Wednesday, July 30, 2008


It struck me many years ago that the word 'postcolonial' might mean very different things to a gastroenterologist and a historian. And yet, the same coprolithic conclusion might be reached: after all is said and done (or eaten and digested), you have to live with the consequences after the main events.

Right now, I'm looking at a tiny red dot in South-East Asia. It amazes me that the budding and blooming of its education system actually took place in the 19th century. Apart from the early 20th century influx of Chinese philanthropy targeted at securing a cultural outpost of Sinicism on this valuable frontier, most of the institutions underpinning the dramatic modern-day development of this red dot were set up a long, long time ago, in far-flung corners of an Empire that has melted away.

Since that era, less forgotten than rudely thrust out of the local consciousness with variable affect, the single-party government has said many things which are generally true but somewhat dissimulating about the local past. The myth of the present time is that until the present governing party took over, this place was a sleepy fishing village and perhaps a somewhat lackadaisical, occasionally piratical, port. It was not of any consequence and, on handover from the British to the locals, actually was a great burden to bear in terms of finance and lack of opportunities. Without the present government and its forerunners, this place would not have succeeded.

Actually, the problem with alternative histories is that there is no real test. The history we have and what we are today is all that we can look at. But it should be said that the past history of the little red dot has always been one of being a powerful trading centre and strategic location for the projection of naval and economic power. 'Fishing village' doesn't quite cut it. In fact, the mark of its capable governance is really that it has fulfilled its potential in some very obvious and significant ways; whether it has done better than expected is really debateable, considering the assets it has always had.

But the heroic myth always requires the transition from darkness into light; and if the other psychopomps of the journey are cast by the wayside and forgotten, what is that to the promulgation of the myth? I note that the steersmen, the helmsmen, the captains and the kings have mostly departed, and the past they used to straddle like colossi is now populated with many caricatures and monuments.

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Blogger Le Doodlebug said...

postcolonial pasta.....

Thursday, July 31, 2008 1:36:00 am  
Blogger le radical galoisien said...

Yes, I am curious about this "survival" thing. I once accepted "had it not been for the competent government we would have perished" like dogma, but in the worst it seems we would have ended up like Macau, or Iceland.

It also strikes me that there is a great deal left of colonial machinery still present in Singaporean society. It hasn't disappeared -- the demographic that was most affluent (excluding the colonial masters themselves) still is the most affluent demographic today. To an extent it seems that many elements of colonial government still persist in the current government. After all, 1959 wasn't exactly a revolution.

Friday, August 01, 2008 8:26:00 am  

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