Thursday, March 16, 2006

Kurtz of Hearts

Found in Mr Wang's eminently interesting blog is his recent take on media self delusion, that Singapore is the "Heart of Asia". Its like Lee Ang's Academy Award. The PRC media hails it as the proud achievement of a Chinese. The Taiwanese media hails it as the proud achievement of a Taiwanese and Singapore media hails it as a proud achievement of an Asian.
I am reminded of this word "Heart". The organ that pumps blood and life to animate life, make it possible to live.
In 1999 to 2000, there was this committee fervently steering Singapore into the 21st century. It was called the S21 committee. The relic of its existence can still be found in cyberspace. The committee was a so-called bold effort by Government to connect with the people. Prompted by the pressures of globalisation and quite possibly the millenial anxieties that accompany regimes in power, S21 was the blueprint to steer the Singapore ship into a new age. I was flipping through the online book on the committee's findings embodied in its bold five-pronged plan. The usual words. HeartBeat Singapore, creating active citizenry, every Singaporean matters etc.
You know whats funny? In the report, probably numbering tens of thousands of words, penned by a high-powered committee of civil servants, I could not locate a single word "politics". It is probably somewhere in the report, that the word does not stand out is precisely the malaise that shadows the Singapore Heart.

The year is 2006. The vision as promised by S21 has not materialised. What has changed? Nothing.
There has been a fundamental change in the world with the new millenium. But the promise of change in Singapore to adapt to the changed globe has not materialised. Fundamental changes in environment requires fundamental changes in system. To adapt. To survive. That has not happened.

Nothing has changed. But there have been changes and there will be changes but these are changes with an empty core.
Lets take an example : Singapore will be the most wired wireless city in a few years time. The heart of cyber Asia.
But there is no content.
No Singaporean will want to base their content in Singapore. Ask Sintercom that. So Singapore is a hub of wires. Wireless, wired but mere conduits for Singaporeans to find their Hearts out of the wired city. The shells are here but the ghosts are travelling every night out into scapes where dreams and hearts are made.
MercerMachine once mentioned, Singapore as an ideal place of transit. Gilbert Koh, esteemed local poet, hinted of this transit status too in one of his delicate poems on Singapore. Wireless Singapore and wired Singapore is exactly this. We do have change, we create a change but only to make the transit more efficient. To facilitate our departure. Hope you have enjoyed your stay. Please visit us again.

So where's the heart? Where's the heartbeat? Is it Pin Pin's aural soundscape in her latest docu-drama on Singapore? The aural soundscape in the film that represents Singapore is itself an indictment of a humdrum Singapore. These are beautiful, evocative, nostalgia-driven sounds but these are what we listen to every day from cradle to grave. Did we live through the fiery rhetorical resonances of "Merdeka! Merdeka!", the visual wrenchings of Separation tears to achieve humdrum?

This is 2006. Where's the change? where's the heart? What is missing?

Its always that one word. Politics.

Quotes of the Day --
"You can't understand. How could you?-- with solid pavement under your feet, surrounded by kind neighbors ready to cheer you or to fall on you, stepping delicately between the butcher and the policeman, in the holy terror of scandal and gallows and lunatic asylums--how can you imagine what particular region of the first ages a man's untrammeled feet may take him into by the way of solitude--utter solitude without a policeman-- by the way of silence, utter silence, where no warning voice of a kind neighbor can be heard whispering of public opinion? These little things make all the great difference. When they are gone you must fall back upon your own innate strength, upon your own capacity for faithfulness.
And I remember I confounded the beat of the drum with the beating of my heart, and was pleased at its calm regularity.
This is the reason why I affirm that Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it ... And perhaps in this is the whole difference; perhaps all the wisdom, and all truth, and all sincerity, are just compressed into that inappreciable moment of time in which we step over the threshold of the invisible.", -- Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness


Anonymous parkaboy said...

From The Transom Review:

"Kitsch is very big in Asia," said a dissenting architect in a private chat. "The architecture of Disneyland. It works as a narcotic-it dulls the senses in a pleasurable way. It's an anesthetic, in that it prevents you from knowing what is going on, and so it has political value."

He said: "People mix up the words modernity, modernization and modernism. They're three different things. We have had modernization, but not modernity. Being modern is about autonomy. We don't have it."

And this was the killer line as he drove me around the shining streets of Singapore. "We know now from a lot of history that the human spirit is invincible in the face of adversity. But I've decided that the human spirit is defenseless in the grip of wealth."

And for some reason I was reminded of Jeanette Winterson:

Well, Hobbes's bastard shade is having its day out in the City. We are all atheists, materialists, nominalists, now. Oddly, we see to be turning into monarchists too, there's nothing as effective as abolishing a king to bring out the worst of royalist sentimentality. The antique shops are crammed with fading Union Jacks and coronation mugs. The richer men buy gewgaws from Windsor Castle. It's too late, can't turn the clock back, ticks the cliche, although, God knows, we turn it back day and night when it's a matter of prejudice. No, in the dreary Hobbes world, where religion is superstition and the only possible actions are actions of self-interest, love is dead. That young man in the spotted braces thinks me a fool to listen to opera, to go to Mass, to sit quietly with a book that is better than me. What use is it? What use is it to love God, to dig my hands in the dark red soil of my home, and feel for it a passion that is not possession but recognition? What use is it to believe that beauty is a Good, when metaphysics has sold her in the marketplace?

8:33 AM  
Blogger KnightofPentacles said...

See essay titled Displacing Singapore.

7:00 PM  

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