Sunday, July 15, 2007

Things Fall Apart ... Perhaps

Was intrigued by this article which appeared a few days ago in Utusan (yes, another one, am actually fascinated by the literary articles in this newspaper which venture into territory the English language newspapers don't seem to touch.)

The writer (who strangely remains anonymous) is talking about a state called Anomie, a lack of regard for the generally accepted social or moral standards, or as Wikipedia kindly defines it for us:
...a reaction against or a retreat from the regulatory social controls of society
Actually the link to the Wiki page is relevant since the writer of the Utusan article seems to have drawn from it very heavily! (Play this game - google names from the article and then look for the English version on the Wiki page - how many can you find? How many sentences are direct translations?) If nothing else I call it lazy journalism.

That doesn't worry me so much as how flawed the argumentation is. The writer doesn't seem to grasp at all what anomie is or how it applies to either film or literature! (Of course, it's such an intellectual word to fling around!) So, Malay novels are getting written in "bahasa rojak" (fruit salad language - a whole mixture of lingos in other words.) And we're supposed to accept this as an example of anomie???

This mixing of languages, known in linguistics as code-switching is a natural feature of the way Malaysians speak, constantly shifting between languages and levels of discourse ... and why shouldn't this be a feature of the films and literature of the country? I am happy to see some of the young writers and filmmakers here exploiting this freedom.*

There's a paucity of other examples in the article from the Malaysian scene. Nothing much about literature, though this of course is the promise of the title. And the writer includes just one indirect reference to film ... Sharifa Amani's shaved head in Yasmin Ahmad's new film Muallaf. In what sense is this an example of anomie? Please do enlighten me! Social values going to the dogs because one actress decided to go "botak" for the sake of art?

Well, I'm not convinced.

All authors and filmmakers worth their salt have a duty to reflect and criticise society. Literature and films should be dangerous and uncomfortable. (Or what are they for?) And writers must above all be true to themselves.

Writers like Camus, Dostoevsky, Sartre, Lermontov wrote from a deep sense of dislocation in their time, still seem streets ahead of many of their contemporaries, and produced some of the world's greatest literature.

And Camus won a Nobel ... the prize you covet so much on behalf of Malay writers. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here? This from his acceptance speech:
Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself. Heir to a corrupt history, in which are mingled fallen revolutions, technology gone mad, dead gods, and worn-out ideologies, where mediocre powers can destroy all yet no longer know how to convince, where intelligence has debased itself to become the servant of hatred and oppression, this generation starting from its own negations has had to re-establish, both within and without, a little of that which constitutes the dignity of life and death.
I actually suspect that there is plenty of anger and alienation for local writers and filmmakers to draw on if they are brave enough. (For it takes great courage to write boldly and honestly.)

With this I end my little rant, dear Editor of the lit page of Utusan. I am so glad that you have the space to raise important issues ... but I do hope for some more carefully fleshed out arguments!


I realised after writing this that the term "bahasa rojak" actually is used to address very real concerns that the Malay language is becoming debased, especially by the incorporation of English words which are then "Malayised" with suffixes and prefixes and local spelling. I must say that I very much dislike this too, not least because it also debases the English language! An upcoming conference at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka addresses the issue.

However, while I am all for a purity of the language in publications and on the airwaves, writers of fiction, playwrights and filmmakers must choose the version of the language they feel best serves their purposes, particularly when they represent Malaysian voices . This could be "bahasa rojak" or a plurality of languages. I hope that this issue is brought up too.


John Ling said...

Utusan Malaysia is a right-wing, conservative publication. Naturally, many of its views will tend to gravitate towards that kind of politics.

bibliobibuli said...

quite right, john. but that's not my problem with the piece. i would give the article due respect if it were argued at all convincingly. i'm fine with different viewpoints but not with sloppiness!

Spot said...

Gosh, I'd never had expected Durkheim to pop up in Utusan.

Wonder why the more mysterious-sounding "malaise" was ignored in favour of anomie. :)

My sociology professor probably knew us students would get all mental blocked by the sexiness of the word, hence always emphasised the term "alienation" as a simplified, one-word description of anomie.

So...the integrating the plural characteristics of one's multi-cultural environment into a common heritage reflects alienation? The logic defies me.

The writer obviously has the same old axe to grind, and probably thought sexing it up with anomie would dress his dead horse with a semblance of intellectual sophistication.

Silver lining - it was nice to be reminded of good ol Durkheim!

bibliobibuli said...

nicely said, spot

dreamer idiot said...

The writer is probably an academic, who is filled with woe for the future of Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia. Indeed, he has much to worry about, as his own discourse also ends up borrowing ironically enough on English, with transliterated words, quite a few in fact: Focus, objektif, social, konsep, individu, merasionalisasikan.

Before I get horribly misconstrued and attacked for my views, let me begin to say and stress that I have high regard for Malay as a beautiful language, and I would personally love to see it used more often, and in fact, I try to myself, and I often get replied in English instead by well-meaning people who wish to bridge any potential communication gap (that's another a story and point to talk about another time).

The threat to the Malay language does not lie solely on the fault of cultural producers and cultural products that reflect our multilingual and multicultural (not forgetting global) environment. Moreover, no culture in the world, for that matter, including that of the Chinese, remains essential, static and unchanging; rather it evolves with the prevailing social, economic, political, cultural conditions; and this is seen no where better than the taste for spicy food by Malaysian Chinese who in their diasporic state are unlike most of their ethnic counterparts in China. All cultures come into contact with other cultures, and adopt, evolve along the way [of curry becoming something of a national dish in Britain]/ The ‘strength’ or ‘resilience’ of a culture, is how it adapts, grows in a changing and globalizing world.

To digress a little more, Malay culture would be very different today, if there weren’t for trade links with Arab traders, subsequently leading one of the Sultan of Melaka (Mansur Shah?) to adopt Islam. So, if anyone wants to hark back to some ‘pure’, ‘true’ and ‘essential culture, he would be falsely mistaken, sadly deluded in the least, or worse, bigoted and close minded.

Coming back again to the point of language, I do get the feeling that one of the main problems for the Malay language is that it is not as widely read as a language. If I remember correctly, I encountered statistics on newspaper circulation and readership some time back, and I was shocked to see that despite the majority of our populations being Malay, the readership for Malay newspapers like Utusan and Berita Harian wasn’t very much significantly higher than either Chinese or the English dailies. This clearly, shows that not enough people are reading, consequently, this would probably translate similarly to the readership for Malay books as well. Beside the problem of readership, as I mentioned before, every language needs good/quality literature in order for it to develop, and not least to be enjoyed and appreciated, and to sink deep into people’s psyche and soul [where people breath and think in the language]

Sitll have more to write, but this comment is turning to be a bit too long, sorry for that.

bibliobibuli said...

please do continue if you have time and energy, DI ... this is a very interesting take and very relevant

much amused by your examples of lifted words. i have to drop "merasionalisasikan" into conversation soon.

there is deep concern about the malay language ... saw on kakiseni that there is a conference on "bahasa rojak" this month at dbp this month. but the tern "bahasa rojak" is in itself sooo loaded in a negative way.

agree entirely about there needing to be a literature that popel want to read in a language.

and that malay is a beautiful language

bibliobibuli said...

popel? try "people"!