Centering Literature: Literature and the History of Environmentalism in Malaysia


Environmentalism in Malaysia, which has its roots in the British colonial administration, has evolved as a social and political force. Ranging from grassroots activists to ENGOs, the environmental movement is founded on the same aspirations: to increase environmental awareness, to preserve the environment and to ensure sustainable development. State-imposed constraints may be the Achilles’ heel in the fight to ensure sustainability but this has not deterred the movement from developing. In the realm of Malaysian literature in English, writers have written extensively about environmental activism – although little attention has been given to this area in the local literary-critical practice. In this paper, I attempt to redress this dearth by examining four contemporary Malaysian novels in English: Keris Mas’ Jungle of Hope (2009), Yang-May Ooi’s The Flame Tree (1998), KS Maniam’s Between Lives (2003), and Chuah Guat Eng’s Days of Change (2010). These novels are selected due to the alignment of the key moments in the history of environmentalism and the plurality of relations and struggles depicted. This paper will analyze the environmental politics, past and present, found in the selected texts, and the solutions that their works present to ensure sustainability. It will yield a keen understanding of irresponsible environmental degradation as well as illuminate agency and transformation. More importantly, it will put literature at the core, thus demonstrate the indispensability of these works in the history of environmentalism in Malaysia.

Author Information
Zainor Izat Zainal, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Malaysia

Paper Information
Conference: ECAH2017
Stream: Humanities - Literature/Literary Studies*

This paper is part of the ECAH2017 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon