This article examines Wei Beihua's modernist works, which have receded into the shadows of Sinophone Malayan (Mahua) literary history, in relation to Indonesian poet Chairil Anwar, to excavate a neglected route of transculturation at the height of Southeast Asia's nationalist movements during the 1950s. Unlike Anwar's modernist poems that thrive in Indonesia, Wei Beihua's works were considered outliers during a period when realist literature was deemed an effective tool for social mobilization in postwar Malaya. Nonetheless, it is critical for us to recognize that Wei Beihua did not reject realism or underestimate the role of literature in nation building. This article argues that Wei Beihua's idea of modernism is premised on an artist's affective and self-reflexive engagement with realism, which gives rise to a dialectical tension. The tension between his advocacy of an artist's individualism, which is inspired by Anwar, and the impetus of responding to nationalism manifests in his meta-fictional short stories that reflect on the varying motivations behind art creation. His works offer a productive perspective to reconsider the modernist artist's role during revolution and “the limits of realism” of revolutionary works when art was deemed integral to nation building in postwar Southeast Asia.
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- Chairil Anwar
- Lu Baiye
- Mahua literature
- Wei Beihua