Recalling Lan Xang: Short Stories and Novels of Contemporary Isan Writers as Minor Literature and Affective History


  • Chairat Polmuk Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University


contemporary Isan fiction; minor literature; affective history


Background and objective (s): Since 2007, writers from Northeast Thailand (also known as Isan) have begun to revisit the history and literary culture of the premodern Lao kingdom of Lan Xang and connect them to Thailand’s political crisis in the present. This essay examines a historical aspect of literary works by three contemporary Isan writers published between 2007-2022, Chatchawan Khotsongkhram, Phu Kra-dart, and Manote Phromsing. Through Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s notion of minor literature, I propose to delineate prominent thematic and poetic features of these works and to consider the relationship between such characteristics of minor literature with the evocation of sensory and emotional experiences through references to legendary, historical, and literary accounts of the Lan Xang kingdom.
Methodology: In this article, I draw on Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s notion of minor literature as a theoretical framework for an analysis of short stories and novels by contemporary Isan writers, especially in terms of their shared engagement with the politics of language, the retelling of history and the evocation of emotion. I also adopt a conceptual framework of affect theory to elaborate on the ways in which these works evoke affective experiences to connect the past with the present.

Main result: The works of Chatchawan Khotsongkhram, Phu Kra-dart and Manote Phromsing, I argue, can be considered minor literature based on their prominent features. This includes the deterritorialization of language through the use of Lao-Isan language, the connection of the individual to a political immediacy, especially with regard to the political desires of Lao ethnic groups across historical contexts, and the collective assemblage of enunciation that foregrounds a shared experience of the ethnic groups
through intertextual references to Lan Xang literature. Altogether, these literary features convey history in affective terms, connecting the past with the present through sensory and emotional experiences.

Relevance to Thai Studies: This article studies a literary phenomenon in the context of contemporary Thai politics and society, focusing on the complexity of defining Thai identity. In the works by regional writers under review, the authors often interrogate and explore the ideas of ethnic identity and transnational history. In this case, the revival of Lan Xang history and literary culture beckons us to reconsider Isan identity in the context of Thai-Lao relations.

Conclusion: Through an analysis of short stories and novels by contemporary Isan writers as minor literature, this article demonstrates how these authors rewrite the history of the Lao-Isan ethnic groups as nonlinear, transhistorical and affective. This suggests that a history of these “minoritized peoples” often involves the problems of geographical displacement or dislocation from cultural roots. The case of contemporary Isan fiction exemplifies that the dislocation from traditional referentiality leads to the revival of Lan Xang and to mobilize this historical attachment as a critique of political violence rather than a nostalgic desire for the idealized past. Taking into account the political context of these works, we can discern that Thailand’s political crisis and violence since the late 1990s are central concerns of Isan writers. Through the imagery of Lan Xang, the stories thread together episodes of political violence from the premodern period to the Cold War and contemporary politics.



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How to Cite

Polmuk, C. (2024). Recalling Lan Xang: Short Stories and Novels of Contemporary Isan Writers as Minor Literature and Affective History. Journal of Thai Studies, 20(1), 1–34. Retrieved from



Research article