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A Quest for Insularity: Thomas Forrest's _Voyage to New Guinea, and the Moluccas_


The research regards A Voyage to New Guinea, and the Moluccas, written by Thomas Forrest (c.1729-c.1802), as a piece of eighteenth-century English travel writing on Southeast Asia. It proposes three reading directionalities for the travelogue, namely, horizontal, vertical and spherical readings, in order to underscore the flexibility of textual interpretation.

Horizontal reading entails a concatenation of events that turns the narrative text into chronologically sequenced segments without attempting to establish a relationship between the linguistic signs and their inherent meanings. Vertical reading configures the text in multiple layers of meanings as well as cultural and historical inferences, which interact with one another and require in-depth textual analysis. The reading approach does not look for hidden meanings; instead, it aims to base the generated meanings on the reader's background knowledge. Spherical reading conceptualizes the narrative text in a spherical shape, regarding Forrest's voyage account as a story line that travels in the form of a circle, and as a cultural production anchored in the realm of eighteenth-century English travel writing, with its distinctive literary conventions.

Additionally, the research considers Forrest's travel account as island writing by pointing out the parallel between the instability of meaning in a text such as A Voyage to New Guinea, and the Moluccas and the definitional precariousness of "island" that historically defies monolithic interpretation of scholars in cartography, geography and literary studies. By drawing the connection between three reading directionalities, travel writing and island writing, the research wishes to establish itself as an intersection of three academic branches, i.e., Comparative Literature, British Literature and Southeast Asian Studies.

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