The Denial of Affirmativeness to the Metropolitan

Part 6.2 of Drama in English from Singapore and Malaysia

Adapted from Post-Colonial Literatures in English, ed. Rajeev S. Patke, 1998, by George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University; Distinguished Visiting Professor, NUS, 1998-99.

Superficially, the affirmative possibilities we see here would appear to be comparable to those recognised by much post-colonial creative writing in the indigenous languages. An outstanding example is Sri Lankan Ediriweera Sarachchandra's monumental contribution to Sinhala drama in the mid-fifties (see Kandiah 1994, pp.7-11), though this is not to say that such writing does not address contradictions arising from its own indigenous contexts.

However, such possibilities do not seem to be within easy reach of metropolitan post-colonials writing in English. Their acts of repetition and mimicry destabilise not only the coloniser but also the indigene that they are seeking out within their symbiotic selves. The shadowy Tok Said in Scorpion Orchid, for instance, comes out looking not like a comprehending figure who can lead us to a deeper and wiser understanding of the turmoil of the times, but like a sanitised version of the inscrutable stereotype of the exotic oriental. So complete, presumably, has their internalisation of what the colonisers taught them been that these metropolitan types are liable to remain outside a lot of the actual experience that immediately surrounds them and to see it as they have been taught to. Such writing seriously subverts the indigenous experience it is attempting to rediscover by exoticising it. It thus becomes an exercise in orientalism of the kind described by Edward Said, 'a sovereign Western consciousness out of whose unchallenged centrality an Oriental world emerged', working 'not by domination but by... consent' (Said, 1979, pp.8, 7).

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