My Dissertation:

The Twisting Staff:
Strategy, Structure and Genre
in the Malay Muslim Court
Literary Tradition

Stephen Arod Shirreffs, Ph.D.
South and Southeast Asian Studies
University of California at Berkeley


This dissertation examines narrative structures and strategies within texts ("hikayats") of the Malay Muslim Court literary tradition by employing a "close reading" method. Examining these structures reveals that often apparently explicit meaning contradicts both explicit and implicit intentions of the texts. The writers of the texts were enjoined from criticizing the political system whose defense is their ostensible purpose. All of these texts share a reliance upon both writers and audience to employ a "pretense of unselfcon-scious-ness" about potential and actual transgressive imaginings. The result of this pretense is that the texts were generically restricted from reflexive examination; i.e., the writers could not describe in explicit terms either the methods of their work or the principles behind their ideation lest they expose the contradictions and anxieties underlying the genre, chief among which was the contradiction between the orally oriented audiences and literate writers. Thus, the texts embodied contradictory structures to satisfy differing audience expectations. The listening audiences confronted hikayats as traditional, and therefore as "natural" and unmediated. But the writers knew the conditions of production as well as the vastness of other literatures; thus, for them, oral performance was not enough. The producers embodied their authentication of the text through the generic structures, such as juxtaposition and reversal, which this dissertation examines.

The notion that writers interpolated meaningful structures, whether consciously or unconsciously, requires that critics investigate the court texts not only in terms of self-evident purposes but also in terms of hidden passageways which both inform and derive from the particular intellectual consciousness of the era. Merely nodding to the texts as nothing more than received cultural artifacts would surrender the multifarious meaning structures to the at-face utilitarian-ism of a strictly traditional reading. Employing a deep examination of genre as a determinant in the production of the hikayats forces critics to re-enact the "occupational psychosis" which circumstance and history forced upon the writers. The end result of such inquiries is to generate a deeper empathy with the writer "caste" which ultimately will result in a greater ability to penetrate their seemingly deliberate obscurantism.

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| Created January 3, 1996 | Modified May 17, 2007 |

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