Friday 12 November 2021

SWF: Quick Round-up Part One

5th: Opening Night

Marc Nair as host. Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth & Trade & Industry Ms. Low Yen Ling spoke about the resiliency of the arts community during the pandemic, and the switched-up ability to deliver content virtually. Festival Director Pooja Nansi spoke about the choice of theme: Guilty Pleasures (the cornucopia this promises), and also the politics of pleasure and what the relationship is between guilt and pleasure. There were five amazing readings: both Firdaus Sani's ode and Asnida Daud's beautifully-sung paean to the Orang Laut, bani haykal's rapid-fire rap about the future in the Malay language, Cyril Wong on lovers (wonderfully surfacing the subversiveness within the gay pink background and the food symbols of ice-cream within a state context), Marc Nair on his cat, and last but not least, Mrigaa Sethi's affecting poems about small daily joys and its sense of place.

6th: From Wet Market to Table

Major Takeaway: A panel moderated by K.F. Seetoh (who was energetic and full of interesting anecdotes) comprising Sarah Huang Benjamin, Pamelia Chia, and Shamsydar Ani. Because of streaming technological issues, what I did catch of this panel was Pamelia advocating the visits of wet markets for local produce, Sarah Benjamin on the question of authenticity in food influences: when is it food appropriation and when is it adaptation/amalgamation, and Samsydar's key tip for making a stupendous assam pedas.

Reflection: The Singapore foodie continues to evolve. Not only is the foodie the person who photographs their food for Instagram before consuming it, the foodie is a locavore, keen to experiment and cook their own food using local ingredients, and now, the foodie is also someone with deep knowledge, whipping out food trivia and food lore and culinary history at the drop of a hat. This is a good thing. I would have loved to have had a regional culinary historian on this panel. 

7th : Meet The Author Julia Quinn.

This was an interesting, intimate panel moderated by Jollin Tan. A fair number of the usual questions posed to the author about the process of writing her famed series of historical novels that is 'Bridgerton' : the challenge of writing a multi-volume story involving multiple characters, how true was the TV adaptation to the novels, authenticity of the Regency World versus accuracy. Continuous streaming difficulties made watching this very choppy, and many in the online audience kept being thrown out of the channel just as an interesting question was posed, or Quinn was elaborating on an interesting thought. This definitely deserves a rewatch.  

Reflection: With the spate of Goodreads criticisms, the word 'fantasy' seemed to have gotten dropped out of her Regency novels. Would the genre of "historical romance" and "fantasy" allow for wider historical leeway than a literary historical novel — I'm not sure we delved into these distinctions enough, especially from a publishers' or market point of view, which Quinn would have been in a better position to elucidate than other authors. On the issue of historical authenticity versus accuracy, Quinn frankly admitted that it isn't possible to get everything right in her novels, but to her, there's a distinction between authenticity and accuracy. The lower bar of 'accuracy' seems to connote the idea that reading her novel wouldn't throw you out of 'the fictive dream', e.g. a Regency character using the word 'okay', or as I have noticed in the dialogues in the Netflix adaptation, all the characters are prohibited from contracting to 'don't' or 'isn't' — which led to the actors all emphasising these longer verbs tonally which began to feel farcical. In any case, it's important to keep in mind here too what critic James Wood had said about authenticity in his excellent essays about the novel. Many of the so-called 'authentic' moments in a novel are in fact fictive constructions once we begin to examine them.


7th: Futurism and Mysticism: The Evolution of Malay Speculative Fiction in Singapore

By far the most interesting panel thus far in the festival, this panel, under the excellent moderation of Nabilah Said, comprises Nazry Bahrawi (as editor of Singa Pura Pura, the anthology of Malay speculative fiction published with Ethos Books), nor, and Nuraliah Nurasid. What the panelists had to share sparked so many thought tangents for me, I forgot to screenshot.

Major Takeaways: Fascinating insights on the roles of music and singing in mysticism, and the forbidden element in them; what the Sejarah Melayu says about being Malay, and what Singa Pura Pura says about being Malay; the major themes present in the anthology, e.g. the struggle of urban vs nature, the futuring in speculative fiction being extended in this anthology also to the past, ambiguity in mysticism; the roles played by privilege and race in constructing Malay speculative fiction. Also, are ghost stories properly considered speculative fiction? The role of religion and spirituality in all this. nor's reading of his short story in the anthology was especially provocative and lovely to hear: a queering of the myth of Genesis and God is given a pronoun 'They'.  

Reflection: I especially loved the question of whether speculative fiction is an exercise of hope or pessimism. Nazry had this to say: utopia is contained within dystopia and vice versa, Nuraliah says it is a negotiation between the two, and nor says that "with destruction comes hope, with hope, home is to be found. It's a cycle." To me, this toggling and negotiation, in which both extremes are embraced, speaks not just to speculative fiction but to any creative endeavour and there is a kind of spirituality present in that.

Note: Because of the technical streaming difficulties during the weekend, many of the programmes were affected, and Sistic informs that many of the programmes will be re-streamed sometime in the near future, hopefully before the VOD date of 19th November.