Somewhere in the middle bound
By Toh Hsien Min
Were it not that there remain survivors of the Second World War among us, we could already, halfway through 2020, make the claim for the year as being the most tumultuous in living memory. Covid-19 continues to expand its reach at an accelerating pace. In early April, I had recalibrated my own model to predict the development of the virus and had come to a forecast of 13 million infections by 30 Jun, against which the eventual outcome was slightly north of 10 million infections. But only a couple of weeks later, the 13 million mark was surpassed; at the time of writing global infections are well over 17 million, with a daily infection growth rate hitting 287 thousand cases and numerous countries that had thought they had got a handle on the pandemic finding out that new clusters of infection can erupt at any time. Meanwhile in Singapore, we seem to have got comfortable enough with our handling of the pandemic not only to loosen the lockdown measures and permit people to renew all their essential family and social ties but also to call everyone out to queue for hours in a line with total strangers to vote in a general election. That to me had seemed an unnecessary risk; if our infection numbers had surged in the weeks afterwards - or round about now - the government would have never been able to live that down.
For what it's worth, I consider myself politically neutral in the Singapore context, although I have my own wider liberal leanings. In different elections, I have voted in every direction possible: for, against, and screw you both. I now live in a constituency where my vote cannot really make a difference, but I "did my part" nevertheless and then stayed up the whole night to cheer the outcome. This election for me was encapsulated in the televised debate when Vivian Balakrishnan brilliantly gave the Worker's Party their purpose for a whole lot of ambivalent voters. In describing the Worker's Party as being like the ruling party but with "a half step to the left", he made me think, hell yeah... Perhaps in the long run this election, which for so much of the campaigning week seemed like a non-event, will have a much longer lasting effect on Singapore politics than most.
As both of you regular readers of this column would know, the editorial is a quarterly challenge for someone who isn't generally a fan of pushing personal opinions of any nature onto anyone. More often than not, I recourse to picking one of the more recent events of note as a base to waffle from, and for this issue the most obvious one seemed to be the general election. I did wonder if touching on politics in a QLRS editorial would be kosher, given that we have an official position of non-partisanship. It seems hard to talk about politics without involving your own allegiances. Moreover, for me, politics and poetry don't mix. I have an object-oriented view of the literary arts, which is to say that once a writer sends an aesthetic object out into the world it no longer belongs to the writer, and that seems about as far as the continually ideological nature of politics as one can get. Poetry is not politics by other means. Politics by other means is propaganda and Russian bots selling messages to influence an election's outcome. It is not pure randomness that accounts for the UK poet laureateship being seen to be something of a curse for what it does to the incumbent's writing during the term.
If nothing else, being non-partisan means that we can publish a true diversity of voices. This can be seen in this issue's poetry pick. We did have a bumper crop of submissions to consider, as writers sheltering in place around the world had more time to write and to submit (as I personally did), and the result is a miniature reflection of the many different writers producing work today, whether viewed through the dimensions of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, nationality or, yes, politics, but all sharing in common their having been selected for their poetry and not for their politics. Similarly, five different cultural backgrounds inform our five short stories, each of which reward the receptive reader in its own way. Our essays this issue are both highly personal, whereas the Extra Media pieces keep their eye on the big and small screens. And finally, to close the issue on a political note, the Acid Tongue selects a political reading of Edwin Thumboo for scrutiny.
Stay safe everyone!QLRS Vol. 19 No. 3 Jul 2020