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Title: Cloud of unknowing, tower of silk : narratives of the noumenal in the harmony silk factory
Authors: Wee, Samuel Ting Han
Keywords: DRNTU::Humanities::Literature::English
Issue Date: 2015
Abstract: Much has been made about the polyphonic narrative structure of Tash Aw’s debut novel, The Harmony Silk Factory. While critics such as Mukherjee have praised the “lucid, uncluttered, beautiful” quality of his prose (“The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw”, Mukherjee), the lacuna the three unreliable narrators create have left them more ambivalent, with Hickling lamenting the “obfuscations and contradictions…of the book’s maddening inconsistency” (“Tropes of Silk,” Hickling). While these critics argue that Aw merely borrows techniques innovated by the Modernists without “show[ing] us something startlingly new” (Mukherjee), postcolonialists have championed and defended the text by countering that this particular manner of emplotting “English life in the colonies” has specific implications for “post-colonial literary writing” (Barta 109-112); in the Malaysian context, Sim believes that these formal characteristics allow Aw to interrogate the complex racial-historical dynamics of the nation (302). Lost in the discussion, however, seems to be a close examination of what it is Harmony actually does—what are these formal traits that provoke such contention and accusations of derivativity, and if Aw’s postcolonial narrative is truly as sub-versive as suggested, how does the novel’s narrative structure support or complicate these theses, and frame the thematic problem of knowledge in a post-Empire universe? This paper will therefore examine the architecture of The Harmony Silk Factory through the lens of narrative theory. Specifically, I make frequent reference to Genette’s seminal work Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method for its useful concepts viz. point of view, perspective, focalization, the diegetic status of narrators and the experience of narrative time through ellipses; these concepts have been invaluable in revealing how the form of Harmony is imbricated into its content. I also employ Dorrit Cohn’s work on the distinction of fiction as a way of examining the hints Aw drops through the text that gesture to its metafictional qualities. I have borrowed Sontag’s ideas regarding the implications of textual interpretation here as well, in arguing for the text’s awareness and anticipation of potential interpretative frames, and also use them to examine the phenomenological relations between the narrator-characters. Lastly, Peter Barta’s paper on the polyphonic parallaxes and the central lacuna-void of Harmony, as well as his illuminating interview with Aw, have been invaluable.
Rights: Nanyang Technological University
Fulltext Permission: restricted
Fulltext Availability: With Fulltext
Appears in Collections:HSS Student Reports (FYP/IA/PA/PI)

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