Travel talk

Serendipity is:
It was my first time sticking my toe into anything meetup-ish, which turned out to be about ten adults sitting around a cafe table and talking mostly about travel. A lovely couple who'd recently been to Bandung, Indonesia did a little show-and-tell about their trip, then people just mingled. That same couple has lived in Seoul, so quite naturally we got to talking about Korea, then Vietnam, then Thailand, and finally Singapore.

Interestingly, the couple asked me if I knew of any particularly canonical Singapore fiction and I was stumped. I'm not a fan of Catherine Lim, Philip Jeyaretnam's writing doesn't quite strike me as being canonical and Alfian Sa'at's Corridor, which I like, feels premature nonetheless. In the end, I suggested they stick to theatre instead.

It's nice to be able to gab with new acquaintances for something on the order of two hours without noticing the time.

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At 4/01/2009 12:11 am , Anonymous Laremy said...

Sorry for the very long comment but I'm a supporter of SG Lit in English so I thought I'd share my two cents worth.

I don't think there's an actual canon per se because no one has 'created' one, if you see where I'm coming from w.r.t. how works become famous or great.

Re: "Philip Jeyaretnam's writing doesn't quite strike me as being canonical", I once took a module on Irish poetry in English, and some of the stuff we had to read were really horrible poems.

The explanation our tutor gave for why these poems were even anthologised in the first place was something along the lines of how it's important for us to take the good with the bad; the horrible poems were part and parcel of the development of Irish poetry, so to use a cliched phrase, we had to know where it came from in order to understand where it's going.

To clarify, I'm not saying Philip J's stuff is rubbish; rather, it's part of the picture in the bigger scheme of things concerning SG Lit in English.

BTW, it's the same for Singapore theatre in English, IMHO. We still have room for growth, but it's all good.

Nevertheless, there's an actual anthology on Singapore Lit coming out. It's edited by Philip Holden and Rajeev Patke, if I'm not wrong. Will let you know when I get more details myself!

At 4/01/2009 8:05 am , Blogger strangemessages said...

Save for Cake productions, even Singapore theatre is bad now ugh

At 4/01/2009 1:47 pm , Blogger Tym said...

Laremy > Thanks for your thoughts. I knew using the word "canonical" would open up a can of worms, but I was too tired last night to think of another word.

I agree that Singapore writing is still growing and that developing a canon takes time. I was just truly stumped when the foreign couple I met asked me for suggestions (some more I am a writer!).

Any favourites of yours you'd suggest?

strangemessages > You sound bitter, my friend!

At 4/01/2009 11:29 pm , Anonymous Laremy said...

@Tym: Some writers, apart from those you've mentioned, some of whose works I feel are must-reads listed in no particular order here:

* Goh Poh Seng.
* Hwee Hwee Tan.
* Arthur Yap.
* Daren Shiau.
* Gopal Baratham.
* Haresh Sharma.
* Su-Chen Christine Lim.
* Kuo Pao Kun.
* Stella Kon.

But this list is not exhaustive; I still have a very long way more to go w.r.t. reading works by Singaporean writers. Hence this list doesn't have the newer works cos I'm trying to read everything chronologically :S

Also, collection of works which I feel should be read:
* Singapore Short Stories (ed. Robert Yeo) - especially The Taximan by Catherine Lim and The Tiger by S. Rajaretnam.
* The Merlion and the Hibiscus.
* From Boys to Men - A Literary Anthology of National Service in Singapore.

Last but not least, this is very contentious, but I feel that satirical/parody 'texts' like TalkingCock.com and The Mr Brown Show podcasts should also be considered.

They aren't traditional forms of literature, but I think this makes it all the more important for them to be discussed if we (or maybe it's just me... LOL) want literature and reading to be relevant in our day and age.

At 4/01/2009 11:36 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey tym, it's clarissa whom you met a while back at Zakir's wedding. Found you via ampulets :)

I beg to differ on Philip J: I think his novel Abraham's Promise is very good. I think Arthur Yap's poetry should be in the Sg Lit 'canon' too, ditto Kon's Emily Of Emerald Hill, several of Haresh's plays and Kuo Pao Kun. I think Kuo's plays should be read in both English and Mandarin though, because he wrote all of them in Mandarin first apart from The Coffin Is Too Big For The Hole, the only one of his plays to be written first in English.

Laremy's comments remind me that I should get to hunting down and reading Goh Poh Seng soon...

At 4/02/2009 9:42 am , Blogger Tym said...

I need to go away and read some of these books before I make any further comments on canon issues. It's not so much I didn't know they were there, but I wasn't compelled to read most of these authors (I'm excluding poets and playwrights for the moment, since this discussion started off talking about fiction only).

And why wasn't I compelled? You can point to the usual reasons: I was reading other (usually better known) writers, I'd read the blurbs on the books and didn't feel like reading that particular Singapore-authored book at that moment, I'm tired of being disappointed by a local writer (while at the same time I'm keenly aware that I haven't successfully written any fiction myself!).

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I need to go read some of the books/authors you guys have suggested before I mention the word "canon" again. I'll also direct my foreign friends who'd asked about it in the first place to this comments section for reading recommendations.

Other recommendations welcome, by the way!


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