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Saving Literature in Singapore?
Tuesday, March 19, 2013 | 4:30 PM | 0 comments

The Straits Times; Home; March 19, 2013
Alfian Sa'at Facebook Status Update:
A question I was asked: What more can be done to arrest the trend of dropping Lit candidature? Do you think it is an inevitable trend?

My answer: Yes, I think it is an inevitable trend. And I don’t think it’s necessary to arrest it at all. Look at the speeches in parliament, or even the columns and editorials in our mainstream papers. There’s hardly anything literary about them, and yet they get their points across. I think we should stop measuring ourselves against other countries that have deeper cultures and traditions and accept the fact that we are this mercantile, pragmatic, tough-minded city-state that has no time nor inclination for the effete humanities. I think it’s perfectly fine if our main cultural diet consists of Channel 8, Jack Neo movies, anthologies of ghost stories and self-help books. As a people we are kiasu and crass and ungracious. But why should there be shame in any of that? We’re already a First World country, and cultural capital had no role in determining this particular achievement. One of the indices of 'first world' human development is literacy, not literature. This anxiety to acquire 'high culture' is actually part of an aspirational third world mentality, and we should feel secure with our own brand of smug philistinism.
There is a trend of decreasing interest of Literature, especially in schools (as represented by Literature candidature) in Singapore. However, the two sources above tell of different stories of what can be or should be done about this trend.

From The Straits Times' article, schools have been stepping up their game to entice students to love Literature. From playacting to poetry jams, it seems like bringing literature to life has become more engaging than just reading a book. There has been a significant increase in interest in literature as well as the number of Literature candidature in national examinations.

However, Alfian Sa'at thinks that Singapore should embrace our lack of a cultural landscape and instead 'feel secure with our own brand of smug philistinism'. He thinks that a country should not be judged by their cultural choices and it is but an optional achievement rather than a compulsory one. The need to acquire a 'high culture' is actually part of a third-world mentality and Singapore has long progressed from that into a developing country.

From the conflicting two opinions stated above, is the Singapore Literature scene worth saving?
I say, YES. While we should embrace our unique culture of kiasu-ism and crude nuances, we should also work towards a more civilized society that can be encouraged through the promotion of literature. The government, and not only the schools, should put in more effort in propagating the importance of literature.

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