Iridescent Corners: Sinophone Flash Fiction in Singapore

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Book cover of 星空依然闪烁:新加坡闪小说选 [The Stars Still Twinkle in the Sky: Selected Singaporean Flash Fiction], edited by Xi Ni Er 希尼尔 and Xue Feng 学枫 (Singapore: Lingzi Media, 2013)

Tuesday, February 7, 2023
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
Bunche Hall 10383

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From the 1970s, flash fiction (weixing xiaoshuo 微型小說) developed into a comparably outsized literary practice relative to other Sinophone forms in Singapore. The smallness and brevity of flash fiction cohere with the fast pace of urban Singaporean life and the constant transformation of its cityscape; the compartmentalized relationship between the nation’s four official languages; the marginality of literary spaces and challenges to maintaining literature as a profession; and Southeast Asia’s relative obscurity as a world literary center (with Singapore as a small but important connective hub). Taking the late Yeng Pway Ngon’s 英培安 fleeting scene of Speakers’ Corner as a point of departure, this presentation will chart a short genre history of Sinophone flash and its relationship to literary community building in Singapore through integrative readings of representative works by Jun Yinglü 君盈綠, Ai Yu 艾禺, Wong Meng Voon 黃孟文, Xi Ni Er 希尼爾, and Wu Yeow Chong 吳燿宗, recognizing their formal and thematic intersections as iridescent corners that play with the state’s cultural, political, and geographical "OB" (out-of-bounds) markers. Rather than privileging professional mastery, their works trace flash fiction’s iridescent literariness and worldliness to hyper-locality, compressed temporality, a participatory culture of authorship, and a spirit of amateurism. This amateurism is derived not from a sense of linguistic underdevelopment or technical lack among these authors but by their passionate and vulnerable engagement with the flash form as well as the dissident moral conscience of their thematically and stylistically intersecting critiques of Singapore’s sociopolitical OB markers.

Brian Bernards is Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. He is author of Writing the South Seas: Imagining the Nanyang in Chinese and Southeast Asian Postcolonial Literature (U of Washington Press, 2015 / NUS Press, 206) and co-editor of Sinophone Studies: A Critical Reader (Columbia U Press, 2013). Specializing in Sinophone and Southeast Asian postcolonial literature and cinema, his articles have appeared in numerous journals, including Inter-Asia Cultural Studies (2021), Prism: Theory and Modern Chinese Literature (2021), positions: asia critique (2019), and Asian Cinema (2017).

Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies