Guest Foreword: Beginning
Christine Chia

In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires

– “East Coker”, T.S. Eliot

“Old timber to new fires” is definitely what the Unseen team has done. They’ve remixed the old and new in rich and strange ways and thrown clear brightness at both. I was delighted to see Arthur Yap’s ‘2 mothers in a hdb playground’ and Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan yoked together in Chloe Lim’s droll and original comparison, and by Rachel Eng’s whimsical dissection of the historical context of The Charge of the Light Brigade. These are seemingly purposeless essays, taking their cue from Montaigne, but sneaking in academic rigour and content through high irreverence.

For readers in search of more serious fare, the essays by Dominic Nah, Shawn Hoo, Sim Wee Ong and Theophilus Kwek will not disappoint. Aptly for a first issue, the beginnings of both Hamlet and Othello are analysed carefully. For the student of Othello, Nah’s spirited analysis of the tragic loading and premonitions at the start of the play and Sim’s concise and compelling thesis about the power of lies are arguably model essays. Kwek, meanwhile, examines the opening of Hamlet using both literary and philosophical points of view. Hoo’s essay is also a hybrid, appearing like an essay on displacement and nostalgia in the work of Philip Larkin and Boey Kim Cheng but mirroring the subtle rhythms of his muses in his essay-as-poem.

Unlike many homage poems, the poems by Ruth Tang and Dominic Nah actually work as poems in their own right. It’s a scandal for these poems to be so enjoyable but they are. I’ll leave you with a striking line from Tang that unfolds how in our ends are our beginnings:

What is death

But a costume change?


Christine Chia is the author of The Law of Second Marriages and Separation: a history. She is the co-editor of the anthologies A Luxury We Cannot Afford and A Luxury We Must Afford (forthcoming, Math Paper Press) and has been a featured writer for the Singapore Literature Festival in New York and the Goa Arts and Literature Festival. Her work has appeared in print and stage, such as Washington Square Review and Another Country (W!ld Rice).

Photo credit: Chloe Lim


Editor’s Foreword
Unseen started out as an idea simmering at the desk of a bored English teacher. Said English teacher then found people who also believed in the idea and, before we knew it, Singapore’s first A-Level Literature in English magazine was on its way.
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Unfold Yourself
[H1] In ‘Unfold Yourself’, Theophilus Kwek explores the idea of liminality in Hamlet. Physical boundaries become associated with social inclusion or exclusion and individuals living on the periphery.
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And Lose the Name of Action
[H1] Ruth Tang’s submission this month navigates the meta-narratives of Hamlet – exploring the layered spaces between the play-within-a-play, the concept of performance is considered against decaying dimensions of theatre.
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Uncovering This ‘Tragic Loading’
[H2] In this essay, Dominic Nah traces the work of this poison through the sights and sounds of Iago and Othello from the end, retroactively back to the beginning of the play, to “uncover” how this “tragic loading” was set on.
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Act One, Scene One
[H2] The audience’s first impressions of the play and the eponymous character are constructed entirely out of the dialogue of Roderigo, Brabantio, and especially Iago. In this essay, Sim Wee Ong examines the contrasts between how Othello is externally described versus his interiority.
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From Somewhere Else to Here
[H2] Poetry can sometimes be harnessed in the spirit of nostalgia to begin the difficult task of capturing and shaping memory. In Shawn Hoo’s essay comparing Philip Larkin and Boey Kim Cheng, he traces how both poets engage in the act of memory in their poetry, using it as a starting point to “[negotiate] the distance between their initial positions […] and current ones”.
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Casting Call
[H2] Dominic Nah’s response to Christina Rossetti’s “Monna Innominata (I wish I could remember)” charts an alternative angle to Rossetti’s sonnet of regretful, failing memory of the first time the speaker met her lover.
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Aunties, Satire and Social Comedy
[H2] Chloe Lim’s essay draws yet another perspective from Wilde’s comedy, bringing its issues closer to home through juxtaposition with Arthur Yap’s 2 mothers in a hdb playground – a local favourite which many of us are familiar with.
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Half A League Onward
[H2] Rachel Eng discusses the nationalism and patriotism behind Tennyson’s famed poem, ‘The Charge of Light Brigade’, manipulated for maximum affect, while foregrounding the latent criticism that the poem raises of the military command behind the charge.
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