Monday, May 14, 2007


"With regards to Xenoboy post, I am not too comfortable with his dualism on resistance; for me, I don't necessary see co-optation and institutionalization of movements and "resistance" as "sell-outs"; it could be a transformation of individuals' or group's tactics to effect positive policy outcomes. However, that depends on institutional access; you have entry points for women and environmental rights groups in Singapore, whether you have access points for issues of democratization is debatable. Whether one adopts a "co-opted" strategy versus a "civil disobedience" strategy is very much a empirical question; how would we know which one really is better? What are the goals of the movement?"

The post in question refers to this entry. Sigh.

If you have noticed, there is this NIN album, Year Zero, which topped Technorati's music links for some time. NIN is an industrial band, a musical genre which is not very accessible to many people. As a matter of fact, NIN's most accessible song, Hurt, is commonly mistaken as a cover of a Johnny Cash song. Much like Bizarre Love Triangle is commonly mistaken to be written originally by Frente and covered by New Order.

There is something very interesting about NIN's latest album. It is an actualisation of a viral marketing strategy that was probably first popularised in Gibson's novel, Pattern Recognition. Year Zero came into existence when a fan found a URL printed on his NIN concert t-shirt. He typed the URL and the entire Year Zero narrative began. The narrative is deliciously simple : we are finding relics, in the form of mysterious websites and songs embedded in thumbdrives, from future scatter. In short, we are finding fragments of the future telling a story of a resistance movement in Year Zero. As these fragments mysteriously appear, their existence are spread virally through the Web. Fans start to scour cyberspace, concert venues for these hidden fragments which provide clues to where the next song can be found. Then, download sites are set up and the songs are spread like illegal music downloads except that in this case, its perfectly legal. It is the basis of the marketing strategy, the basis of the narrative of a future resistance. As more songs and more sites are found, the story of Year Zero is gradually pieced together.

In his recent anniversary concert, Dick Lee, slipped in a segment subverting that iconic national song, Count on Me Singapore. Among the numerous positive reactions, there were an equal number expressing surprise that Dick Lee could be so "political". This is a strange reaction as it assumes that there is no precedent. But closer to reality is that such subversion of the national-istic narrative is happening daily. For a long time. At varying degrees. By many Singaporeans. The only difference now is that such acts of delicious subversion can be spread. No longer is Dick Lee's "political" moment confined to those laughing uproariously at his concert and subsequently forgotten, unrecorded. Today, now, that moment is part of the national song. Its meaning has shifted. And rightly so. We can now apprehend the "political" and perhaps achieve the understanding that the "political" is part and parcel of every single Singaporean. The walls are becoming increasingly porous. Stories and counter-narratives are slipping through the nets of the censors. If the broadcast remains opaque, then the casting needs to be viralised; more accurately, it is Deleuze and Gauttari's rhizomatic resistance.

But resistance is more than the medium of transmission.

In his recent admission on the inevitable decriminalising of homosexuality, LKY was probably unconscious of the irony in his statement on gays being creative and excellent in writing and the arts. They are creative and excellent mostly because they were forced into the margins of Singapore where their existence could only find legitimacy in imagined communities. imagine space, imagined speech, imagined rights. They excel because they resist a system which illegalised them. Which orphanised them from the State. Their very existence is a resistance in Singapore. They are Agamben's desubjectified people, existing in a space, in a state where they can be "killed" with impunity. But their defiance, their indig-nation, their tragedy, hidden, embedded, alluded, in song, in story, in art, is for the simple dignity of existence in Singapore. Dignity of existence. And now their resistance is reduced by LKY into a routine economic practicality justifying the State's embrace.

The resistance of the Sg gay community needs closer examination. It is not an active resistance, the likes of PLU, while playing an important role, is one fragment of an array of resistance forms. It is not an underground resistance unlike what the mainstream media is constantly trying to portray with "undercover" exposes of gay clubs, wild parties.

But it is a resistance which burrows deep into the interstices of defining the meaning of Singaporean-ness. It is a resistance which contests the meaning of existing as a Singaporean. At its core, it is resistance by the very act of existence. Gays exist in Singapore with any other Singaporeans but paradoxically, in the definition of Singapore's social meaning, they cannot exist.

Remove the label "gay" from the preceding analysis and consider resistance as an individual. An individual defined as a Singaporean. Imagine if we could receive scatter from a future Singapore, Year Zero, what is the story?

And we end again with the same quote :

"In this world are the strong and the weak. The strong never yield to torture, and they go to Paradise' but what about those like myself who are born weak, those who when tortured and ordered to trample on the sacred image ...", "There are neither the strong nor the weak. Can anyone say that the weak do not suffer more than the strong?" -- Shusaku Endo, Silence

Friday, May 04, 2007

That Iniquitous Frog in the Well.

"A proverb, one might say, is a ruin which stands on the site of an old story in which moral twines about a happening like an ivy around the wall." -- Illuminations, Walter Benjamin

We begin with that iniquitous proverb, of the frog in the well. The moral twines of this proverb is deceptively simple : The frog is an arrogant one. It looks up into the night sky and sees the moon shining only for it. It thinks that it owns that piece of night sky. The irony is that it does not know that it is living in a well. That its rule of the "universe" is only within the confines of the well. The proverb tells us about pride, arrogance and humility. Beyond that, it tells also of perspective. To look beyond our confines and understand the larger world, to expand our worldview. Never be the frog in the well, this proverb implies. The frog is iniquitous.

But a proverb, one might say, is a ruin standing on the site of an old story. And so it may be useful perhaps to rebuild the story behind this proverb of the frog in the well. It is a necessary re-building since this proverb and its attendant morals are always implied when the Government engages the citizens of Singapore in issues of controversy. It is the preferred rhetorical device of those in positions of authority.

The most intriguing puzzle to unlock this story is to figure out how the frog came to be existing in a well. As biologists and naturalists can tell you, frogs do not naturally appear within wells. So there is another hidden narrative in this proverb, a narrative which has been lost. Probably an important element in the old and complete tale of the frog in the well.

If frogs do not appear naturally in wells, then it can be surmised that the frog in this proverb must have been deliberately put into the well. It would also seem most likely that the frog was put in the well when it was but a tadpole, un-cognizant of the ways of the world. And so it grew up within the confines of the well. The well was its world, its only world.

But what evil-doer would do such a thing? To imprison another creature in an artificial world. Perhaps, the frog was deliberately put into this well precisely so that it would only see the world of the well. So that the evil-doer could manipulate the frog, test the frog, like a laboratory animal. A social experiment. At its extreme, the evil-doer, he who put the frog into the well, is playing God. By this social experiment, the God-figure maintains its supremacy over the frog. A supremacy situated precisely with the moral twines of the proverb. The God-figure always knows He has the real world to trump the frog; the arrogant frog that thinks it knows the world. Whatever perspectives the frog can come up with to challenge the omniscience of the God-figure, the latter has the ultimate answer to counter it; the God-figure has the real world and He knows it. And so, a cruel complexity to this proverb emerges as we tease a story into existence; the iniquity of the frog diminishes.

The well itself must be questioned. In this proverb, the well is a man-made structure. Those circular wells often associated with farms, perhaps with animals and other livestock. Presumably, the well is possessed by a farmer. So in this proverb, in which the frog was put into the well when it was but a tadpole, the well becomes the definition of a narrow world-view. But the well in which the frog lives its life is also the only possible world for the frog to learn about its existence; the well defines the limits of the frog’s knowledge. It cannot learn beyond the restrictions of the well. It cannot go beyond the walls, it cannot challenge the law of matter. Even if it wanted to. It is not given the choice. It was placed in the well. It did not ask to be born in the well.

The only possibility, perhaps the only consolation, left for the frog is that changing disc it sees high up in its world. The mouth of the well, in the eyes of the frog, is the only view that has change. That view is like its TV. That view is its only way to learn that there is possibility of change, because only that view, in the frog’s world of the well, can change. But it is a precarious view. What is to stop the God-figure from covering that "view" with words and pictures which change everyday? It is almost like the Socratic Cave analogy except that frog is trapped in the well. It is bound in that space. It can only learn in that space. It is a cruel story indeed that emerges.

And seen in this light, with the bare skeletal structure of a story, the moral twines of the proverb is complexified or more accurately, its morality becomes layered, No longer can we simply see this proverb as a humbling of the arrogant and iniquitous frog. To the One who delivers the revelation to the frog, to bring it down to its proper space, to damn its entire understanding of its existence, we ask : Why not lift the frog away from the well? Why not take it out from its forceful imprisonment? Why not set it free to learn from the real world? To the One who belittles the frog and reveals the true world, who has put things into the proper perspective, we ask : why not go down the well and experience what the frog can see and ponder how can the it ever see the “proper” perspectives?

As the frog is wrongly humbled, the One who reveals is in need of greater humbling. This is perhaps the moral complexity lost as the story became a proverb.

The sharp will see this as a critique of the Singapore political system. So let it be.

But we have to imagine something more cruel.

A frog in a huge test tube.

Hoping against hope to smash the glass into pieces.

But it cannot.

This is the condition why Singaporeans leave.

Quote of the Day --

"The widow anxiously studied that regular flight of meteors, and in it read the confused and slowly told fable of a dragon that had always watched over a vixen, in spite of the vixen's long ingratitude and crimes ... It was evening; the sky was filled with dragons -- this time, yellow ones. The widow murmured a single sentence, "the vixen seeks the dragon's wing," as she stepped aboard the ship." -- A Universal History of Iniquity, Jorge Luis Borges