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 '90s Poetry Renaissance a Myth?
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alf

Singapore
92 Posts

Posted - 15 Aug 2005 :  03:49:41  Show Profile  Email Poster  Reply with Quote
In his recent article in the Harvard Asia Review: Poetry and the Renaissance Machine in Singapore ( http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~asiactr/haq/200501/0501a004.htm ) , NUS Scholar Gwee Li Sui suggests that the alleged renaissance of Singapore poetry in the '90s (which spawned small presses such as Ethos and First Fruits, and saw the emergence of writers from Alfian Saat and Cyril Wong to Daren Shiau and Yong Shu Hoong) isn't quite the literary flowering it was made out to be.

What do readers think?

Hsien Min

Singapore
49 Posts

Posted - 15 Aug 2005 :  23:18:25  Show Profile  Email Poster  Reply with Quote
Had a quick scan-through. I assume you're mostly referring to the para starting

quote:
A tortuous history so outlined must thus show up the whole recent resurgence as having hardly exploded as a confluence of youthful, starry-eyed, or even egoistical endeavours. Indeed, if the moment was not exactly coincidental, neither did it constitute a definitive renaissance; we are, after all, still concerned with the ongoing battle of art to secure the site of its own future within a socio-political world.


It's not an immediately invalid point to have made, but I think Gwee could have been more persuasive (or not!) with more analysis of the null hypothesis, as it were. For example, what about the other writers from the earlier generations? What became of them and what does this tell us about how earlier and later writers have been or can be read?

I did, however, rather appreciate this:

quote:
It should now be obvious that, especially in Singaporean poetry, youthfulness is an overdetermined word that cannot be read simplistically.


Cheers,
HM
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Nicholas Liu

Singapore
59 Posts

Posted - 15 Aug 2005 :  23:32:54  Show Profile  Email Poster  Reply with Quote
Gwee's essay dwells incessantly on the evolution of Singaporean identity in the context of poetry/poetic identity in the context of Singapore, to the near exclusion of what seem to me to be more salient (if also more workaday) issues when it comes to the question of a renaissance--the quality, quantity and diversity of output, the number of practitioners and their demographic make-up, the nature and number of venues available for their work, etc.

There is much of interest in this article, but in my opinion it is relevant to a topic other than this one.
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Hsien Min

Singapore
49 Posts

Posted - 16 Aug 2005 :  00:55:10  Show Profile  Email Poster  Reply with Quote
Hi Nick,

Agree, and your post links up to my point also: what's the persuasiveness of a line of thought that runs - here's one poet from the first generation, here're two poets from the second generation, apologies for the large gap btw, here's one poet from the third generation, and SPLAT! here's a bunch of poets all writing right now, but really it's not a big deal?

Broadbrushingly admittedly,
HM
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alf

Singapore
92 Posts

Posted - 16 Aug 2005 :  01:51:27  Show Profile  Email Poster  Reply with Quote
Unless his point, of course (and mind you I'm not sure that it is) is exactly that there isn't a renaissance because the "classical" ideal and project (including political/social relevance) of the early Singaporean poets have not been revived/reinvigorated by the "new" generation of writers, despite all the hype? That there isn't a proper sense of lineage but rather a series of discontinuities and stop-starts while the state and indifference and ennui hold illimitable dominion over all...?

Does sounds a bit naff when put like that, admittedly; and if that's the point of his thesis, then it begs a big So What?

Well wish Gwee cld chip in here himself. I did complain to him that he's basically raised questions he then fails to answer, esp (and I concur) the ones HM & Nick you point out here.



Edited by - alf on 16 Aug 2005 01:58:07
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Hsien Min

Singapore
49 Posts

Posted - 16 Aug 2005 :  09:51:51  Show Profile  Email Poster  Reply with Quote
There's certainly a note of it, in the quotation already given and in lines such as "the new trend is being detached from what came before, the poetry of old Singapore". But then you're right to observe that we may not be nor have to be interested (to) renaître the poetry of previous generations (imagine if the Romantics had said, oh let's just carry on where Pope left off!). Going a bit further, if Gwee is focussing on the discontinuities (similarly, I'm not sure he is), wouldn't that be implicitly making this generation of poets responsible for the flaws, failures or even fame and fortune of previous generations?
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Cyril Wong

Singapore
16 Posts

Posted - 16 Aug 2005 :  11:02:41  Show Profile  Email Poster  Reply with Quote
Hsien, just to add a point that the essay suggested to me (and which was confirmed by Gwee), in that I believed the essay was really engaging intertextually with a lot of essays that have come before with regards to Singapore poetry. The essay is, for example, a put-down of a lot of notions about what Boey Kim Cheng's poetry was about, for example, as put forth by the likes of Lee Tzu Pheng and Rajeev Patke. It's a kind of 'righting-much-of-the-wong' that has been evident in much of the writings by these academics (including Kirpal Singh et al).

C
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alf

Singapore
92 Posts

Posted - 16 Aug 2005 :  18:03:36  Show Profile  Email Poster  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Cyril Wong

Hsien, just to add a point that the essay suggested to me (and which was confirmed by Gwee), in that I believed the essay was really engaging intertextually with a lot of essays that have come before with regards to Singapore poetry. The essay is, for example, a put-down of a lot of notions about what Boey Kim Cheng's poetry was about, for example, as put forth by the likes of Lee Tzu Pheng and Rajeev Patke. It's a kind of 'righting-much-of-the-wong' that has been evident in much of the writings by these academics (including Kirpal Singh et al).

C



C, you mean to say it's an NUS academic retorting other NUS academics?

Which is a grand old tradition in scholarly writing I guess, but then I think the material (and points) he was taking issue with could have been made much more explicit (by citing relevant bits for instance) than just endnotes. I don't think I'd even get to read those other essays (nor will the typical Harvard Asia Review reader) without an NUS lib card...


Edited by - alf on 16 Aug 2005 18:05:04
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Gweek

Singapore
4 Posts

Posted - 17 Aug 2005 :  00:25:30  Show Profile  Email Poster  Reply with Quote
Hello! Alvin emailed this thread to me: hey, so here's where you guys are! Reading your responses so far, I'm tempted to reply with the words of one who said: "But I write so that I don't have to explain myself!" (Wait a minute: that's me too.) I do agree that, for reasons of personal research, special reading passes to libraries should be made available to writers, and NAC could help in this respect. Time to drop them a note?

I'm not going to attempt an aggressive defence of what I wrote here as I think you guys should always find fault with me (especially if we are in total agreement!). I just ask that you bear in mind at least some obvious limitations/specifications: eg. word length, scope, type of journal, type of discourse and precision, intended readers, and thematic orientation to history and society. If these are remembered, some points raised so far clarify themselves. A spoon may not do the work of a spade (should it?) but, if it stirs well, it is surely a good spoon!

The other issue concerns either-or scenarios: it seems quite logically impossible to me to argue for what some want, both a proclamation of poetic resistance/revolution and a recognition of a renaissance. How can that be thinkable? Rather, I have proposed that any notion of a renaissance must be heavily qualified: [1] it neglects an uneven history and persistent social disregard, [2] it began in part as a media creation with strings attached; [3] other social developments say something else; [4] it is too easily confused in the current imagination with a wider ongoing political push and, as such, can conversely damage poetry's own point (that this form is not what it wants); and [5] it needs the relentless hand-on work of self-promotion by poets themselves!

That's in a nutshell: there's more, but maybe I should hammer out another paper?

Gwee
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alf

Singapore
92 Posts

Posted - 17 Aug 2005 :  00:51:16  Show Profile  Email Poster  Reply with Quote
quote:
Rather, I have proposed that any notion of a renaissance must be heavily qualified: [1] it neglects an uneven history and persistent social disregard, [2] it began in part as a media creation with strings attached; [3] other social developments say something else; [4] it is too easily confused in the current imagination with a wider ongoing political push and, as such, can conversely damage poetry's own point (that this form is not what it wants); and [5] it needs the relentless hand-on work of self-promotion by poets themselves!



Now why didn't you come right out and say that? :)

But to take your pt again, there was much in your essay that I felt was useful: as HM says, putting paid to the "youth" label; setting up the historical context for poetic withdrawal (and daring to point fingers no less), and the blunt but necessary pt: "the arrangement spanning the 1990s largely benefited recurring award-holders" etc etc.

The other thing (and here's your other paper) is you spend a lot of time talking about what the current situation isn't but hardly any time on what it is or might be. Which is why I think the calls for clarity on what exactly it is you are/were proclaiming, whichever way it goes -- renaissance? resistance? revolution? really not very much?

put it another way, are you basically saying things are as bad as they always have been since the day the music died, despite the hype? I for one am not grumbling - would really like to know your scholarly opinion.

And mebbe here's the place to continue our discussion of the "internationalisation" initatives of the past decades. Taking full cognizance of the tension between "international readership" and "the global marketplace", I'm puzzled that you consider writers like Grace Chia, Aaron Lee and Alfian Saat to have eschewed this route, choosing instead to "engage locally", particularly since Alfian's been rather active abroad (in Berlin, in the Singapore Season "renaissance" anyone?), and certainly in Malaysia.





Edited by - alf on 17 Aug 2005 02:06:49
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Gweek

Singapore
4 Posts

Posted - 17 Aug 2005 :  10:44:32  Show Profile  Email Poster  Reply with Quote
Quick clarification -- busy lah! -- before I get misunderstood. I'm taking the liberty of attaching the cited bits of our emails here, and I hope that Alvin won't mind (they aren't exactly love letters! :) ).

Alvin said: I thought you didn't put it quite bluntly enough - eg if there isn't a renaissance, then where do you place the alfians and cyrils and small presses, plus the "internationalisation" efforts of the late 90s / early 00s?

I'm not disagreeing, but I'd be interested to see how you'd peg these. You see, to me one of the things about the past decade's literary efforts is the whole idea of giving up on the national/post-colonial agenda and gunning for better or worse for the global marketplace (something like 5x the global exposure on a per writer/per year basis, for 1995-2005 vs 1975-1985). plus there's the internet at play to facilitate this. I'd say in terms of raw numbers the readership/buyership has gone up. of course, it wasn't as easy to measure before oso.


I said: I’m quite conscious – in following the news of your various journeys to the West – of this bypassing of local slowness to get to “internationalisation”. It’s still a project that includes more strongly you, Hsien Min, Felix, Cyril perhaps, but not others, especially those with firsthand scepticism towards its realities, eg. Grace, Alfian, or those who still prefer to be engaged locally first, eg. Aaron, Alfian, Beng Liang. To be fair, I couldn’t posit it as a common modus operandi when it wasn’t; I therefore went instead for the common denominator of “a clear rejection”, which was more representative.

Also, for me, talking about international readership and the global marketplace are separate issues, the first more positive than the second. Postcolonial issues still define a Western-dominated international market, hence the perennial popularity of certain types of Asian writers. And it’s still telling if one defers to such a power “in order to” diminish another power.


As you see, it's not really in the words Alvin related here, but it certainly needs expansion. Later!

Gwee
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alf

Singapore
92 Posts

Posted - 17 Aug 2005 :  16:03:19  Show Profile  Email Poster  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Gweek

Quick clarification -- busy lah! -- before I get misunderstood. I'm taking the liberty of attaching the cited bits of our emails here, and I hope that Alvin won't mind (they aren't exactly love letters!



I don't mind if you post love letters :) was hoping you'd do this actually, or let me put up our email exchange.

anyway, in reply to that chunk by Gweek I asked this:

>>those who still prefer to be engaged locally first, eg. Aaron, Alfian, Beng Liang.


really? All three + grace have been on tours overseas (aaron for eg was part of the manila/LGA team remember?). Alfian in particular has gone as far (acc to some sources and some of his statements) as to give up on the local literary (non-theatre) scene in lieu of the one in Malaysia, where he's established a power/fan base perhaps more extensively non-singaporean in orientation than any other.

agree with the post-colonial/internationalising thing of course, and we're not so simplistic as to eschew the home ground. Is it not true tho that the "Certain types of writers" who dominate the consciousness are those with a decidely outward orientation? recent Cat Lim, Tan Hwee Hwee, and again, Alfian the exoticised malay-gay- dissident (significantly, the writers featured in Singapore Season ah!)
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Nicholas Liu

Singapore
59 Posts

Posted - 18 Aug 2005 :  00:09:16  Show Profile  Email Poster  Reply with Quote
Gwee:
quote:
A spoon may not do the work of a spade (should it?) but, if it stirs well, it is surely a good spoon!


Your essay may well be a good spoon, but its packaging proclaims it to be a spade.

quote:
Rather, I have proposed that any notion of a renaissance must be heavily qualified: [1] it neglects an uneven history and persistent social disregard, [2] it began in part as a media creation with strings attached; [3] other social developments say something else; [4] it is too easily confused in the current imagination with a wider ongoing political push and, as such, can conversely damage poetry's own point (that this form is not what it wants); and [5] it needs the relentless hand-on work of self-promotion by poets themselves!


That is very interesting, but the critical overview of various local writers of the past that forms the bulk of your essay has little to do with this proposal. Where is your examination of these five points in local literary history? It is not convincing to say that points 1-5 apply now and applied in the 90's and therefore the renaissance is illusory when you haven't dealt with those same points as they apply to the decades before the alleged renaissance. A certain continuity is missing.
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alf

Singapore
92 Posts

Posted - 18 Aug 2005 :  02:06:40  Show Profile  Email Poster  Reply with Quote
Was struck by the Wikipedia entry on the Renaissance. Fragment follows:

quote:
Marxist historians view the Renaissance as a pseudo-revolution with the changes in art, literature, and philosophy affecting only a tiny minority of the very wealthy and powerful while life for the great mass of the European population was unchanged from the Middle Ages. They thus deny that it is an event of much importance.

Today most historians view the Renaissance as largely an intellectual and ideological change, rather than a substantive one. Moreover, many historians now point out that most of the negative social factors popularly associated with the "medieval" period - poverty, warfare, religious and political persecution, and so forth - seem to have actually worsened during this age of Machiavelli, the Wars of Religion, the corrupt Borgia Popes, and the intensified witch-hunts of the 16th century. Many of the common people who lived during the "Renaissance" are known to have been concerned by the developments of the era rather than viewing it as the "golden age" imagined by certain 19th century authors. Perhaps the most important factor of the Renaissance is that those involved in the cultural movements in question - the artists, writers, and their patrons - believed they were living in a new era that was a clean break from the Middle Ages, even if much of the rest of the population seems to have viewed the period as an intensification of social maladies.
...
The early Renaissance was an act of collaboration. Artisans and artists were enmeshed in the networks of their city. Committees were usually responsible for buildings. There were collaborations between patricians and artisans without which the Renaissance could not have occurred. Thus it makes sense to adopt a civic theory of the Renaissance rather than a great man theory.



Edited by - alf on 18 Aug 2005 02:08:55
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Gweek

Singapore
4 Posts

Posted - 18 Aug 2005 :  16:57:21  Show Profile  Email Poster  Reply with Quote
If one is bent on seeing mud, every spoon will look like a spade. ;)

Gwee
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alf

Singapore
92 Posts

Posted - 19 Aug 2005 :  01:38:35  Show Profile  Email Poster  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Gweek

If one is bent on seeing mud, every spoon will look like a spade. ;)

Gwee



But is it mud -- or mud cake?
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