In Defense of Naive Reading


October 12, 2010

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/10

In Defense of Naïve Reading

by Robert Pippin (October 10, 2010)

Remember the culture wars (or the ’80s, for that matter)? “The Closing of the American Mind,” “Cultural Literacy,” “Prof Scam” ,“Tenured Radicals”? Whatever happened to all that? It occasionally resurfaces, of course. There was the Alan Sokal/Social Text affair in 1996, and there are occasional flaps about winners of bad writing awards and so forth, but the national attention on universities and their mission and place in our larger culture has certainly shifted.

Those culture wars, however much more heat than light they generated, were at least a philosophical debate about values, about what an educated person should know, even about what college was for. All of that has been displaced in the last decade by another sort of discourse: stories about the staggering and growing expense of a college education; the national hysteria about getting one’s children into an “elite” school (or at least one the neighbors might have heard of); the declining impact of a college degree on one’s job prospects; rampant plagiarism; the vast multitudes of part-time or adjunct faculty, usually without health care or much of a future, now teaching our undergraduates; pronouncements on the end of the book, the end of attention spans, even the end of reading itself. But the question of what all this expense and anxiety might ultimately be about, or what the point of it all is, has not surfaced much lately.

It might now be possible to get a different sort of perspective on that discussion of 20 years ago. It is not as if anybody won. The underlying issues ─ especially the philosophical issues ─ have not been resolved. The debate, in the manner of many such public debates and old soldiers, just faded away.

While the public debates may have died down — and while there continue to be such methodological debates in sociology, anthropology and history — it is still the teaching of literature that generates the most academic, and especially non-academic, discussion. There are such debates in philosophy, too, but we tend to get a pass on this issue since debates about what philosophy is have always been one of philosophy’s main topics.

Poems and novels and paintings were not produced as objects for future academic study; there is no reason to think that they could be suitable objects of “research.”

Most students study some literature in college, and most of those are aware that they are being taught a lot of  theory along with the literature. They understand that the latest theory is a broad social-science-like approach called “cultural studies,” or a particular version is called “post-colonialism” or “new historicism.” And there are still plenty of gender-theoretical approaches that are prominent. But what often goes unremarked upon in the continuing (though less public) debate about such approaches is that, taking in the longue durée, this instability is in itself completely unremarkable.

The ’80s debaters tended to forget that the teaching of vernacular literature is quite a recent development in the long history of the university. (The same could be said about the relatively recent invention of art history or music as an academic research discipline.) So it is not surprising that, in such a short time, we have not yet settled on the right or commonly agreed upon way to go about it. The fact that the backgrounds and expectations of the student population have changed so dramatically so many times in the last 100 years has made the problem even more difficult.

In the case of vernacular literature, there was from the beginning some tension between the reader’s point of view and what “professional scholarship” required. Naturally enough, the first models were borrowed from the way “research” was done on the classical texts in Greek and Latin that made up most of a student’s exposure to literature until the end of the 19th century. Philology, with its central focus on language, was once the master model for all the sciences and it was natural for teachers to try to train students to make good texts, track down sources, learn about conflicting editions and adjudicate such controversies. Then, as a kind of natural extension of these practices, came historical criticism, national language categorization, work on tracing influences and patronage, all contributing to the worry about classifying various schools, movements or periods. Then came biographical criticism and the flood gates were soon open wide: psychoanalytic criticism, new or formal criticism, semiotics, structuralism, post-structuralism, discourse analysis, reader response criticism or “reception aesthetics,” systems theory, hermeneutics, deconstruction, feminist criticism, cultural studies. And so on.

Clearly, poems and novels and paintings were not produced as objects for future academic study; there is no a priori reason to think that they could be suitable objects of  “research.” By and large they were produced for the pleasure and enlightenment of those who enjoyed them. But just as clearly, the teaching of literature in universities ─ especially after the 19th-century research model of Humboldt University of Berlin was widely copied ─ needed a justification consistent with the aims of that academic setting: that fact alone has always shaped the way vernacular literature has been taught.

The main aim was research: the creating and accumulation and transmission of knowledge. And the main model was the natural science model of collaborative research: define problems, break them down into manageable parts, create sub-disciplines and sub-sub-disciplines for the study of these, train students for such research specialties and share everything. With that model, what literature and all the arts needed was something like a general “science of meaning” that could eventually fit that sort of aspiration. Texts or art works could be analyzed as exemplifying and so helping establish such a science. Results could be published in scholarly journals, disputed by others, consensus would eventually emerge and so on. And if it proved impossible to establish anything like a pure science of exclusively literary or artistic or musical meaning, then collaboration with psychoanalysis or anthropology or linguistics would be welcomed.

Will the sciences eventually provide the actual theory of meaning that researchers in literature and the arts will need?

Finally, complicating the situation is the fact that literature study in a university education requires some method of evaluation of whether the student has done well or poorly. Students’ papers must be graded and no faculty member wants to face the inevitable “that’s just your opinion” unarmed, as it were. Learning how to use a research methodology, providing evidence that one has understood and can apply such a method, is understandably an appealing pedagogy.

None of this is in itself wrong-headed or misguided, and the absence of any consensus about this at this still early stage is not surprising. But there are two main dangers created by the inevitable pressures that the research paradigm for the study of literature and the arts within a modern research university brings with it.

While it is important and quite natural for literary specialists to try to arrive at a theory of what they do (something that conservatives in the culture wars often refused to concede), there is no particular reason to think that every aspect of the teaching of literature or film or art or all significant writing about the subject should be either an exemplification of how such a theory works or an introduction to what needs to be known in order to become a professor of such an enterprise. This is so for two all-important reasons.

First, literature and the arts have a dimension unique in the academy, not shared by the objects studied, or “researched” by our scientific brethren. They invite or invoke, at a kind of “first level,” an aesthetic experience that is by its nature resistant to restatement in more formalized, theoretical or generalizing language. This response can certainly be enriched by knowledge of context and history, but the objects express a first-person or subjective view of human concerns that is falsified if wholly transposed to a more “sideways on” or third person view. Indeed that is in a way the whole point of having the “arts.”

Likewise ─ and this is a much more controversial thesis ─ such works also can directly deliver a  kind of practical knowledge and self-understanding not available from a third person or more general formulation of such knowledge. There is no reason to think that such knowledge — exemplified in what Aristotle said about the practically wise man (the phronimos) or in what Pascal meant by the difference between l’esprit géometrique and l’esprit de finesse — is any less knowledge because it cannot be so formalized or even taught as such. Call this a plea for a place for “naïve” reading, teaching and writing — an appreciation and discussion not mediated by a theoretical research question recognizable as such by the modern academy.

This is not all that literary study should be: we certainly need a theory about how artistic works mean anything at all, why or in what sense, reading a novel, say, is different than reading a detailed case history. But there is also no reason to dismiss the “naïve” approach as mere amateurish “belle lettrism.” Naïve reading can be very hard; it can be done well or poorly; people can get better at it. And it doesn’t have to be “formalist” or purely textual criticism. Knowing as much as possible about the social world it was written for, about the author’s other works, his or her contemporaries, and so forth, can be very helpful.

Secondly, the “research model” pressures described are beginning to have another poorly thought out influence. It is quite natural (to some, anyway) to assume that eventually not just the model of the sciences, but the sciences themselves will provide the actual theory of meaning that researchers in such fields will need. One already sees the “application” of “results” from the neurosciences and evolutionary biology to questions about why characters in novels act as they do or what might be responsible for the moods characteristic of certain poets. People seem to be unusually interested in what area of the brain is active when Rilke is read to a subject. The great problem here is not so much a new sort of culture clash (or the victory of one of C.P. Snow’s “two cultures”) but that such applications are spectacular examples of bad literary criticism, not good examples of some revolutionary approach.

If one wants to explain why Dr. Sloper in Henry James’s novel, “Washington Square,” seems so protective yet so cold about his daughter Catherine’s dalliance with a suitor, one has to begin by entertaining the good evidence provided in the novel ─ that he enjoys the power he has over her and wants to keep it; that he fears the loneliness that would result if she leaves; that he knows the suitor is a fortune hunter; that Catherine has become a kind of surrogate wife for him and he regards her as “his” in that sense; that he hates the youth of the suitor; that he hates his daughter for being less accomplished than he would have liked; and that only some of this is available to his awareness, even though all true and playing some role. And one would only be getting started in fashioning an account of what his various actions mean, what he intended, what others understood him to be doing, all before we could even begin looking for anything like “the adaptive fitness” of “what he does.”

If being happy to remain engrossed in the richness of such interpretive possibilities is “naïve,” then so be it.

Robert B. Pippin is the Evelyn Stefansson Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought, the Department of Philosophy, and the College at the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books on German idealism and on  theories of modernity. His next book, on the problem of fate in American film noir, will appear in 2011.

The Village Blacksmith: For the Ordinary Fellow


September 21, 2010

The Village Blacksmith: In Honour of the Ordinary Fellow

This was one of the poems my late mother read to me when I was growing up. It is about a kind, religious and hardworking man.  The last stanza has special meaning to me. Henry Longfellow is brilliant in capturing the soul of this village blacksmith who has plenty to teach us about the simple life. I shall quote it  here as a constant reminder to me at least of what life is all about and what it has been for me.

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!

Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from this poem.–Din Merican

The Village Blacksmith
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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 till 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 wipe
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!

Tengku Razaleigh: We were once ‘Malaysians’


August 1, 2010

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah: We were once ‘Malaysians’

The following keynote speech was given by Gua Musang (Kelantan) Parliamentarian and former Malaysian Finance Minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah at the 4th Annual Malaysian Student Leaders Summit (MSLS) on July 30, 2010.

I have played some small role in the life of this nation, but having been on the wrong side of one or two political fights with the powers-that-be, I am not as close to the young people of this country as I would hope to be.

History and the 8 o’clock news are written by the victors. In recent years, the government’s monopoly of the media has been destroyed by the technology revolution.

You could say I was also a member of the United Kingdom and Eire Council for Malaysian Students (UKEC). Well I was, except that I belonged to the predecessor of the UKEC, by more than 50 years, the Malayan Students Union of the UK and Eire. I led this organisation in 1958/59.

asli forum tengku razaleigh economy 150109 02I was then a student of Queen’s University at Belfast, as well as at Lincoln’s Inn. In a rather cooler climate than Kota Bharu’s, we campaigned for decolonisation. We demonstrated in Trafalgar Square and even in Paris. We made posters and participated in British elections.

Your invitation to participate in the MSLS was prefaced by an essay that calls for an intellectually informed activism. I congratulate you on this. The youth of today, you note, “will chart the future of Malaysia.” You say you “no longer want to be ignored and leave the future of our Malaysia at the hands of the current generation.” You “want to grab the bull by the horns… and have a say in where we go as a society and as a nation.”

I feel the same, actually. A lot of Malaysians feel the same. They are tired of being ignored and talked down to. You are right. The present generation in power has let Malaysia down. But also you cite two things as testimony of the importance of youth and of student activism to this country, the election results of 2008 and “the prime minister’s acknowledgement of the role of youth in the development of the country.”

So perhaps you are a little way yet from thinking for yourselves. The first step in “grabbing the bull by the horns” is not to require the endorsement of the prime minister, or any minister, for your activism. Politicians are not your parents. They are your servants. You don’t need a government slogan coined by a foreign PR agency to wrap your project in. You just go ahead and do it.

When I was a student, our newly independent country was already a leader in the post-colonial world. We were sought out as a leader in the Afro-Asian Conference that inaugurated the Non-Aligned Movement and the G-77.

The Afro-Asian movement was led by such luminaries as Zhou En Lai, Nehru, Kwame Nkrumah and Soekarno. Malaysians were seen as moderate leaders capable of mediating between the more radical leaders and the West. We were known for our moderation, good sense and reliability.

We were a leader in the Islamic world, as ourselves and as we were, without our leaders having to put up false displays of piety. His memory has been scrubbed out quite systematically from our national consciousness, so you might not know this or much else about him, but it was Tunku Abdul Rahman who established our leadership in the Islamic world by coming up with the idea of the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Conference) and making it happen.

tunku abdul rahmanUnder his leadership, Malaysia led the way in taking up the anti-apartheid cause in the Commonwealth and in the United Nations, resulting in South Africa’s expulsion from these bodies.

Tunku Abdul Rahman: His great integrity in service was clear to all

Here was a man at ease with himself, made it a policy goal that Malaysia be “a happy country”. He loved sport and encouraged sporting achievement among Malaysians. He was owner of many a fine race horses. He called a press conference with his stewards when his horse won at the Melbourne Cup.

He had nothing to hide because his great integrity in service was clear to all. Now we have religious and moral hypocrites who cheat, lie and steal in office, who propagate an ideology that shackled the education system for all Malaysians, while they send their own kids to elite academies in the West.

Days when we were on top

Speaking of football – you’re too young to have experienced the Merdeka Cup in the 60s and 70s. Teams from across Asia would come to play in Kuala Lumpur: teams such as South Korea and Japan, whom we defeated routinely.

We were one of the better sides in Asia. We won the bronze medal at the Asian Games in 1974 and qualified for the Moscow Olympics in 1980. Today our FIFA ranking is 157 out of 203 countries.

That puts us in the lowest quartile, below Maldives (149), the smallest country in Asia, with just 400,000 people living about 1.5 metres above sea level who have to worry that their country may soon be swallowed up by climate change. Here in Asean we are behind Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, whom we used to dominate, and now only one spot above basketball-playing Philippines.

The captain of our illustrious 1970’s side was Soh Chin Aun and we had R Arumugam, Isa Bakar, Santokh Singh, James Wong and Mokhtar Dahari. They were heroes whose names rolled off the tongues of our schoolchildren as they copied them on the school field. It wasn’t about being the best in the world, but about being passionate and united and devoted to the game.

It was the same in badminton, except at one time we were the best in the world. I remember Wong Peng Soon, the first Asian to win the All-England Championship, and then just dominated it throughout the 1950. Back home every kid who played badminton in every little kampung wanted to call himself Wong Peng Soon.

There was no tinge of anybody identifying themselves exclusively as Chinese, Malays or Indian. Peng Soon was a Malayan hero. Just like each of our football heroes. Now we do not have an iota of that feeling. Where has it all gone?

Capital flight troubling


I don’t think it’s mere nostalgia that makes us think there was a time when the sun shone more brightly upon Malaysia. I bring up sport because it has been a mirror of our more general performance as a nation.

When we were at ease with who we were and didn’t need slogans to do our best together, we did well. When race and money entered our game, we declined. The same applies to our political and economic life.

Soon after independence, we were already a highly successful developing country. We had begun the infrastructure building and diversification of our economy that would be the foundation for further growth. We carried out an import-substitution programme that stimulated local productive capacity.

From there, we started an infrastructure build-up that enabled a diversification of the economy leading to rapid industrialisation. We carried out effective programmes to raise rural income and help the landless with programmes such as Felda.

Our achievements in achieving growth with equity were recognised around the world. Our peer group in economic development were South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, and we led the pack. I remember we used to send technical consultants to advise the South Koreans.

Bmalaysia stock exchange market klse 141008 05y the late 90s, however, we had fallen far behind this group and were competing with Thailand and Indonesia. Today, according to the latest World Investment Report, FDI into Malaysia is at a 20-year low.

We are entering the peer group of Cambodia, Burma and the Philippines as an investment destination. Thailand, despite a month-long siege of the capital, attracted more FDI than we did last year. Indonesia and Vietnam far outperform us, not as a statistical blip but consistently. Soon we shall have difficulty keeping up with the Philippines.

This, I believe, is called relegation. If we take into account FDI outflow, the picture is even more depressing. Last year, we received US$1.38 billion in investments but US$8.04 billion flowed out. We are the only country in Southeast Asia that has suffered net FDI outflow.

I am not against outward investment. It can be a good thing for the country. But an imbalance on this scale indicates capital flight, not mere investment overseas.

Time to wake up

Without a doubt, Malaysia is slipping. Billions have been looted from this country, and billions more are being siphoned out as our entire political structure crumbles. Yet we are gathered here in comfort, in a country that still seems to ‘work’ – most of the time. This is due less to good management than to the extraordinary wealth of this country.

You were born into a country of immense resources, both natural, cultural and social. We have been wearing down this advantage with mismanagement and corruption. With lies, tall tales and theft. We have a political class unwilling or unable to address the central issue of the day because they have grown fat and comfortable with a system built on lies and theft.

It is time to wake up. That waking up can begin here, right here, at this conference. Not tomorrow or the day after but today. So let me, as I have the honour of opening this conference, suggest the following:

1) Overcome the urge to have our hopes for the future endorsed by the prime minister. He will have retired, and I’ll be long gone, when your future arrives. The shape of your future is being determined now.

2) Resist the temptation to say “in line with” when we do something. Your projects, believe it or not, don’t have to be in line with any government campaign for them to be meaningful. You don’t need to polish anyone’s apple. Just get on with what you plan to do.

3) Do not put a lid on certain issues as ‘sensitive’ just because someone said they are. Or it is against the ‘social contract’. Or it is ‘politicisation’.

You don’t need to have your conversation delimited by the hyper-sensitive among us. Sensitivity is often a club people use to hit each other with. Reasoned discussion of contentious issues builds understanding and trust. Stress test your ideas.

4) It’s not ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ to ask for an end to having politics, economic policy, education policy and everything and the kitchen sink determined by race. It’s called growing up.

5) Don’t let the politicians you have invited here talk down to you.

Don’t let them

Don’t let them tell you how bright and ‘exuberant’ you are, that you are the future of the nation, etc. If you close your eyes and flow with their flattery, you have safely joined the caravan, a caravan taking the nation down a sink hole.

If they tell you the future is in your hands, kindly request that they hand that future over first. Ask them how come the youngest member of our cabinet is 45? Our Merdeka cabinet had an average age below 30.

You’re not the first generation to be bright. Mine wasn’t too stupid. But you could be the first generation of students and young graduates in 50 years to push this nation through a major transformation. And it is a transformation we need desperately.

You will be told that much is expected of you, much has been given to you and so forth. This is all true. Actually much has also been stolen from you. Over the last twenty five years, much of the immense wealth generated by our productive people and our vast resources has been looted. This was supposed to have been your patrimony.

The uncomplicated sense of belonging fully, wholeheartedly, unreservedly, to this country, in all its diversity, that has been taken from you. Our sense of ourselves as Malaysians, a free and united people, has been replaced by a tale of racial strife and resentment that continues to haunt us. The thing is, this tale is false.

Reclaim your history

The most precious thing you have been deprived of has been your history. Someone of my generation finds it hard to describe what must seem like a completely different country to you now. Malaysia was not born in strife but in unity. Our independence was achieved through a demonstration of unity by the people in supporting a multiracial government led by Tunku Abdul Rahman.

That show of unity, demonstrated first through the municipal elections of 1952 and then through the Alliance’s landslide victory in the elections of 1955, showed that the people of Malaya were united in wanting their freedom. We surprised the British, who thought we could not do this.

Today we are no longer as united as we were then. We are also less free. I don’t think this is a coincidence. It takes free people to have the psychological strength to overcome the confines of a racialised worldview. It takes free people to overcome those politicians bent on hanging on to power gained by racialising every feature of our life including our football teams.

Hence while you are at this conference, let me argue, that as an absolute minimum, we should call for the repeal of unjust and much abused Acts of Parliament which are reversals of freedoms that we won at Merdeka.

I ask you in joining me in calling for the repeal of the ISA (Internal Security Act) and the OSA (Official Secrets Act). These draconian laws have been used, more often than not, as political tools rather than instruments of national security. They create a climate of fear.

I ask you to join me in calling for the repeal of the Printing and Publications Act, and above all, the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA). I don’t see how you can pursue your student activism with such freedom and support in the UK and Eire while forgetting that your brethren at home are deprived of their basic rights of association and expression by the UUCA. The UUCA has done immense harm in dumbing down our universities.

We must have freedom as guaranteed under our constitution. Freedom to assemble, associate, speak, write, move. This is basic. Even on matters of race and even on religious matters we should be able to speak freely, and we shall educate each other.

Make BN multiracial

It is time to realise the dream of Hussein Onn and the spirit of the Alliance and of Tunku Abdul Rahman. That dream was one of unity and a single Malaysian people. They went as far as they could with it in their time. Instead of taking on the torch, we have reversed course. The next step for us as a country is to move beyond the infancy of race-based parties to a non-racial party system.

Our race-based party system is the key political reason why we are a sick country, declining before our own eyes, with money fleeing and people telling their children not to come home after their studies.

So let us try to take 1Malaysia seriously. Millions have been spent putting up billboards and adding the term to every conceivable thing. We even have ‘Cuti-cuti 1Malaysia’. Can’t take a normal holiday anymore. This is all fine.

Now let us see if it means anything. Let us see the government of the day lead by example. 1Malaysia is empty because it is propagated by a government supported by a racially-based party system that is the chief cause of our inability to grow up in our race relations.

Our inability to grow up in our race relations is the chief reason why investors, and we ourselves, no longer have confidence in our economy. The reasons why we are behind Maldives in football, and behind the Philippines in FDI, are linked.

So let us take 1Malaysia seriously, and convert Barisan Nasional into a party open to all citizens. Let it be a multiracial party open to direct membership. Pakatan Rakyat will be forced to do the same or be left behind the times. Then we shall have the vehicles for a two party, non-race-based system.

If UMNO, MIC or MCA are afraid of losing supporters, let them get their members to join this new multiracial party. Pakatan Rakyat should do the same. Nobody need feel left out. UMNO members can join en masse. The Hainanese Kopitiam Owners’ Association can join whichever party they want, or both parties en masse if they like.

We can maintain our cherished civil associations, however we choose to associate. But we drop all communalism when we compete for the ballot. When our candidates stand for elections, let them ever after stand only as Malaysians, for better or worse.

http://www.malaysiakini.tv/video/19793/we-were-once-malaysians.html

Stephen Spender: I think continually


June 19, 2010

I Think Continually–Stephen Spender

I have not been posting poems on this blog for quite a while. I thought I should do so today to say thanks in a poetic way  to my blogging friends like Frank, Bean, Tean, Menyalak-er, Kakrubi56, Tok Cik, Danieldaud, and Siti Khatijah and Maureen et.el. They are heroes who brighten this blog. As usual, I will dedicate this poem to my dear wife Dr. Kamsiah G. Haider who is always urging me on when things do not look too bright.

drkamsiah

A poem from time to time in times of political gloom is good for our aching souls. At least, that is the way I feel. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses is one of my favorite but it was featured before. Now  let me to introduce Stephen Spender to you. I have chosen this particular poem , I think continually ,by Sir Stephen because I like his last stanza.–Din Merican

I Think Continually

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are feted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life

Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.
Born of the sun they travelled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.

Stephen Spender*

Sir Stephen Harold Spender CBE (28 February 1909 – 16 July 1995) was an English poet, novelist and essayist who concentrated on themes of social injustice and the class struggle in his work. He was appointed the seventeenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the United States Library of Congress in 1965.

Bagan Pinang: Defeat despite best efforts


October 11, 2009

My Econs Class of 1963 and I

My Econs Class of 1963 and I

My classmates and I met for a reunion lunch last Wednesday (October 7) at Original Kayu Restuarant in Section ss2, Petaling Jaya.  At that time, we already felt that Pakatan Rakyat would face major political and bureaucratic obstacles in its attempt to win the Bagan Pinang by election. The chances of victory were rather slim, given 4,000-5,000 postal votes, the media blitz, and money that UMNO would pump in to prop up its candidate, Isa Samad, Calon Rasuah.

My classmates were of the view that the best PR could hope for was a reduction in the margin of victory. I was the only one who thought that the odds would be about even, but the result announced at 8 pm this evening showed that Isa Samad won with a majority of 5,435 votes. I was obviously too optimistic.

Yes, we lost badly in Bagan Pinang. UMNO-BN’s Calon Rasuah won by a landslide. It is true that we face many obstacles in trying to defeat UMNO-BN in their stronghold. But we as genuine democrats (in a country which practices  politics of  manipulation and voter intimidation) must respect the choice of the people of Bagan Pinang. It is obvious that corruption is still acceptable as a way of life for the people of Bagan Pinang.

We must learn lessons for this setback, yes only a setback, review our strategies and tactics, improve our machinery on the ground and boost our public relations. The public is perceiving Pakatan Rakyat as increasingly divided, indisciplined (i.e. incapable of managing some of our ego-centric ADUNs and MPs), and unable to govern.

Our strengths are in our conceptualization and articulation of ideas, but we  have yet to execute them to good effect. Fortunately, there is still time to make appropriate changes in the way we conduct our campaigns and interface with the rakyat who want to see change, not business as usual, although in Bagan Pinang, it was the business as usual UMNO-BN coalition that retained the ADUN seat .

For today, take a breather. To those who worked hard in Bagan Pinang we say “terima kasih daun kali kalau boleh kerja keras lagi”. I dedicate this poem, Ulysses, by Alfred Lord Tennyson to you all , supporters of Pakatan Rakyat, and my dear friends  in Barisan Rakyat Bloggers group for your hard work and dedication.

To my classmates (Class of 1963 Econs, University of Malaya)  who are truly Malaysians, I thank you for your friendship, support and understanding over the years. With us as still united as we were in the 196os, we will be strong in will to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield. That which we are, we are.--Din Merican

Alfred Lord Tennyson–Ulysses

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.

by Alfred Tennyson


Wonderful Daffodils in honour and memory of my Penang Free School English Teacher, D.H. Howe


William Wordsworth

 

A poem can stir all of the senses, and the subject matter of a poem can range from being funny to being sad. I hope that you like this poem and the sentiments in the words of Daffodils by William Wordsworth.

This poem has special meaning to me, although I could and did not appreciate it when I was doing English and English Literature in 1959 in Penang Free School under the tutelage of my teacher and friend (I met him again in Hongkong in 1986), the late D.H. Howe. I had never seen a daffodil at the time nor had I been to the English Lake District which had inspired poets for many generations.

The Penang Free School, Green Lane, Penang

Mr. Howe gave me a very low grade in a class examination for my written appreciation of this William Wordworth’s poem. My Penang Free School classmates, Tan Sri Sheriff Kassim, Dato Lim Say Chong, Dato Zain Yusuf ,and Goh Thong Beng may recall this incident. I had never felt more humiliated than the treatment for this effort I got from Mr. Howe. I had failed to see imagery which Wordsworth created in this poem. But how could I ever forget the opening lines of this poem, “I wondered lonely as a cloud, That floats on high o’er vales and hills…

Thanks, Mr. Howe for the humiliation I got but as in all things, there was something positive that came out of it. It made me learn and appreciate a little poetry every now and then, especially when the chips are down or when fortune frowns on me. May God Bless you, Sir.

 

I mentioned this incident to my wife, Dr. Kamsiah G. Haider last evening, about D.H. Howe, my English teacher, William Wordworth the poet and his Daffodils and of course Penang Free School (picture above) . It is, therefore, appropriate that I should dedicate Daffodils (she prefers red and white roses, and white lillies) by William Wordsworth to her with all my love and admiration. —Din Merican

Daffodils by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company!
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.