Q2. What was one frustrating moment you had while studying/reading Literature? (The Unseen Survey)
“Feeling like everyone else started younger and was more lit savvy.”
“Feeling the pressure to be ‘cheem’ (intellectual) and to understand and luxuriate in the enjoyment of everything.”
Like Leonard and Yunita, I have always struggled to cultivate a sense of belonging in the ever-expanding world of literature. I seemed to have been seeking ‘literary citizenship’ in a literary community, but I find myself focusing too much on acceptance and validation from others as a budding enthusiast. I was looking to create a unique literary identity and voice for myself as both reader and writer, but I find myself tangled between what engages me and what I think I should have read but may not necessarily feel drawn to (yet). These experiences have been riddled with FoMO (Fear of Missing Out), private resentment and sometimes envy at others who barely knew or noticed me, all while locating myself on the margins of a local literary scene that tends to locate itself on the margins of a deeply pragmatic Singapore society. Other times, I have been uplifted by the odd class discussion, or stumbling across writers whose characters, perspectives I resonate with in my gut, and there is a strange rush of blood to the head: I feel like I understand something more about myself. Then there were moments of self-doubt and self-censorship where I wondered if what I wanted to read or write would be considered acceptable by others: I had let such anxieties of acceptance stifle the private choices I make in my own literary journey. In some ways, my teachers’ passion for literature ended up both inspiring and intimidating me, and for many years I let myself succumb to the latter. I remember Mr Ho’s poetic introduction about Flaubert’s les mot juste absolutely flying over my head in my first JC lit class. The worlds of literature always feel to me at once both Home & Away, and pulling together this issue has been a comforting process of realising many others share similar sentiments.
In this vein, we at #TeamUnseen are looking to expand this space beyond our target audience of A- Level Literature students, to an accessible forum for those curious about literature where groups and individuals do not have to feel intimidated to share their experiences in literature. As such, we hope to build a welcoming platform that contributes to wider discussions of literature education’s significance and place in Singapore. Going forward, we hope to feature contributions from all levels of literature education. Here’s to converting some of these imaginative possibilities into reality.
We open our largest and most ambitious issue to date with Chloe Tong and Hannah Weiss with their respective literary round trips between Singapore and the UK. We then travel across time and space: from Lisa Zuliana’s Dublinian tribute to James Joyce’s Ulysses (closely relevant this year’s Singapore Writers’ Festival and the featured country of Ireland!), to Benedicta Foo’s third-culture musings that open literary wormholes to Star Trek and a younger Spock, and to being guided along Lisabelle Tan’s ‘leaky roofs’ in A Streetcar Named Desire.
We meet many new friends face-to-face in a series of interviews: Sneha Varma’s “The Literature Plunge” vocalises the practical dilemma of choosing to study literature beyond secondary school; elsewhere we sat down for “2-Hour Group Therapy with NTU Lit Lurkers”, sharing peripheral and everyday perspectives of studying and living literature in a candid dramatic interview. We also had the privilege to meet Dr. Nazry Bahrawi of SUTD over coffee to explore how we can rethink our more familiar Western notions of literary studies in Singapore to one that openly considers Singapore’s positioning in Southeast Asia.
We also have many other firsts in this issue: Rachel Eng writes in unparalleled fashion on football and literature in “Football, Bloody Hell”; Colin Huang shares a short film submitted for ciNE65 “Away and Apart” – his brief e-mail interview exchange opens up questions of to what extent the visual aesthetic counts as literature. Constance Teng’s “The Insidious Picture of Dorian Gray” offers our first ekphrastic response, complete with interplay between her own original artwork and writing: her own Basil and Dorian.
Between crossing literary worlds and real life, #TeamUnseen has been exploring what a kind of ‘applied literature’ can look like with a literary magazine as a platform. Our experimental call for producing a “literary promo” with emerging initiatives/groups/organisations was answered by local breakout theatre outfit The Second Breakfast Company, who brought us to their secret kitchen hideout to serve up “Three Course Homecooked (Second) Breakfasts” for us.
Our final two pieces are perhaps the first of longer-running columns across future Unseen issues. Our penultimate piece brings to you the first-ever “The Unseen Survey: Moral Encouragement for A Level Lit Students”, our care package to our target audience of the past 4 issues (hopefully in time for the examinations!) and we hope you find our 22 friends’ sharings comforting and relatable. Lastly, we close Issue Five with a new feature titled “Source-Based Unseen”, where we take excerpts from published books on literature education in the style of ‘source-based’ extracts, and share short commentaries. To kickstart this feature, I am introducing excerpts from NIE Assistant Professor Suzanne Choo’s 2014 publication Reading the World, the Globe, and the Cosmos: Approaches to Teaching Literature for the Twenty-First Century, following her call to restore the centrality of pedagogy alongside the texts themselves in reflecting on literature education.
A quick shout-out to literature teachers, researchers and educators in Singapore: we hope to get in touch with more of you as Unseen seeks to connect literary enthusiasts which could lead to new (or complement existing opportunities for) features, friendships and collaborations of all kinds!
Thank you to the #TeamUnseen editors juggling multiple responsibilities across the globe, who continue to keep in touch and negotiate our schedules and commitments together as best as we can manage. Innumerable thanks and gratitude goes out to Yong Shu Hoong for gracing this issue as our Guest Foreword writer. The team is extremely excited to have your support! Lastly, a warm thank you to friends (new and old) of Unseen for your patience and support: we hope this issue was time well spent growing a literary space that more friends can find homely.
Unseen The Magazine
Photo credit: Nah Dominic