My essay, “Epistemological Checkpoint: Reading Fiction as a Translation of History,” has just been published by the journal, Postcolonial Text. The essay examines Han Suyin’s …And the Rain My Drink (1956), a novel on the British counter-insurgency in Malaya often referred to as the Malayan Emergency and derives from a chapter in my dissertation. I had not known about the novel when I first embarked on the diss and stumbling upon it by chance at a bookshop in Kuala Lumpur compelled me to change my writing plans. The process of researching the novel took me to the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University, where Han’s personal papers and manuscripts are kept. It also forged connections with insights gleaned from research at the National Archives at Kew in London, where I learned about the 1952 high-profile court case of Lee Meng, whose death sentence by the British Malayan government for her involvement in communist guerrilla activity sparked an international outcry and was subsequently commuted. That too was an unanticipated find. One of the main takeaways of writing this piece has been the importance of letting yourself be surprised by the research process, of not letting your theoretical framework over-determine your findings and of being open to what encounters in the archive might reveal. Granted, this causes delays and generates anxiety given that it forces you to rethink what you thought you knew and exposes what you didn’t even know you didn’t. But it also frees you to step beyond disciplinary boundaries and to see what they otherwise obscure, in my case, specifically, to ask questions about literary and historical modes of knowledge production, and the relationship between the two.
Briefly, “Epistemological Checkpoint: Reading Fiction as a Translation of History,” considers how …And the Rain My Drink uses translation as a narratological device and a theme to highlight the role of translation in the Emergency’s intelligence-gathering operations. Given the novel’s attention to how the counter-insurgency efforts primarily targeted the rural Chinese, the essay further discusses how it compels us to think of translation as an epistemological device or a means of understanding how the Chinese subject was constructed and integrated into the multiracial citizenry of the nascent postcolonial nation of Malaya, known today as Malaysia. Thanks to Postcolonial Text‘s open-access policy, the article can be found here: http://postcolonial.org/index.php/pct/article/view/1656/1686