Language, ethnicity, and the politics of literary taxonomy: Ng Kim Chew and Mahua literature
© 2016 CARLOS ROJAS. Through an examination of short stories from the Malaysian Chinese author Ng Kim Chew's 2001 collection From Island to Island, this essay reflects on the taxonomic functions of criteria such as language, ethnicity, and nationality, particularly as they inform contemporary discussions of Chinese, Sinophone, and Mahua (Malaysian Chinese) literature. Several of Ng's stories are set on remote islands and feature individuals who, having been forcibly separated from their original linguistic or social environment, offer a vehicle for reflecting on some of the consequences of literary taxonomies that arbitrarily prioritize one criterion (such as language or nationality) over others. Drawing on Wittgenstein's notion of family resemblance, the essay proposes a taxonomic system that does not rely on a single criterion but rather attends to the dynamic interaction among a variety of criteria. The resulting model is used to interrogate the naturalized conception of the family on which Wittgenstein relies.
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