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Lecture: Angkor Wat: Unravelling the Oracle of Stone

From the Asia Research Institute, a lecture by A/P Dinah Roma Sianturi about travel writing and Angkor Wat.

Name of Event : Cultural Studies Informal Seminar Series

Sypnosis : Peter Bishop in “The Myth of Shangri-la” (1989) argues that it is travel writing that makes the place. As a potent tool of circulating images and perceptions, the travel writing genre, long known as an imperial discursive tool, has played a significant part in textualizing sacred sites. The process of “construction” shifts as it reflects vacillating political configurations. Even notions of thresholds, liminality, boundary, frontier, the sacred and the profane—descriptors for sacred sites—can all be functions of geopolitical investments.

Such argument holds true for many of the sacred sites in Southeast Asia—a quintessential example of which is Angkor Wat. With voluminous writings ranging from the colonial era, the sacred complex has been an inspiration for archaeologists, ethnographers, geographers, and, most especially, travel writers. The so called “hermeneutic circle” within which the travel writing genre is circumscribed allow writers to refer to earlier texts for inspiration, guidance, and information.

Recent developments in travel theory discussed in “Postcolonial Travel Writing” (2011) posit how texts can interrogate each other to show the continuities and discontinuities by which a place has been textualized. This paper inquires into the thread of these interrogations by looking at selected travel writings on Angkor Wat. By doing so, the varied investments in it by individuals and institutions can be charted for its evolution from being a place, monument, reconciliation symbol, tourism icon, aspiration, and nation—individually and all at the same time.

Speaker : Dinah Roma Sianturi

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