Cultural Geographies of the Malay World

Textual Trajectories in the Indian Ocean

In: Philological Encounters
Sumit K. Mandal University of Nottingham, Malaysia Campus

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This essay explores the cultural geography of the Malay world writ large by examining the trajectories of texts beyond the conventional national and regional boundaries of Southeast Asian studies. Although the Malay world could be studied in relation to a number of transregional orientations, this essay highlights its interconnectedness with the Indian Ocean. This orientation offers a broad enough frame to examine the transregional scale without losing sight of the local. The essay focuses on a collaborative effort at examining textual trajectories. It proposes a rethinking of the normative vocabulary of the nation-state by exploring the subterranean histories of the present. The essay proposes the term “Malay world” as a helpful vehicle for exploring the transregional connections that are not captured by the language of territory and boundedness. The cultural geography of the Malay world that emerges in this essay is multifarious as its interconnectedness with the Indian Ocean has taken complex and diverse forms. The trajectories of the texts examined have traced a world that has been enmeshed in the transregional traffic of people, goods, and ideas. The pervasiveness of the thinking and practice of the nation-state, has undermined, but not eliminated the multifarious cultural geography of the Malay world.

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