Friday, April 27, 2007

Political Poetry

There is much to read about kingship in Shakespeare; there is also much poetry. In fact, there are two Shakespearean plays written entirely in poetry, and both deal with kingship: This is one (John of Gaunt's words here, in lines 42-51, are especially poignant), and there is another king who received the same treatment elsewhere (bonus question: who is it?).

But the issue of kingship is always one of power, even in lands without kings; the Israelites clamoured for a king and got one, despite warnings as to the meaning and power of such a symbol. One can sense the burning laughter of God at the end of that chapter.

And that brings us to the idea of political poetry - poetry written for the express purpose of saying something about a country, a state, a political entity; often, to infuse or extol qualities in it - sometimes, the reverse. How much of poetry is political in nature? How much of it was successful?

For those of you who haven't seen a merlion, or who haven't read this before, here is the poem which is said to be the 'seminal poem on nation-building'. You be the judge.


(for Maurice Baker)

I have sailed many waters,
Skirted islands of fire,
Contended with Circe
Who loved the squeal of pigs;
Passed Scylla and Charybdis
To seven years with Calypso,
Heaved in battle against the gods.
Beneath it all
I kept faith with Ithaca, travelled,
Travelled and travelled,
Suffering much, enjoying a little;
Met strange people singing
New myths; made myths myself.

But this lion of the sea
Salt-maned, scaly, wondrous of tail,
Touched with power, insistent
On this brief promontory...

Nothing, nothing in my days
Foreshadowed this
Half-beast, half-fish,
This powerful creature of land and sea.

Peoples settled here,
Brought to this island
The bounty of these seas,
Built towers topless as Ilium's.

They make, they serve,
They buy, they sell.

Despite unequal ways,
Together they mutate,
Explore the edges of harmony,
Search for a centre;
Have changed their gods,
Kept some memory of their race
In prayer, laughter, the way
Their women dress and greet.
They hold the bright, the beautiful,
Good ancestral dreams
Within new visions,
So shining, urgent,
Full of what is now.

Perhaps having dealt in things,
Surfeited on them,
Their spirits yearn again for images,
Adding to the dragon, phoenix,
Garuda, naga those horses of the sun,
This lion of the sea,
This image of themselves.

Edwin Thumboo

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A blog that only an English major can love?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

love lit, love life.

I've been thinking of what I want to pursue in the future. With each passing day in class, the passing of lessons, and with the discourse of knowledge, I am increasingly inclined to make literature my future.

What makes literature so appealing to me for one? To me, without literature, you will never be able to understand the human race. The human race is so complex and each person in this planet is vastly different from the other. Literature to me encapsulates this understanding. It is through the study of one's character and personality as highlighted by the author that makes the reader understand, perhaps abstractly the psyche of the character. Take King Lear for example.

I once exclaimed to my teacher, Mrs Goh in the middle of class "oh why does Cordelia die!". And like all literature teachers, Mrs Goh went into a tirade of reasons as to why Lear brought it upon himself. That to me is the beauty of literature. That by understanding the psyche, the background, the personality of the character, are we then able to understand the character. It is painful to read about a one-dimensional character simply because he/she is so shallow, so colourless and so drab. Conversely, none of us are shallow, colourless or drab, and even if we are, there are so many forces that make us as such. Using the analogy of King Lear, we are able to see from the bigger picture as to why Lear is as such, why Cordelia as such and so on. Literature to me is a microcosm of the human race - where the human race seems to write about themselves in a third person.

To me, you understand lit, you understand life. Similarly, you love lit, you love life. Why so? Take for example Celie's narrative in The Color Purple. To me, the most poignant line is - "I spent fifteen minutes with my children. And she been going on for months bout how ungrateful I sis. White folks is a miracle of affliction, say Sophia." It makes you feel for the character. You see how Sophia Butler, induitably a domineering, strong-willed spirit can descend to such resignation, because of the consequence of racism. To some who may not appreciate literature, this would probably incite a "oh. so what?" response. But for me, you want to weep for Sophia because you know that Sophia is not a made-up character. She must have been born out of something in the author. Writing to me is not a blank slate. If one has a blank slate one is unable to write anything - think Lear "nothing will come out of nothing". Something must be there. And that something must be caused by larger historical factors. Understanding this would enable us to understand the human race.

Understanding the human race is only caused by understanding literature. Honestly, to me at least, it is impossible to understand the human race through Science or Mathematics. Granted, we can understand the composition of the human race, but never the behaviour of humans. How can atoms, molecules, sigma, pi and Pythagoras aid us in our understanding of human behaviour?

Literature on the other hand, gives us those insights to how us humans behave. It gives us a deeper understand as to how us humans carry ourselves in our daily discourse.

And if can see that, you will gradually love literature. Once you get that love for literature, you will be granted insights into life. And with those insights, you will gradually learn to love life.

- signing of from the class of joppa

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

U of Chicago

What wonderful questions for personal essays!

Makes me want to apply for university all over again! Aren't you guys the lucky ones. :)


Monday, April 16, 2007


"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown," says the Bard. In fact, he seemed to have an unending fascination for the theme of kingship. Part of this might of course be attributed to the fact that he was a political hack, churning out plays sometimes partly for the benefit of his company's interaction with the English crown.

But whether you're reading Huckleberry Finn, The Drawing of the Dark, or one of Alfred Duggan's numerous mini-masterpieces on obscure nobles and rulers, you will return to this theme. For the theme of kingship is that of the delegation of universal authority, whether this authority is seen as the Mandate of Heaven or the Divine Right. What ails the king ails the nation; what triumphs a ruler gains show the blessings of the beyond.

It is particularly instructive to read Macbeth, King Lear and Julius Caesar one after another and in various combinations. Many people have essayed at least one; a number have commented on all three as a group. Even President Clinton has had his say. Then again, those who prefer the hurly-burly of the business world might have a slightly different perspective.

Sometimes, we read Lear and Macbeth as tragedy, as poetry, as psychological study. That is all fine and good. But as miniature riffs on one of the oldest of mankind's themes, they are elegant exemplars, portraits done in fine lines of atrament upon a field of snow. "Here lies one whose name was writ in water," says a famous tombstone in Rome. Thank goodness Shakespeare's words were written in a more durable medium.

Conversational Terrorism

How many of you are guilty of these? :)

this my personal favourite:


This technique requires prior knowledge of some embarrassing mistake or painful event in the other person's life. This knowledge can be woven into a comment in a way that agitates the other person without direct reference. A key word or phrase is tossed out like a grenade that embarrasses or humiliates the other person.

"What was it your ex-wife used to say?"
"Didn't we already have this argument just before you went through the de-tox program?"


Saturday, April 14, 2007


Is Robert Frost's 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening' one of your Part 2 poems?

The last stanza might resonate with many in the coming months. :)

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."


Political literature

I think that Amelia has raised some good and interesting issues in her posting, but I'll leave it to other folks to comment on it - I think you have already heard enough from me regarding the ending. I'm sure there are others out there who are grappling too with the ending in _Huck Finn_? Or with the humour?


My posting is more interested in the relationship between literature and politics. I had followed a link to this website - - from another blog, and there Dr Mark Gellis says

"It is important, by the way, to keep the political aspect of literature in mind. Nothing is more political than literature, even when it overtly makes an argument about a particular political issue, because so much of literature is concerned with power and morality, about what is true, good, and possible, about what is just and beautiful, about who has power and who should have power in society and in the family, and how that power should be employed, and for what ends. It is hard to find a work of literature that does not ask us to join with or join against certain characters (or the narrator); in doing this, a work of literature becomes an argument for (or against) a particular political, ethical, social, and/or moral agenda."

A compelling point of view. Now, look at this question from the Higher Level November 2004 paper:

“A writer cannot put literature and politics on an equal footing without failing as a writer.” How far does writing you have studied confirm or question this view?


:) What do you think? What is the quote in the HL question saying/implying/assuming? Whose view are you more inclined to agree with? Take a stab at it, go on.


Friday, April 13, 2007

class talk

Okay this might not be related to electronic literature at all, but I hope you guys can bear with me as i rant about Huck Finn again.

As i read the article by Leo Marx, i was wondering if Twain's way of ending Huck Finn can ever be justified. We all know how the ending goes - Huck subscribes to Tom's fantasies, and the moral purpose of the book seemed to disappear altogether. The ending appears to be disappointing, but is it truly unexpected?

If one is patient enough to read the book a second time, you'll find that the clues that hint toward this somewhat tragic ending are subtle, but they are present. A central theme of this book would be Twain's criticism of a decadent society - a society that appears pious and goes to church, but shoots and kills the next day. However, ruthless murders aside, we see genuinely good-natured people like the Phelps subscribing to this pseudo-religion as well. To me, their blindness to the crime of slavery is one of deliberate ignorance. Societal pressures have grained into their minds that slavery is the way the world works, but this notion might not have entered their hearts. Thus, people like the Phelps then turn to religion (or pseudo-religion) to desensitize their hearts to issues of racism; they continue doing good deeds and loving their neighbours so that they can see themselves as righteous. By doing so, they create for themselves a kind of self-righteousness that they can turn to, so as to avoid confronting the bigger question of racism and slavery. In a sense, they subscribe to a kind of make-believe to get by.

So, if the people of that time could subscribe to pseudo-religion to be at peace with their distorted notion of morality, why do we disallow Huck to return to Tom's world of make-believe at the end of the novel? Maybe this is Huck's way of dealing with the harsh reality of it all: that the ideals represented by the raft and his sound heart are impossible. In a way, it's like how Twain returns to the burlesque at the end of the novel after taking the reader through serious issues of morality - it was his way of dealing with reality. He brought up the real issues, but he didn't solve them.

[Clemens was able to] "point to what contradicts it in the facts; but not in order to abandon the genteel tradition, for (he had) nothing solid to put in its place." - George Santayana

Huimin and i were talking about this after one English class, and the conversation was about how we wouldn't mind being children again if we had the choice. Well, i guess that's subject to personal experience, but the point is that we all deal with reality in different ways. When people face a problem in real life, some of them shout it out, some of them indulge in computer games, some of them read a book, and some of them try to laugh it off. And we know some problems never get solved. In the same way, Twain embarks on the noble cause of tackling such problematic issues in Huck Finn; but when he realises that what he was saying then wouldn't appeal to his audience, he returns to the burlesque and reduces everything to a farce, in an effort to try and laugh everything off.

This is what i would like to think: you know when you say something and it turns out offensive to the other person, and then you try to laugh it off by saying you were just kidding, or by saying that the same applies to you? Well, that's perhaps how Twain felt. It's like a nervous laughter.

As for the electronic literature post, the video said something about form and content being separate? Well, in a remote sense, the form of Huck Finn may be appropriate, since Huck is now back where he came from, but the content does not favour this form at all. Haha but that's quite a remote point. Oh well.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Electronic text

I immediately thought of this video i saw on youtube, its by some professor specializing in new forms of communication. Its just an interesting visual take on the possibilites of new forms of electronic text... it was featured on the front page of youtube, i happened to chance across it.

Also, since youtube videos are a relatively new form of communication medium, that makes it even more interesting. Its a new communication medium being used to talk about other new forms of communication mediums. Think about the possibilities of that : ).


Monday, April 9, 2007

Hypertext; non-linear narrative

An excerpt from _Postmodern American Fiction_ (1998):

"For many observers... the advent of electronic textual forms represents a potentially historic transformation of literature, one where the reader's self-guided tour through a series of linked and interrelated 'lexias' (or blocks of text) departs sharply from the model of a single, linear narrative compelled by the printed page. Michael Joyce's _afternoon, a story_ (1990) has been celebrated both for the gracefulness of its prose and for its realization of the possibilities of hypertext narrative. Using the inter-connected and random properties of the hypertext reading experience to simulate the tangles of memory, _afternoon_ explores the consciousness of a writer named Peter, who is drawn into premonitions of loss and tragedy that - depending upon the paths through the text the reader chooses - lead toward different and often ambiguous outcomes."

If you're interested in hypertext narratives, check out

These examples may be (and probably are) dated, coming out of the early 1990s. Can anyone point us to more recent development in electronic literature?