I'm sitting on the sidelines and letting others kick up dust, since I'm a Mat Salleh and a post-colonial hangover anyway. (And besides, how many more problems does the local writing scene need? I mean really, why add guilt to the heaps of practical problems writers face getting their words out there?)
All of this of course springs from responses on my entry the other day about Nisah Harun's article about recognition for local writers. I'm really glad that Rem ("The Naked Climatologist!" - how sexy is that?) and Clarissa Lee dropped by to add eloquent and thoughtful responses. Please do go and read.
I dug up a couple more interesting takes on the same issue - both from the archives of Kakiseni. The first is from a 2001 interview with local playwright Kee Thuan Chye:
Kakiseni: What problems do you have as a writer of fictive or creative work? Is there mental and intellectual space to thrive as a creative writer within the Malaysian 'space'?
Kee: I'd say the biggest problem would be you're not encouraged in this country if you write in English. Now, it's better. There's more acceptance. (But) I have sometimes felt I was not doing the right thing still continuing to write in English - in what was considered the colonialist language.
I began writing during the time when there was (a sense of) 'nationalistic fervour', and I felt that I was not patriotic enough. You felt guilty that you were not writing in the national language. As a child who grew up in English, with Malay being taught as a language, people of my generation didn't take it (Bahasa) seriously enough. (However) it would've been foolhardy to try to write in Malay. I would never have cut it if I had written in Malay.
National literature was considered to be Malay literature. Other literatures were considered sectional, or 'other' literature. As a person who writes in English, I felt very marginalised - not accepted, not recognised. And even till this day, writing in English is still not fully recognised. That should not be the case. The person writing it is still Malaysian. The concerns are still Malaysian concerns. The ethos could be very Malaysian too.
The second is an article by Zedeck Siew about his impressions of the KL Litfest last year where Identity was one of the main themes:
Zedeck concludes (good for him!) by saying:
To National Laureate Professor Muhammad Haji Salleh: I'm going to try for a part in your truly Malaysian Canon. And I'm going to write in English.
The trouble with the debate about which language to write in is that you can continue arguing yourself round in circles while nothing much changes. And what really is the dilemma? We need excellent writing in both English and Malay. And all writers, no matter what language they choose, should be cheering each other on.