Class and the Time of the Nation in Preeta Samarasan’s <i>Evening Is the Whole Day.</i>


  • Lee Erwin Fulbright Scholar University of Nizwa Birkat al Mouz Sultanate of Oman


class, nation, performative, pedagogical, historicism


Beginning with the complex relationship between the nation-state and cosmopolitainism in ipostcolonial studies, and the profound imbrication in those complexities of the novel as a genre, this essay suggests that the doubled and in part reversed narrative structure of Preeta Samarasan’s 2008 novel of Malaysia, Evening Is the Whole Day, offers a reflection upon the capacities and limitations of the novel in imagining the nation and its potential in the decades following independence. While the novel’s two narratives can be read first of all through Homi Bhabha’s conceptions of the pedagogical and the performative, the reversal of the performative narrative also recalls the backwards gaze of Walter Benjamin’s angel of history, suggesting that the narrative significance of the moment (and the figure) upon which the novel thus gazes depends above all on questions of class. As a result, Samrasan's novel poses a challenge to the way both pedagogical and performative conceptions of nation and novel, in their explicit or implicit historicism, occlude such questions. The cosmopolitan mobility frequently offered as an alternative to the troubled nation and its exclusivist discourses of “race” is thus shown to be itself inadequate for a figure excluded from family, nation, and mobility.

Author Biography

Lee Erwin, Fulbright Scholar University of Nizwa Birkat al Mouz Sultanate of Oman

Lee Erwin is an independent scholar who is currently a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Nizwa in Oman. Her main research interests are twentieth-century and contemporary fiction in English, especially British modernist and late-modernist novels, postcolonial fiction, and the history and theory of the novel. Her work has appeared in journals including Novel: A Forum on Fiction, Research in African Literatures, and the Journal of Commonwealth Literature.