Lloyd Fernando is one of the few prominent Malaysian writers writing in English, and his work has been extensively studied for its national and socio–political contents. This essay seeks to depart from this tradition by examining Fernando’s concern for religion’s role in the shaping of a nation. Focusing on his first novel, Scorpion Orchid (1976), written five years after divisive racial riots, I argue that Fernando’s vision of religion has important affinities with Derrida’s concept of hospitality in that both promote a belief system that necessarily transcends symbolic boundaries, such as race, so that otherness can be honestly embraced without the attending desire to circumscribe it within the logic of the self–same. I also revisit an important Weberian notion–charisma–to further illuminate Fernando’s vision and to read this against Derrida’s theory. Finally, I argue that despite Fernando’s crucial contribution to the literature and understanding of contemporary Malaysia, his work is vexed by narrative bad faith when the text positions “woman” as marker of the nation while simultaneously violating her, and when it disqualifies people of distinct ethnic and cultural identities from successfully participating in the hospitable nation building inherent in his vision, privileging instead hybrid subjectivities such as the Eurasian.
- Malaysian literature