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Do we need another journal?

By Toh Hsien Min

Do we need another literary journal in Singapore? Of course not. One print journal struggling to get along and one internet journal whose founders have by their own admission found "guerilla tactics" to be the only way forward is plenty. (I'm not including internet endeavours that have stopped being updated...) It's more than enough; after all, the renaissance city that Singapore is seeks the blossoming of the consumptive arts (and I may mean that word in that sense). We do get in the top musicals, dance acts and quite a lot of plays, but they serve the higher purpose of making Singapore tolerable for our foreign talents. What should one do with an art form that demands real engagement rather than stress-relieving cultural consumption? That isn't marketable to European bankers and American management consultants ("Whoop-de-doo! Singapore produces literature! Get me on that business-class flight right now!")? In a country where the mass populace reads stock market charts and credit card bills? Literature???

Is Singapore the only country to question the use of literature in today's world (always cunningly disguised as "The New Economy") every 1.5 years? I don't know, but here's a nugget to ponder over. The UK has about 60 million people (15 times the population of Singapore), and about 300 literary journals. Print. This is, uh, 300 times the number in Singapore. Meanwhile, America, that source of desirable management ideas and predominant popular culture, has put out so many internet literary journals that it would take someone several months to catalogue them all.

The numbers are incidental. The more important point is, journals go pari passu with a lively literary scene. (And a lively literary scene seems to coincide with a lively intellectual scene, and a lively intellectual scene somehow happens to exist alongside a lively economic scene... hmm...) They are the points around which debate and experimentation coalesce. Think of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E (cf this issue's featured interview) or Stand Magazine (standing up, as it were, for foreign influences in Britain). Journals are also networks of approval, and while I have never sought to be the best-networked poet in Singapore I cannot help but admire the sophistication of the British system, wherein journals act as a gauntlet that aspiring writers have to get through before being accepted by publishers. It builds credibility for the poet, and helps the publisher by contributing towards a more rigorous selection process.

Given some of the stuff we've seen in Singapore in the past decade, boy, do we need a journal scene! This is what QLRS (short for the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore) seeks to do, and that is why it will hold itself up to the very highest standards in its editorial mission. Call it tough love, but that's the only way our literature is going to grow up.

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