Examining the Imagined Environments in Contemporary Bruneian Fiction: Developing Southeast Asian Ecocriticism
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Although the critical study of literature and the environment has been burgeoning within the past four decades, little has been said about ecocriticism in Southeast Asian literature—and even less so for Bruneian fiction. The founding of the ASEAN affiliate of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE-ASEAN) in 2016 marks significant progress towards uncovering unique perspectives towards, and representations of, the environment in this region. However, even in the inaugural ASLE-ASEAN conference, only works from Laos, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand were discussed. This study seeks to add to the growing field of Southeast Asian ecocriticism by examining fiction from Brunei, specifically writings by three contemporary local writers, i.e. Muslim Burmat, Mussidi and K. H. Lim. The imagined environments portrayed in the selected texts are studied in light of the complex relationship between two of Brunei’s most significant natural resources, i.e. oil and the rainforest. On the one hand, the revenue from the oil and gas industry helps protect the natural rainforests from being exploited, but on the other, the impact of the industry on the natural environment is also detrimental. The narratives of this complex relationship are studied to facilitate the understanding of what bearing it may have on the formation of local identities. Through exploring the various perspectives towards the Bruneian environment, this paper hopes to expand and diversify the current critical ideas on how people establish connections to their land, their views towards nature and what nature means to them—beyond the Western ideas that currently dominate the critical field.
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