Monday, March 20, 2006

Little Singapore Stories

Came across a little story within a story-book.

It is a story of the City of Laughter. This was once a vibrant and energetic city. It stood at the crossroads of major trade routes and welcomed people of all kinds into its fold. The diversity of peoples made the city strong. It was a place brimming with ideas and creativity.

The King did not like the excessive diversity. It was too real. The diversity. Such unpredictability was a threat to the sustenance of political power. Thing can change. Things can fall apart. One day, he asks his Senior Minister to come up with a plan to remove the diversity. Have things more homogenous. The Minister disagreed as he saw that the City's prosperity was rooted precisely in its open embrace of difference. It was all or nothing. so the King beheaded the Minister.

One night, the King watched a performance by a group of professional mimics. It was hilarious. Their mastery of the craft meant they could mimic anything. They mimicked the different peoples in the city. They could talk like swarthy sailors. They could re-enact the mannerisms of wearied traders. They could imitate the body language of soldiers and generals. The King was enamoured and hired the mimics as full-time officials mimicking everything around the King. The troupe brought many of their fellow professionals into the City. Some were adept at mimicking politicians. Some were adept at mimicking animals. Some were adept as mimics of citizens. Soon the City swelled with mimics. The original peoples were banished from the City. Only the mimics remained and grew in numbers. But in the King's eyes everything was as the same. The mimics mimicked diversity. Everything was as before. The city mimicked democracy, mimicked prosperity, mimicked diversity, mimicked lives. It was a wonderful performance. And the City became the City of Laughter.

The King was appeased and saw in himself his great wisdom. He had changed the City.

Across at PoliceState's blog is his review of a new book, Struck by Lightning, penned by 4 journalists born in the post-65 era. It is touted as a no-holds-barred book openly commenting on the flaws and foibles of Singapore. Interwoven in the narrative structures are the journalists' own growing up processes in Singapore. Little stories of co-optation and rationalisation; how you have to think to live in Singapore. Acceptance that certain things are as they are. Assumptions that lightning is good ultimately and that some sacrifice of the personal is a necessary, indeed noble thing.

JB Jeyaratnam also has a book published. The Hatchet Man of Singapore. His too is a narrative of a post-65 experience. But an experience forged through a grown man's eyes. His narrative is about non co-optation and a refusal to rationalise and to accept that some personal sacrifices is needed to achieve a common good. The heart of his message? That the common good is attainable without the restrictions imposed by the lightning gods. Often the "common good", the "common weal" has been meshed with realpolitik survival strategies.

It is not easy to write a book. Just ask Phil aka E@L, who can certainly write, but have not taken the step to write. The obstacle, the threshold, is precisely to locate that heart in the story, as he reveals in his recent post. The pulse that makes the story unfold and connects the ruins, the fragments, the anagrams of the storylets into one single shimmering story. A story that is not a mere mimicry.

Sometimes it is hard to write about Singapore. Inadvertently, sometimes, without knowing it, you are mimicking as a citizen of Singapore. An integral part of the entire performance. A fictitious truth in existence. A mimic citizen.

Quotes of the Day --

"Writing is basically a technology, a way of committing things to memory and communicating them, enabling people to send orders and to carry out administration at a distance. Empires and organized societies extending over space are the children of writing ....

The move back into the past seems to have been most marked in Greece. Along with writing, that jewel amongst achievements, all the luxury arts vanished too ...

The adoption of an alphabet reintroduced writing into a Greek world which had lost it. And once writing was within the grasp of all, it not only became an instrument of command but a tool of trade, of communication and often of demystification. Secret laws became public thanks to the alphabet; literature began to play the immense role it later assumed."

-- Fernand Braudel, Memory and the Mediterranean


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have created a blog about being confused about one's sexuality. What is the real meaning of being gay? The answers at

4:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very impressed you read Braudel mammoth's book. Braudelian history is one I subscribed too although it can be overly pessimistic and plays down human agencies in the making of a state.

As usual, spot on on Singapore.

8:09 PM  
Blogger Trowa Evans said...

You write a very impressive post. I haven't read Jeyaratnam's book; I wonder how did you get access to it?

I don't read Nietzsche very much, but from what I understood in academic discussions, he believes society needs to reinvent a new "myth" in order to make progress. I kinda subscribe to that one idea which has importance relevance to Singapore. The stories we hear in Singapore need a radical revision, one that comes from the people, and not rulers.

11:40 AM  

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