Sample and Loop: A Simple History of Singaporeans in America

  My name is on the book cover, but the book is in fact written by many hands. My grateful thanks to the many Singaporeans in America who shared their stories with me and gave me permission to write them up in verse. Here it is, a book about us: SAMPLE AND LOOP: A SIMPLE HISTORY OF SINGAPOREANS IN AMERICA. "Based on personal interviews, these poems together tell a part of the story of the migration of Singaporeans to the United States of America. Sample and Loop traces the nonlinear, multidimensional, and surprising trajectory of lived experience in musical verse. Here are the Ceramicist, the Pediatrician, the Scenic Designer, the Chef, the Porn Star, and a host of other migrant-pilgrims sharing the tales of their lives even as they continue to make those lives in a country not of their birth. By narrating their discoveries, troubles, hopes, and sorrows, they refract a powerful beam of light on both countries and compose a wayward music for the road." All sale proceeds go t

Theme and Variations

 With Henry, I saw New York City Ballet danced Balanchine's "Serenade," "Orpheus," and "Theme and Variations" last Tuesday. Balanchine's gift was for composition, color, and rhythm, and not for narrative, as the overly literal "Orpheus." Sara Mearns was outstanding in "Serenade." In "Theme and Variations," Megan Fairchild was lovely, and so was her partner Anthony Huxley, although he was not tall or strong enough to swing her effortlessly with one arm. 

Elegiac, Witty, and Bold

 "Departing significantly from his earlier collection Steep Tea, Jee Leong Koh’s latest work, Inspector Inspector, is an elegiac, yet witty and bold exploration of history, exile and Asian queer identities. Through various forms and narrative, the reader is invited into a variety of spaces: the personal or the intimate, queer spaces of the lover; the everyday for the diasporic community drawing from interviews with Singaporeans living in America; and the elegiac poems in memory of the speaker’s late father."  Thanks, Jennifer Wong, for this lovely review of INSPECTOR INSPECTOR. 

Opinion: We Call on the President-Elect to Lead Race Conversations

Hard on the heels of the election of former Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam to the Presidency of Singapore came the outrageous sentencing of rapper Subhas Nair to six weeks’ imprisonment for attempting to “promote ill will” between different races in Singapore. His crimes? Making four social-media posts that called attention to the different responses of the authorities and the media to wrongdoing by perpetrators of different races. Subhas is not alone in feeling angry and frustrated about systemic racism in Singapore. More than half (56.2%) of respondents in a 2021 survey on race relations felt that racism was an important problem—this was an increase of almost 10 percentage points from the 46.3% response in the 2016 survey. During his run for the Presidency, Tharman spoke about the racism he experienced while growing up as a brown child. When he returned home from sports on public buses, there were fellow commuters who would not sit beside him. It was also not uncommon that

The Plague: Living Death in Our Times, by Jacqueline Rose

  The most valuable essays here are "To Die One's Own Death" and "In Extremis" on Simone Weil. The first argues persuasively, to my mind, that Freud's concept of the death drive arose from the death of his most loved daughter Sophie Halberstadt-Freud due to the 'Spanish' flu. That theoretical innovation led to, in Rose's words, "a considerable downgrade in the status of the drives of self-preservation and mastery that were key to his earlier topography of the mind, as they are all now seen to be working in the service of the organism's need to follow the path to its own death," or as Freud puts it in  Beyond the Pleasure Principle , "The organism wishes to die only in its own fashion." Rose applies this insight to our experience of callous and careless death during the COVID pandemic and derives an ethical guide: we should work for a fairer world where people are enabled not only to live free and fulfilling lives, but also

Freud and the Non-European

 A brilliant reading of Freud's Moses and Monotheism by the late Edward Said. It originates as a talk given at the Freud Museum in London. After Said's talk, Jacqueline Rose responded, and her response was fittingly included in the Verso book. Said concludes: "Freud's uneasy relationship with the orthodoxy of his own community is very much a part of the complex of ideas so well described by Deutscher, who forgets to mention what I think is an essential component of it: its irremediably diasporic, unhoused character. This is a subject which George Steiner has celebrated with great elan for many years. But I would want to quality Deutscher by saying that this needn't be seen only as a Jewish characteristic; in our age of vast population transfers, of refugees, exiles, expatriates and immigrants, it can also be identified in the diasporic, wandering, unresolved, cosmopolitan consciousness of someone who is both inside and outside of his or her community. This is now

Opinion: Who Owns the Presidential Election?

  One of the effects of  the July 2023 scandals  that hit the Singapore government is the state’s loss of control over the narrative around the upcoming Presidential Election. The Elected Presidency, an invention of the governing party, has come  under strong fire  for being a flawed institution that was created out of political maneuvering and expediency. Instead of uniting the country’s people behind a ceremonial but vital figurehead, it has been struck by the lightning of political dissent and division. On state-controlled media, the ruling party’s candidate Tharman Shanmugaratnam attempts to burnish his independent (and dare we say it, populist) credentials by describing himself as  a former student activist , an irony not lost on activists persecuted by the state. This blatant attempt to appeal to the younger and more politically conscious generation only throws up questions about Tharman’s complicity with past and present state persecution.   Control of the electoral discourse ha