malaysia less so. At the same time, it has become increasingly difficult to define a Singapore literary text, as recent examples may show. Ming Cher's Spider Boys, set in the squatter camps of Bukit Ho Swee, Singapore, in the 1960s, is written in a synthetic interlanguage by a long-time New Zealand resident who grew up in Singapore--it has attracted criticism from some quarters for "inauthentic" use of Singapore English. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.