Affectation in the Affect Nation: Singapore’s Postcolonial Affective Labors
Keywords:affect & affectation, intergenerational affective labour, postcolonial triumphalism, Singapore-based literature, Keong Saik Road
Notorious for its ever-changing urban landscape, Singapore has seen plenty of projects in recent years to archive disappearing sites and the stories people have about them. While archival work and collective memory formations are commendable, the affective labor that goes into these projects risks uncritically reproducing existing structures of feeling that fuel the nation’s postcolonial triumphalist narrative. This narrative is characteristically dependent on the planned obsolescence of these sites and the nostalgia that neoliberal industries then eagerly monetize. Through a close literary analysis of Charmaine Leung’s 2017 memoir 17A Keong Saik Road, this essay builds on Raymond Williams’s structures of feeling and Sara Ahmed’s concept of affect aliens to make sense of Singapore’s affective regimes and inarticulate affective interventions. I argue that place-based literature may reclaim the affects that are foundational to Singapore’s postcolonial triumphalist narrative from the state’s affective determinations. By highlighting the intergenerational, gendered, affective labors of those involved in the sex industry, Leung’s recount of her childhood at this historical red-light district frees the titular Keong Saik Road, the sex workers who formerly inhabited this site, and Cantonese – one of the undermined non-Mandarin Sinitic languages of Singapore, from the existing scripted affective discourses of the postcolonial nation.