Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Moral Crisis?

Well done to the editors of Utusan Malaysia, and for giving space to discussion of literary issues (even when there is an obvious bias to the writing).

Azman Ismail asks if there is a "moral crisis" in Malay literature.

There is a tremendous emphasis on politeness and correct behaviour in Malay society, so how does a Malay audience react to authors who write in a way that might be considered deliberately provocative and rude?

Azman mentions two novels Shahnon Ahmad's satire Shit (no translation needed!) and Ibrahim Ali's Babi (Pig), but points out that the phenomena is more widespread, particularly now in poetry.

While I can understand the concern on the part of those who believe their most cherished traditions and cultural values are slipping away, writers surely must be free to express their ideas in the language they feel is appropriate.

Would love your comments on Azman's piece, particularly as I'm struggling to fully understand the language. The issues raised do seem to me very important.


irene said...

I'm VERY jealous! *pouts*

Ted Mahsun said...

The real crisis here is that the Malay Literature scene isn't very open-minded.

Ted is the chairman of Persatuan Pencinta Babi Sedunia (cawangan Malaysia).

animah said...

Putting aside the morality of Malaysian society plug, I think it's a good article. I would say the problem is that many today (myself) included don't read enough of the "sastera halus" it refers to.
Every now and then, I try looking for books by Usman Awang and A Samad Said but (save for a few) they are hard to find. I can't even find Sejarah Melayu or the Pak Pandir stories. You can however find plenty of novel cinta all over the bookshelves. Someone told me I should go to DBP or the UM bookshop to find the really good Malay books. But hang on, why do I have to hunt them down. Why aren't they available in normal bookshops?
I agree with the writer of the article that Malay literature is very layered and beautiful, and has a very unique way of critising society of the day. It would be great to see that sort of writing today, but now we are in a time of instant gratifcation where no one has the time to stop and appreciate hidden meanings.
When Rx and I were working on something together, my initial comment was this is too direct, it's not real. His response, a Malaysian tv audience won't get what you're trying to say if it's not direct or the actors won't know how to pull it off.
I find this sad that the Malay art of subtlety (which I never understood when I was a kid. 20 years later, I would go, oh so that's what my aunt meant) is slowly disappearing.

Azwan Ismail said...

What discussion? In Utusan Malaysia? There is no such discussion. There is only that article. And other articles of the same nature. Written by the same ‘highly-moralled’ person (and his ‘highly-moralled’ friends). All of them have even put up the same conclusion in their introduction: Be a highly-moralled writer, write a highly-moralled literature. Or you will go to hell.

Anonymous said...

This discussion (even if some people wouldn't call it such) is nothing new. I remember acting part of a play for one of my theatre courses as an undergraduate. I can't exactly remember the author of the play, but I remember the title of the play: 'Ayam Jantan Ayam Betina'. It centres around a middle-class Malay family living in the Sixties, kind of like a sitcom.

The language used was not vulgar, but it was certainly rather crass. I remember my lecturer mentioning that the author felt that the Malay community becomes too soft-spoken for its own good. I'm sure the play must have caused some amount of controversy when it first appeared, but it's inclusion in my syllabus must mean that it is accepted as part of the Malay literary canon now. :)

KarcyR / Catalina

bibliobibuli said...

haha - then you're going to hell in a handcart, azwan!! (actually you write very nicely about demons and angels :-D)

animah thanks. yes, it is hard to find many books and this is very sad.

karcy - yes, nothing new ... but to some extent it is to me and i think it is very interesting for those who come from elsewhere.

you simply can't tell writers what they should write and how they should write it. the soviet union tried to dictate to composers what sort of stuff they should compose.

in this environment i think writers want to be even more subversive and confrontational than they might otherwise be ... and very much as a reaction. what say you?

we know where utusan stands, but what about the rest of the malay literati??

bibliobibuli said...

an afterthought ... do you think that so many young malay writers write in english because they feel there is more freedom from this kind of pressure?

vovin said...

Referrring to animah comment, i agree DBP's books is hard to find. I put a blame on DBP.

For the article, i hate it when they still generalize 'underground writer' as people who destroy morale. Further more, they see underground writer as a person who masturbate every one hour 24-7.

There are many great what they so called 'underground writer'. These folks went 'underground' because naturally people on the 'surface' still have this mentallity on what suppose to writer and what not. They Rejected thought provoking ideas in the name of morale.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks Vovin. there is a tremendous rift then.

any idea how the older more established malay writers feel??

Sufian said...

Oh, yes, I agree with Prof. Madya Dr. Hashim Ismail that "Falsafah kepengarangan tradisional penuh beralas dan berlapik. Setiap teguran dan kritikan dilontar melalui kias, ibarat, lambang dan peribahasa yang menarik.. .Sama sekali tidak ada makian atau carutan."

Look at this example from Sejarah Melayu:

Adapun Hang Isap itu ada berniaga dengan seorang saiyid hamba Allah. Pada kira-kira saiyid itu ada emasnya sedikit lagi pada Hang Isap. Maka kata Hang Isap, 'Tiada."

Maka berbantahlah saiyid itu dengan Hang Isap. Maka kata Hang Isap, 'Wali apa ini yang menuduh orang tiada dengan sebenarnya ini? Wali pelir gerangan namanya."

Stupid pelir.

animah said...

What is "pelir" and "gerangan"?

Sufian said...

Pelir is penis.

Hang Isap (Hang Blowjob) talking about wali pelir (Penile Saint?) now that, that is the art of Malay subtlety...

Gerangan is: agaknya, rupanya, barangkali

vovin said...

One thing, some of the older established malay writer seems think this is 70's. People evolved, so does writing. They don't.

Morale police is everywhere here, they judge you, they tear you apart.

funny is, they keep screaming, wondering why young writers don't produce masterpiece. i believe there are lot's malay writing (novel) masterpiece, it just no publisher dare to publish it.

It's their fault when putting too much rules in the name of 'morale', as if readers nowadays is too stupid to distinguish what is good and what is wrong.

bibliobibuli said...

english teacher sharon steps in to correct vovin

you mean "moral" not "morale"

morale means a positive spirit

i do understand about the moral police.

vovin - have you thought of taking a step up from organising MASKARA and publishing?

sufian - thanks for the Malay lesson. i was too stupid to ask the meaning of the words i didn't understand but i kind of wondered at hang isap! so even the malay annals, that bastion of malay lit contains decadent stuff like this? good argument

vovin said...

Ahaha, my mistake, thank you. :P

Self-Publishing is one alternative.

Or do you mean to set up full scale publishing company?

Takde modal...:P

Sufian said...

Well, we don't call it 'malay annals' fer nuthin...

Yeah, sorry.

Penanak Nasik said...


You are one damn funny dude!!! Malay Annals. Good one! Hahahahaha. A very apt translation of Hang Isap too ( hmmm...maybe Hang Fellatio would sound less crude; you know; since we are talking about "sastera". Hahahaha )

Bibliobibuli, i think the stuffs in the Malay Annals are not decadent actually. It was written in an eloquent way with "Isap" and "Pelir" thrown in as a method to critising the status quo at that time. Playboy and Hustler; now that's decadent.

Penanak Nasik

bibliobibuli said...

as a method to critising the status quo at that time.

and this is precisely what the modern writers are doing with their less than genteel choice of words, isn't it?!

Penanak Nasik said...

I know, but the operative word was eloquent. You see it was written in classic Malay literature which rarely sees any vulgar words. The perception was classic Malay literature must be genteel. So having the vulgar words thrown in the middle of a supposedly genteel classic Malay sentence was what made it not decadent. The vulgarity was disguised within their names. Oh well, that's my two cents worth.



Penanak Nasik