This essay theorizes the cultivation, suppression, and cooptation of new forms of Asian tropicality in the material and cultural productions of contemporary Singapore. Originating in Anglo-American imperial discourse of the eighteenth century, tropicality suggests the social construction of the “tropics” as a space in opposition to European and North American temperate environments. Reading the material space of the massive eco-development Gardens by the Bay and a series of contemporary literary texts by Kevin Kwan, Sandi Tan, and Ng Yi-Sheng, the author argues that these texts produce and reflect a contemporary cultural moment that is predicated on climate control and environmental engineering and haunted by the legacies of coloniality and developmental politics. The theorization of new Asian tropicalities provides a new critical lens with which to consider the relationships and connections between these constructions of nature and the material and cultural texts of twenty-first-century Singapore—a model of urban ecology that has an outsized influence on other Asian cities.
Reading New Asian Tropicalities in Contemporary Singapore
Joanne Leow is an assistant professor of transnational and decolonizing literatures in the Department of English at the University of Saskatchewan. Her most recent work has been published in Journal of Asian American Studies, Verge: Studies in Global Asias, and University of Toronto Quarterly. Her first book manuscript, Counter-Cartographies: Reading against the Mapped City, considers the intersections of authoritarianism, spatial theory, and contemporary cultural production in Singapore. Her second project, “Intertidal Polyphonies”, is a multisite study of urban ecologies in the coastal cities of Singapore, Hong Kong, and Vancouver. It is funded by a grant from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
Joanne Leow; Reading New Asian Tropicalities in Contemporary Singapore. positions 1 November 2020; 28 (4): 869–904. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-8606608
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