ASERN at the ACLA

In June, ASERN members, Howie Tam, Tess Do, Alex Kurmann, and Leslie Barnes came together virtually to take part in Howie’s seminar, “Transnational Southeast Asian Literatures in the World.”

Much has changed since Benedict Anderson conceptualized the idea of the nation as an imagined community nearly four decades ago. Primarily, borders have become more porous as the trans-nation emerges as the new imagined community. In the Transpacific world during the first decades of the so-called Asian Century, some old divisions have deepened while new alliances have emerged. In 2010, the U.S. Mission to the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was established as China increasingly exerted itself as a global power. Though ASEAN remains primarily an economic body, its member states have increasingly become major players on the global stage as Western economies find the need to strengthen their relations with countries in the Asia Pacific region while mitigating their economic dependence on China. As such, Southeast Asian countries, many of which were once colonies of Western empires, have had to navigate the rough waters of competing geopolitical forces, all while consolidating their own postcolonial national identities in the age of globalization. As part of the 2022 ACLA Conference in Taipei, this panel invites scholars of Southeast Asian literatures and cultures to think together about major literary and artistic trends that have taken place in various national traditions of the region from decolonization to the contemporary period in the age of transnationationalism. Recognizing that the regional designation of “Southeast Asia” is itself a colonial construct that has held over with much contention in diplomacy today, we seek paper abstracts that deal with materials in any language and genre (dance, music, written and/or oral texts, film, conceptual art, etc.), though we expect all presentations to be in English. Some cultural producers from Southeast Asia and its diasporas have found international recognition. For example, Filipina American writer Jessica Hagedorn’s work has become a staple in Asian American literature syllabi at U.S. colleges and universities. Tash Aw from Malaysia has also found critical acclaim in the U.S. and the U.K. for his novels. In cinema, Rithy Panh’s work continues to bring poignant depictions of the genocide in Cambodia to the larger public’s attention. In making sense of transnational Southeast Asia and the world, we welcome papers that engage with the transnational elements of “local” movements such as Sastera Islam in Malaysia, Manifesto Kebudayaaan in Indonesia or the SingPoWriMo online writing community in Singapore, as well as those deal with broader cudltural imaginaries such as the Sinophone (Shu-Mei Shih, Brian Bernards, E.K. Tan), Arabic cosmopolis (Ronit Ricci, Engseng Ho) and the stateless Zomia (James C. Scott). We look forward to forming a panel with a diverse set of scholars from different countries working with a wide range of multilingual archives.

Here, Kurmann and Do discuss their research on the Lính Tho, the Vietnamese migrant community forced to work in, and for, France during World War II.

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