Singapore has become one node in a growing global phenomenon of public (auto)biographical storytelling, or what I call a storytelling state. Oral histories of everyday citizens refigure the national archive onto bodies in affective transmedial performances, using the past to effect ways of feeling, doing, and being Singaporean in the present. This talk examines the oral history of the fictional comic artist Charlie Chan in Sonny Liew’s 2015 graphic novel within this context. The embodied, reflexive re-presentation of Charlie giving an account of himself reveals – and destabilises – the performative process of life history-telling in Singapore. Like a moving target, Charlie never stays still long enough to be fixed by one recognisable subjectivity. By critiquing the act of personal storytelling as a self-evident window to a unified ‘I’, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye functions as an oblique, periperformative reply to the questions that produce normative utterances in the storytelling state.
About the Speaker:
Cheng Nien Yuan is a performance scholar, educator, and dramaturg. Nien completed her PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Sydney in 2020. Her thesis, ‘The Storytelling State: Performing Life Histories in Singapore’ won the 2021 John Legge Prize for Best Thesis in Asian Studies. She is a Researcher at the Intercultural Theatre Institute and an Honorary Associate of the School of Literature, Art and Media at Sydney University. Her research centres around the intersections between storytelling, digital dramaturgy and interculturality in performance-making processes. Her work has been published in Studies in Theatre and Performance, Performance Paradigm, and the Oral History Review among others.