Global Modernism in Colonial Malayan and Singaporean Literature: The Poetry and Prose of Teo Poh Leng and Sinnathamby Rajaratnam

Weihsin Gui, University of California-Riverside


This essay examines the work of Teo Poh Leng and Sinnathamby Rajaratnam, two authors from Singapore who were writing about British colonial Malaya in the 1930s and the decolonizing struggle occurring in the 1940s and 1950s respectively. While other prominent poets from postcolonial Malaysia and Singapore have been described as writing in a modernist vein, the constitutive connections between Teo and Rajaratnam and Euro-American modernism have yet to be explored. Rather than regard these two authors within a purely nationalist framework, this essay interprets their poetry, essays, short stories, and radio plays through a global modernist optic, evaluating how modernist thought and aesthetics shaped their anti-colonial and nationalist imaginations. This essay thus intervenes in global modernist studies and anti-/postcolonial literary studies by discussing literary texts from a region (Southeast Asia) often neglected in both fields.


Singapore; Malaya; postcolonial; modernist; poetry; short story; radio

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