Monday, June 25, 2007

Mur's Immanence

There is a New Paper feature today on the 500 km Wall that separates Israel from the Palestine Territories. It reminded me of this excellent documentary, Wall (Mur), made by Simone Britton who has both Jewish-Arab heritage.

Mur is a fascinating film documenting the building of the Wall when the project began in 2002. Suddenly, for the sake of protection, for security, a physical landscape is artificially and dramatically changed. Culture and history is separated into two sides of the Wall. There is a scene where young Israeli children reveal that the Wall has been there forever in their memories. For this children, there was no time before the Wall. Their existence has been dominated with the permanence of this edifice, this structure. To them, the wall is natural. It has been there in their forevers.

There have been many other famous walls in History. Most notably, the Great Wall of China, to fend off the savage barbarians. Most recently, the Berlin Wall, an icon of the Cold War and with its utter destruction, a symbol of war's end. It is perhaps a very natural human instinct. Wall-building. To fend off the threats to our existence. In Australia, there was a 3000 km rabbit proof fence built to prevent rabbits from ravaging the Australian landscape.

We burrow ourselves into these walls and fences, enclosures to ensure our safety, maintain our stability.

There are many types of walls besides the physical. There are bureaucratic walls, like a letter telling you that you cannot be a relief teacher. That you cannot do this. That your reasoning is wrong. That the reality is such. That our survival depends on this or that, when both this and that are like walls, permanent, unmoving. The walls never explain why. It just is. A perpetual wall, always there since forever. Protecting something within, keeping threats without.

Then, there are also walls built into our minds, protecting our sanity, our rationality. Those outside our mind walls are the Other, something bad, something to be feared, to be kept out. These mind walls ensconce us snugly into the safe, the predictable, the logical and the reasonable. For some, when trying to push through these mind walls, they experience fear. For others it could be adrenalin, And yet for others it could be transcendence, Illumination. Insight. But there are also those who walk with these mind walls permanent, seeing only squalor, seeing only the lesser, seeing only the Other. There is only a sneer, some disdain while they revel in the cosy warmth of their lofty immanence.

Walls of a non-physical nature share one common disturbing trait if you decide to explore them. When you look up to ascertain the height of the Wall, you realise it looms infinite into the sky. When you look left and right, the Wall extends infinite into the horizon. No respite, no ends, no limits.

In Britton's cinematic rendition of the Wall, the structure becomes immanent. Casting its all-pervasiveness across the physical landscape, altering, othering and segmenting all along its 500 km path. The value of the film is its catalogue of a reality, of a Time before the wall. That there was a Time before this immanent structure was created. That there was a reality before this immanence of the Wall. The film catalogues a reality challenging the memories of the children who are growing up in Wall's shadow. Challenging these children to transcend their known memory, their known reality, their immanence. Challenging their notion of forever with an alternative before.

Before any physical wall can be dismantled, the mental wall has to crumble first. Film or art like Britton's documentary is for this purpose, resisting the Wall's immanence.

It is important to be able to transcend walls, be they physical or otherwise. The basis of most psychology of the Freudian ilk is about transcending the walls erected by the mind. Post trauma psychology is perhaps most akin to transcending the walls protectively put up by the mind in the face of a traumatic experience. The psychologist leads the victim to face her ghosts, overcome her fears to look beyond the wall. Finding redemption and perhaps love beyond the wall.

So too in a society where wall-building is ubiquitous, it may not be too far-fetched to imagine a citizenry who collectively dismantles first their mental walls to discover the possibility of a different forever.

Quote of the Day -

All alone, or in two's,
The ones who really love you
Walk up and down outside the wall.
Some hand in hand
And some gathered together in bands.
The bleeding hearts and artists
Make their stand.

And when they've given you their all
Some stagger and fall, after all it's not easy
Banging your heart against some mad bugger's wall.

Pink Floyd, Outside the Wall

Monday, June 18, 2007

Half Alfian, Half Singaporean

If only Alfian can be halved. If only. Behind MOE's opaque letter explaining Alfian's termination as a relief teacher, this is the refrain. Half Alfian. If only Alfian can be halved.

His writings in prose, in verse are testament enough of his intellect. And this, without the need to list literary awards he has won. But perhaps more, his writings are testament of his heart, that thing which drives his brain to create something Singapore.

How do you want your child to grow up? Do you want a child with the ability to ask questions on the meaning of existence in Singapore society? To probe why there is injustice, why sometimes people are silent. Why we are told stories that we do not believe but have to memorise nonetheless. Do you want a child to think? Think with heart?

Sometimes we just want a smart kid. Writes well. Can think too. Pragmatic. A smart kid who knows the limits. The parameters. The markers. And to respect these lines governing him, governing how he thinks, how he acts, how he speaks, how he behaves. A smart kid.

Halved kid. Halved Singaporean.

Relieved of his duties. A relief teacher relieved. If Alfian was only half, that half which the government of Singapore so desperately wants, that half of creativity, of thinking, of courage. That half which asks so little of the state of Singapore. That does not call Singapore into question. That accepts the narrative as it is. A Merlion is a Merlion. It is a symbol of singapore and its associated virtues. Nothing else. Life is good, will be better.
If Alfian was only half. He would make the perfect teacher. To mould a perfect whole for the future generation of Singapore.

You are perfect only if you are half. In Singapore, there are no carpe diems.

There are many halving institutions in this state called Singapore. Institutions which exist on this halving paradigm. The mass media is another pertinent example. Ask Mr Brown. He would be perfect if he was halved. Witty, writes well, connects with his readers, keen nose for news. If MB was only half, it would be perfect. But like many others, who are nameless, who are silent, he too was relieved of his duties. Imperfect.

We see injustice and we give a half-hearted response. A wistful shake of the head. Friendly advice to toe the line. A glazed look. A hidden smirk. Marginal surprise. Life goes on. Halved Singaporeans. Perfect.

No students standing on chairs. Alfian my Alfian.

Just a cold letter. A relieving in the school holidays. A minor blip in the civil service machine, in the education system programmed to halve. Half your children as it halved us. Makes us smart. Makes us creative. Makes us think. Makes me me. Makes us us. Half Singapore.

Our capacity to accept incidents such as this is a mark of the success of our education system.

But there is always Alfian. Rebuking the cold refrain, if only he was half. If only. Rebuking a halved Singapore, half Singaporeans.

Hope for imperfection.

Quotes of the Day --

"Hope, the best comfort of our imperfect condition, was not denied to the Roman slave; and if he had any opportunity of rendering himself either useful or agreeable, he might very naturally expect that the diligence and fidelity of a few years would be rewarded with the inestimable gift of freedom." Chapter 2, Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

"The urgent consideration of the public safety may undoubtedly authorize the violation of every positive law. How far that, or any other, consideration may operate to dissolve the natural obligations of humanity and justice is a doctrine of which I still desire to remain ignorant." Chapter 26, Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

"A people who still remembered that their ancestors had been the masters of the world would have applauded, with conscious pride, the representation of ancient freedom, if they had not long since been accustomed to prefer the solid assurance of bread to the unsubstantial visions of liberty and greatness." Chapter 29 Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire