No name for the country


Featured in

  • Published 20230207
  • ISBN: 978-1-922212-80-1
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

LANGUAGE EXCEEDS THE borders of race and nationalism: this is what Ian Hideo Levy’s work said to me when I first encountered it fifteen years ago. At the time I had begun to suspect something illicit – something founded, perhaps, in the furnace of colonisation and White supremacy – about the self-imposed limits of ‘English literature’. Who, after all, owns a language? The nation-state? The passport holder at the airport or border crossing, standing in line with the locals (if not in that other queue designated foreigner) or the speaker whose skin colour suggests they are native to a tongue, a culture, a whole system of thinking and being? 

Only about 6 per cent of non-Anglophone literature is translated into English. While studying in two university departments – English and Cultural Studies, and Asian Studies – I learnt more about the importance of materialist analysis and multilingualism, something that seemed to be neglected by the English department. Such departments have attempted to reframe their work in light of changing economies and demographics through the advent of ‘Global Anglophone’ or ‘World Literature’ studies. Yet the English-speaking, White author, ensconced in the metropole, remains the invisible comparison point or true north of what is deemed ‘the world’. Meanwhile, area studies (of which Asian studies is an iteration) has been criticised as a Cold War instrument, arising out of American investment and the United States’ desire to study – and outwit – potential enemies or roadblocks to the growth of its markets. Notwithstanding the work of numerous scholars in drawing attention to the legacy of area studies’ origins, its engagement with other languages, cultures and disciplines remains a happy corrective to the narrower purview of English studies. 

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