Dato A Samad Said: An Apotheosis of sorts for DAP

June 14, 2015

Dato A Samad Said: An Apotheosis of sorts for DAP

by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com

The spoken word is a difficult thing for a literary person: his thoughts become feeble in the utterance. But on a page, they are like a pebble dropped into a pond, the expanding, concentric circle of consciousness it makes ramify and merge.

If these thoughts begin in delight and end in wisdom, you have a work of art. Even if Samad Said does not say much today, observers will recognise in his joining the DAP an apotheosis of sorts.–Terence Netto on A Samad Said

COMMENT: The DAP has hit paydirt. It has long looked in vain for prominent Malays to join the party, to dispel the perception that it is adverse to Malay interests and Muslim religion.

a-samas-said-puisi-a Today, deep in the Malay heartland – in Gua Musang, Kelantan, no less – it will unveil a pearl of a new member in National Literary Laureate A Samad Said.

A bewhiskered, brooding, perambulating presence in the streets of Kuala Lumpur that are noted for artistic predilections, Samad was a literati who was known to the ordinary people long before he morphed into a civil rights activist with polls reform advocacy group, Bersih.

Only those familiar with his literary work would have inferred that the man with the flowing white hair, beard and steady gait was making some kind of statement all those years he walked those artistic corridors, one that was the more striking for being unsaid.

Even when he took a prominent position in Bersih, he did not say much, relying on his presence to do the talking.

A lot of talking it did.

Once, in the course of a Bersih-organised protest march, he got on to a LRT coach in Bangsar to spontaneous applause from the passengers already inside: it was confirmation that the quiet pensive presence of yore had accrued to formidably recognisable stature.

He is unlikely to say much in Gua Musang today (June 13)when DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and party adviser Lim Kit Siang announce his enlistment with the DAP.

The spoken word is a difficult thing for a literary person: his thoughts become feeble in the utterance. But on a page, they are like a pebble dropped into a pond, the expanding, concentric circle of consciousness it makes ramify and merge.

The DAP ought to be congratulated on having pulled off a coup in enlisting Samad Said. What it should do now is to borrow a leaf from his book: emulate his deportment – go easy on the swagger and assertion and try subtlety and indirection. These are the arts of the Malay world. The DAP is fortunate now to have in its ranks someone to tutor them in those skills.

If these thoughts begin in delight and end in wisdom, you have a work of art. Even if Samad Said does not say much today, observers will recognise in his joining the DAP an apotheosis of sorts.–Terence Netto

The ASAS 50 literary movement, launched in Singapore in 1950s, of which he was a member, believed in using art to change the consciousness of the people.

Its doyen was Singapore-born A Samad Ismail, pan-Malaya’s greatest journalist in both Malay and English in the 1950s and 60s.

We are indebted to the journalist and blogger A Kadir Jasin for pointing out that we err when we call Samad Said ‘Pak Samad’. Kadir noted that that appellation is reserved to Samad Ismail (1924-2008) who for some reason did not like Samad Said but did not do anything to obstruct the promotion of his younger confrere to the post of Berita Harian(BH) editor in the early 1970s when ‘Pak Samad’ became managing editor of the New Straits Times Press which owned BH.

Grand tradition

The gesture was in the grand tradition of the Malay newspaper arts. Ishak Haji Muhammad (Pak Sako) had stepped aside for Abdul Rahim Kajai in the early 1940s as editor of Berita Malai, owned by the Japanese who had wanted that paper to be the leading one for Malays during the war.

The actual Pak Samad had early in his career learned the necessity of putting aside personal dislikes for the interests of the group.

Samad Said, or Abang Said as Kadir has pointed out, was lower in the literary pecking order to Pak Samad despite having at least one novel ‘Salina’ that is considered to be better than anything that Pak Samad, another literary laureate, had produced.

But today, in joining the DAP, he would have taken a step more momentous to the future of the country than any taken by Pak Samad for reason of what the move represents – a breaking of the logjam of race and religion around which Malaysia’s politics so obsessively revolves.

For someone as prominent in the world of Malay letters as Samad Said to join the DAP is a slap in the face of PAS, which he could have joined like that other award-winning Malay literati Shahnon Ahmad, and it also represents a kick in the shins of PKR where he has more friends.

The Islamic party is suffused with myopia and hallucination and the Malay-dominated PKR is stuck in a race-groove.

The DAP ought to be congratulated on having pulled off a coup inNetto T enlisting Samad Said. What it should do now is to borrow a leaf from his book: emulate his deportment – go easy on the swagger and assertion and try subtlety and indirection. These are the arts of the Malay world. The DAP is fortunate now to have in its ranks someone to tutor them in those skills.

Hang Tuah and the Hangs remain in the Malay Psyche, says Author Kassim Ahmad

June 5, 2015

Author Kassim Ahmad responds: Hang Tuah and the Hangs remain in the Malay Psyche

by Kassim Ahmad*

Kassim on Hang TuahI am writing on this topic in response to Prof. Khoo Kay Kim’s belated findings on Hang Tuah and his four comrades of the famed 15th century  Malay Malacca Sultanate and my friend Mr. Din Merican’s slightly cynical article, “Hang Tuah dan Hang Apa Lagi” in his blog.

[READ ONhttps://dinmerican.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/the-myth-of-hang-tuah-hang-apa-lagi/ ].

The good professor’s findings were that Hang Tuah and his four comrades were not real, but merely myths. What surprised me is that the story of Hang Tuah (Hikayat Hang Tuah) has been there for more than 300 years, and my two friends just discovered that it was a mythology. Therefore, generation of Malays have been fooled. For a moment we looked stupid.

I said, “For a moment,” on purpose. Because I quickly realized that what we call this real world is also a myth.  There have been many myths, and they are as old as the world.  Mythologies abound in the ancient world, in Babylon, Mesopotamia,  In Egypt, India, China, even in ancient Greece where the rationalism of Socrates and Aristotle first took root.

laksamana-melayu MahathirThe 21st Century Hang Jebat–Is he a myth too?

We are told that all the prophets brought the religion of monotheism at their different phases, culminating with the last Prophet Muhammad. Yet we know that every time, 300 years after each prophet, the strict monotheism of Abraham, Moses and Jesus, and even Muhammad, became soiled by elements of polytheism. The monotheism of Moses became the religion of Judaism, of Jesus the religion of Christianity, and of Muhammad the religions of “the People of the Tradition” (Ahlil Sunnah Wal-Jama’ah).

That was during the pre-scientific pre-modern era. With the advent of Muhammad, the human species entered the modern scientific era.

The Malay Malacca Sultanate of the 15th century with its Hang Tuah and his comrades emerged in the modern era. Whether Hang Tuah and his comrades did really exist or not is not really a relevant question to raise.

What is relevant and important is to note is that they and their exploits have entered into the lives of Pak Kassimgenerations of Malays in the wider Malay World. This fact is manifested in many forms: road names, names of warships and in many literary and cultural forms. They live in the psyche of the Malay people. This is not a myth. It is a reality.

*KASSIM AHMAD, author of Hikayat Hang Tuah, respected public intellectual and scholar from Kedah Darul Aman, is a Malaysian freelance writer. His website is www.kassimahmad.blogspot.com

‘The Daemon Knows,’ by Harold Bloom

May 27, 2015

Phnom Penh

NY TIMES Sunday Book Review

‘The Daemon Knows,’ by Harold Bloom

Read Bloom, and you may be led to suppose it so. “Walt Whitman,” he writes, “overwhelms me, possesses me, as only a few others — Dante, Shakespeare, ­Milton — consistently flood my entire being. . . . Without vision, criticism perishes.” And: “I rejoice at all strong ­transports of sublimity.” And again: “True criticism recognizes itself as a mode of memoir.” And finally, emphatically: “I believe there is no critical method except yourself.” It is through intoxicating meditations such as these that Bloom has come to his ­formulation of the American Sublime, and from this to his revelation of the daemon: the very Higgs boson of the sublime. Bloom’s beguiling daemon can be construed as the god ­within; he is sire to the exaltations of apotheosis, shamanism, Gnosticism, Orphism, Hermeticism and, closer to home, ­Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.” He is made manifest through the voice of poets and in the chants of those weavers of tales, like Melville and Faulkner, who are kin to ­poets.

Harold BloomDaemon Knows,” the enigmatic title of Bloom’s newest work of oracular criticism, is strangely intransitive. What is it that the daemon knows? We are meant to understand that the daemon is an incarnation of an intuition beyond ordinary apperception, and that this knowing lies in the halo of feeling that glows out of the language of poetry. “To ask the question concerning the daemon is to seek an origin of inspiration,” Bloom asserts, and his teacherly aim is to pose the question in close readings of 12 daemon-possessed writers whom he interrogates in pairs: Whitman with Melville, Emerson with Dickinson, Hawthorne with Henry James, Mark Twain with Frost, Stevens with T. S. Eliot, Faulkner with Hart Crane. He might well have chosen 12 others, he tells us, reciting still another blizzard of American luminaries, but dismisses the possibility “because these [chosen] writers represent our incessant effort to transcend the human without forsaking humanism.” (A question Bloom does not put — we will approach it shortly — is whether shamanism, Orphism, Gnosticism, Hermeticism and all the other mystical isms, including the idea of the daemon, do in fact cling to humanism.)

For Bloom, the origin of inspiration is dual: the daemon who ignites it from within, and the genealogical force that pursues it from without. The bloodline infusion of literary precursors has long been a ­leitmotif for Bloom, from the academic implosion of “The Anxiety of Influence” more than 40 years ago to the more recent “The Anatomy of Influence.” Here he ­invokes the primacy of Emerson as germinating ancestor:

“For me, Emerson is the fountain of the American will to know the self and its drive for sublimity. The American ­poets who (to me) matter most are all Emersonians of one kind or another: Walt ­Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, John Ashbery, A. R. Ammons, Elizabeth Bishop, May Swenson, Henri Cole. Our greatest creators of prose fiction were not Emersonians, yet the protagonists of Hawthorne, Melville and Henry James frequently are beyond our understanding if we do not see Hester Prynne, Captain Ahab and Isabel Archer as self-reliant questers.”

Though Bloom’s persuasive family trees are many-branched, the power of influential predecessors nevertheless stands apart from daemonic possession. According to Bloom, the daemon — “pure energy, free of morality” — is far more intrinsic than thematic affinity. However ­aggressively their passions invade, it is not Whitman alone who gives birth to Melville, or Emerson to Dickinson, or Hawthorne to James, or Mark Twain to Frost; and certainly it is not the lurid Faulkner, all on his own, who rivals the clay that will become Hart Crane. Literary heritage is half; the rest is the daemon. “ ‘Moby-Dick,’ ” Bloom sums up, “is at the center of this American heretical scripture, our worship of the god within, which pragmatically means of the daemon who knows how it is done.” But there is yet another pragmatic demonstration to be urged and elaborated. “Hart Crane’s daemon,” he adds, “knows how it is done and creates an epic of Pindaric odes, lyrics, meditations and supernal longings without precedent.”Without precedent: Surely this is the earliest key, in Bloom’s scheme, to the daemon’s magickings.

Theme and tone and voice may have authorial ancestors; what we call inspiration has none. Turning to one of his two commanding ­touchstones (the other is Whitman), Bloom cites Emerson: “This is that which the strong genius works upon; the region of destiny, of aspiration, of the unknown. . . . Far the best part, I repeat, of every mind is not that which he knows, but that which hovers in gleams, suggestions, tantalizing unpossessed before him.” So when Bloom tells us there can be no critical method other than the critic himself — meaning Bloom — we should not take it as blowhard hyperbole. With Emerson, he intends to pry open the unpossessed and to possess it, and to lead the reader to possess it too: a critical principle rooted in ampleness and generosity.

In this way, the illustrative excerpts Bloom selects from the work of his hallowed dozen are more than concentrated wine tastings; they are libraries in little. In considering Hawthorne, he discusses — in full — “Wakefield” and “Feathertop,” two lesser-known stories, as well as “The Blithedale Romance,”  “The Marble Faun” and the canonical “The Scarlet Letter” and “The House of the Seven Gables.” In his descant on James, Bloom supplies entire scenes from “The Portrait of a Lady,”  “The Bostonians” and “The Wings of the Dove,” in addition to long passages of “The Jolly Corner.” And in crisscrossing from Hawthorne to James and back again, he leaves nothing and no one unconnected. “Where indeed in American fiction,” he asks, “could there be a ­woman loftier, purer, as beautiful and as wise as Hester Prynne? Isabel Archer is the only likely candidate,” though he goes on to lament her choice of the “odious ­Osmond.” For Bloom, Moby-Dick consorts with Huck Finn, and Emily Dickinson with ­Shakespeare, while Whitman underlies, or agitates, Stevens, Hart Crane and, surprisingly, T. S. Eliot.

Of all Bloom’s couplings, Stevens and Eliot are the oddest and the crankiest. ­Despite the unexpected common link with Whitman, the juxtaposition is puzzling. Bloom’s veneration of Stevens, ­sometimes “moved almost to tears,” is unstinting. “From start to end, his work is a solar litany,” he confesses. “Stevens has helped me to live my life.” Yet nearly in the same breath Bloom is overt, even irascible, in his distaste for Eliot, partly in repudiation of “his virulent anti-Semitism, in the age of Hitler’s death camps,” but also because of his clericalism: “Is it my personal prejudice only that finds no aesthetic value whatsoever in the devotional verse of T. S. Eliot? . . . His dogmatism, dislike of women, debasement of ordinary human ­existence make me furious.” In the same dismissive vein, he disposes of Ezra Pound: “I at last weary of his sprawl and squalor.” Nowhere else in this celebratory volume can such a tone — of anger and disgust — be found. Not even in Bloom’s dispute with what he zealously dubs “the School of Resentment” (the politicization of literary studies) is he so vehement as here.

Still, emotive disclosures are not foreign to this critic’s temperament. He has, after all, already told us that criticism can be a form of memoir. “I am an experiential and personalizing literary critic,” he explains, “which certainly rouses up enmity, but I go on believing that poems matter only if we matter.” Out of this credo grows a confiding intimacy: “The obscure being I could call Bloom’s daemon has known how it is done, and I have not. His true name (has he one?) I cannot discover, but I am grateful to him for teaching the classes, writing the books, enduring the mishaps and illnesses, and nurturing the fictions of continuity that sustain my 85th year.” A touching reminder of the nature of the human quotidian, its riches and its vicissitudes, its ­successes and its losses: tangled mortal life itself, pulsing onward in the daylight world of reality. But is this what Bloom’s exalted 12 have taught of how the daemon, that rhapsodic creature of “pure energy, free of morality,” is purposed? The daemon who is trance, who is the mystical whiteness of the white whale, who is harp and altar of Hart Crane’s bridge, and who enters solely into seers and poets? Can the daemon’s lover — who is Bloom — harbor the daemon in himself? Or, to put it otherwise: May the professor of poetry don the poet’s mantle?

Meanwhile, the daemon knows, and Bloom knows too, who are his most ­dedicated antagonists. They are those verifiable humanists, the rabbis who repudiate the kabbalists, who refute the seductions of Orphists and Gnostics, who deny the dervishing god within and linger still in that perilous garden where mortals dare to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and daemons of the sublime are passing incantatory delusions.

Well, never mind — at least while Bloom’s enrapturing book is radiant in your hand. The daemon knows, and Bloom knows too, that in Eden, birthplace of the moral edict and the sober deed, there ­never was a poet.

Literary Greatness and the American Sublime
By Harold Bloom

524 pp. Spiegel & Grau. $35.

Cynthia Ozick’s most recent book is the novel “Foreign Bodies.” Her new collection, “Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, and Other Literary ­Essays,” will be published next year.

A version of this review appears in print on May 24, 2015, on page BR1 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: Shared Visions.

In Praise of The Village Blacksmith

May 25, 2015

Phnom Penh

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: In Praise of The  Village Blacksmith

After a long day at the University, I feel the urge to read another poem; this time I have chosen The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I learned this when I was in Form Two and liked the poem because it was about a working man who toiled from morning to night to make an honest living.

LongfellowThe Village Blacksmith is presented as an ordinary man and a role model who balances his commitments to work, the community, and his family The character is presented as an iconic tradesman who is embedded in the history of the town and its defining institutions because he is a longtime resident with deeply rooted strength, as symbolized by the “spreading chestnut tree”.Longfellow uses the poem to glorify and celebrate a humble, plain person.He is praising the craftsman in a time of industrialization.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s

The Village Blacksmith

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands,
His hair is crisp, and black, and long.

His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face
For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn to night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.
It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
Singing in paradise!

He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.
Toiling,rejoicing, sorrowing,
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped.
Each burning deed and thought.

Alfred Lord Tennyson–Ulyssses

May 24, 2015

Phnom Penh

Alfred Lord Tennyson–Ulysses

This epic poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson has been one of my favorites because it is inspirational, especially the last few stanzas (below). It seems appropriate that I should to read this poem again, given time and circumstance.I believe in destiny. –Din Merican


By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,

To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:

There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Remembering Indonesia’s Chairil Anwar– The Poet for All Times

April 26, 2015

Remembering Indonesia’s Chairil Anwar– The Poet for All Times

AkuDuring his lifetime, Chairil Anwar born in Medan, North Sumatra wrote approximately 94 works, including seventy-one poems. Most of those were unpublished at the time of his death, but were later collected in several collections of his work published posthumously. Of these, Anwar considered only 13 to be truly good poems. The first published was Deru Tjampur Debu (Roar Mixed with Dust), which was followed by Kerikil Tadjam dan Jang Terampas dan Terputus (Sharp Pebbles and the Seized and The Broken). Although several poems in those collections had the same title, they were slightly different.The most celebrated of his works is “AKU”  (“Me”/I)–Wikipedia