Thoughts on writing literary history: The case of the Sri Lankan Malays

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    Literary histories have all too often been written with the borders of nation-states in mind, projecting back in time a political unity and standard use of language that only gradually, and sometimes recently, emerged. This approach has been criticized and increasingly replaced by an acknowledgment that literary histories must consider many variables that do not neatly map onto the story of single, powerful, and supposedly unified political entities and that these histories’ artificial boundaries of inquiry must expand to encompass the movement of people, ideas, and texts. Although potentially more representative of the plurality of particular societies or cultures, a literary history that does not depend on the illusion of a stable state structure and the state’s prioritized language is challenging to write, especially when basic questions regarding the location, religious affiliation, and linguistic preferences of the community producing a literature loom large. I present some thoughts and questions on one such challenging example—writing a literary history of the Sri Lankan Malays—in the hope that these reflections will resonate with those exploring other places, languages, and periods as we critically engage with old and new ways of understanding the diverse nature and roles of literature
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1444-1451pp
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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