By Toh Hsien Min
Editorial time this quarter had promised to be a doddle. I knew what I was going to write about: the closure of the KTM railway line cutting through Singapore to arrive at Tanjong Pagar. There was much to say, and it would take no great effort to say all of it. I had even begun work on an issue banner that would somehow feature a section of track. But once I got to the weekend after an especially hard week at work, a totally different theme had made its insistent presence felt.
One of the more notable scenes in David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is the one in which the protagonist meets Lord Abbot Enomoto for the first time:
I had wondered whether the word had come from the French, perhaps from affiner. I was half-right, it does indeed come from the Old French but is really rooted in the Latin affinitas, which my Larousse helpfully rendered as "voisinage" (first "proximity" then "neighbourhood"), and further digging brings this to ad finis ("at the border"). The link to neighbours struck me with some surprise, and then even more so the connection to the idea of a boundary in the first place.
There may have been intended in the novel a hint of a rather more metaphysical impression, but it occurs to me that affinity in fact underpins much of what we do. With close friends it is not even so much that the easy banter flows as freely as the lubricant, but that there is always an inner truth to the jokes. These jokes in other contexts could be cruel, but in such the context of affinity there is a kind of honest candour that you may not find anywhere else. It is the kind of candour that cuts through the boundaries that we could otherwise enact. My closest friends have a bucketful of stories that I may never live down, and they are shared experience that both nurses and confirms the affinity.
But the earlier scene in the novel pales beside the one close to the end of the novel when the monk terminates the affinity:
The scene reads to me as a close of a chapter. I am not sure whether it was, having lent my copy to someone with whom I did have some affinity. There is something in this that seems to me like the reflection of the adult world to me. It is clearly nothing to do with the novel – we are after all not discussing Black Swan Green – but there is a finality in the decision that the young rarely possess. It is one that comes of awareness. We grow older, some of us get married, time becomes more precious and the way we used to fritter it away when we were immortal holds no currency. At this point, assuming our basic needs are met, we do things less and less for money, and increasingly for affinity. It is a hard concept for the young to grasp, and as someone who is neither still young nor yet old it's something I have to remind myself of.
QLRS has never been done for money, as some of my fellow editors so spontaneously trumpeted when asked last week what sort of spirit the site has been run by. We are gearing up towards our tenth anniversary, and in the midst of planning to an event to mark it – sustainability has always been a priority for the site, but even then it's incredible to me to think that within a month this site will have been running continuously for ten years! This issue takes us one step closer to that marker, and I'm pleased that in it we have an essay by Joanne Leow on the sites of memory, which to my mind indeed points the way to how we can access our affinity to our city. There are three very different short stories, and I had to make some difficult decisions to distil the set of poetry, and as ever both these range across borders to include our first contribution from Croatia. The reviews of Tan Tarn How and New York-based Koh Jee Leong show no lack of affinity for the work even as critical rigour is applied. May this be something that continues to inform the site.QLRS Vol. 10 No. 3 Jul 2011