The Erotics of National Belonging: Fantasies of Race and Place in My South Seas Sleeping Beauty – a seminar by Dr Fiona Lee (Wed, 4 February 2015)

Speaker: Dr Fiona Lee (Asia Research Institute, NUS)
Date: Wednesday, 4 February 2015
Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Venue: AS3, Level 6, SEAS Seminar Room (06-20)

This talk explores the notion of home embedded in minoritized cultural identity formation in Valerie Jaffee’s translation of the Sinophone Malaysian novel, My South Seas Sleeping Beauty, by Zhang Guixing. Set in postcolonial Sarawak, the novel depicts the existential rootlessness of the ethnic Chinese minority and their relationship with the native Dayaks. The longing for home is figured as erotic desire, with the sexual relations between the Chinese and Dayaks ambivalently construed as being transgressive, even deadly, on the one hand and as giving rise to a utopian sense of family on the other. The erotic desire that motivates the fantastical constructions of race and place, I argue, ought to be understood as the drive to translate, what the psychoanalyst thinker Jean Laplanche identifies as fundamental to the subject formation process. Reflecting on what it means to read the text both in and as translation, I suggest that the novel’s articulation of minoritized cultural identity posits the erotic as a crucial site through which to imagine an ethical framework for relating across difference in postcolonial contexts.

About the speaker
Fiona Lee is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Cultural Studies cluster at the Asia Research Institute, NUS. She earned her PhD in English and Certificate in Women’s Studies at The Graduate Center, City University of New York in 2014. Her current research examines the recurrent feature of translation in literary, cinematic and visual media that deals with national history and identity in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia.