Lecture Notes based on “Performing Identity” article Language and Culture WTUC March 2007
Rajendran asks: <ul><li>how come  your  English is so good? </li></ul><ul><li>When is the last time you were asked 'how co...
Rajendran recalls: <ul><li>“ And as we turned into the entrance to the school she turned to ask me &quot;how come  your  E...
Our language, their language <ul><li>“ As we got to the parking lot, she turned to her Assistant and remarked &quot;Isn't ...
Rajendran’s English <ul><li>“ That is not to say  my  English is particularly  good  at all. I am fairly sure that if my s...
My  English is a multilingual English   <ul><li>“ My  English is simply a Malaysian English. Whatever the accent I choose ...
<ul><li>“ My  English is also a multilingual English - an English of many types, many strands and many varieties.” </li></...
Englishness has been Malaysianised just as English has   <ul><li>But what is the English I speak at home and among friends...
<ul><li>“ Perhaps it is not even English anymore. Because it was learnt from people who are not English in a land that is ...
<ul><li>“ If these are some typical aspects of Englishness, then they have stayed with us in post-colonial Malaya and have...
<ul><li>“ Englishness has been Malysianised, just as English has. And with each variation or hybrid, a new brand emerges. ...
<ul><li>“ English has acquired a culturally viable and hybrid local sensibility of its own in the former British colonies ...
<ul><li>“ The contradictory and contesting flows have led to a multiculturalism within a broad category of culture - a mul...
<ul><li>“In the mix that makes Malaysia, we choose the strands that make up the composite of our individual identities for...
<ul><li>“The act of identity is not one that can be quantified strictly. Sometimes its purpose is far different from its i...
A style that has a particular charm   <ul><li>Identity has to be performed before it really has a place in the collective ...
<ul><li>Identity as performance is a composite that makes art. When we write our own identities we exercise the power to c...
<ul><li>This is not about performance as pretence which acquires for itself authenticity or identity as labels or medals t...
must vary in texture and tone   <ul><li>Yet identity must vary in texture and tone if it is to satisfy and be of more than...
<ul><li>Outfits that work are about combinations that bring out the best in a wearer whilst being suited for the occasion....
<ul><li>So whether it is about ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, ideology or whatever else, identity is like a shifting m...
<ul><li>Affiliations and associations are then built up around the choices made and each particular mix comes with its own...
<ul><li>Because language and ethnicity are important factors in the Malaysian political arena, and they have been used by ...
<ul><li>Being Malay means being bumiputera or prince of the soil and thus entitled to certain privileges of affirmative ac...
<ul><li>Speaking Tamil means being communal and appealing to only a small sector of society. Being a part of the aborigina...
<ul><li>Categories and stereotypes that are changing and being modified by the new forces in the market of identity brands...
a seemingly neutral medium   <ul><li>Whether it is the acquisition and indigenisation of the language or the cultural prac...
<ul><li>For a long time in recent history it was adopted as a language of education and administration, colonialism and im...
<ul><li>Able to be more inclusive of all kinds of grammars and vocabularies in the spoken form because a range of people u...
<ul><li>But being English educated, or seen as Western or Anglophile has certain elitist and distancing effects. And thus ...
<ul><li>'A Chance Encounter' is a devised play directed by Krishen Jit from Five Arts Centre, about a Chinese cosmetics sa...
more concerned with the verb than the noun   <ul><li>The accumulative effect of each performance of identity is a redefini...
<ul><li>In the threat of a loss of identity in the face of modernisation or globalisation, which seems to suggest a homoge...
<ul><li>The performance of identity is then inclusive of every selection of language, word, food, clothing, ritual, ceremo...
beyond the textbook version   <ul><li>In discussing the developments in English language theatre in Singapore, and looking...
<ul><li>History does help keep our balance. But an open and honest history that takes into account the meek and the bleak,...
the need to go back to an essence or root   <ul><li>Have English and Englishness been so overwhelmed by their expansion an...
<ul><li>Certainly in Malaysia, when ethnic, religious, cultural or linguistic groups feel threatened they revert to a grea...
<ul><li>I suggest that the way to deal with this kind of fear is to recognise that there are multilingual languages and mu...
needs to be loved   <ul><li>In recognising identity as a live performance that changes all the time, we have to insure the...
<ul><li>When we write our own identities we make them what we will in accordance with our liberty and capacity to craft an...
<ul><li>Every selection and performance is a thrust of power that seeks 'love'. And when that love is taken away or denied...
<ul><li>The self that is able to play freely and with a sense of humour with aspects of identity, is perhaps the more enga...
<ul><li>So' how come  your  English is so good?' Perhaps the next time I am asked this question I will be less dumbfounded...
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Performing Identity

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Performing Identity

  1. 1. Lecture Notes based on “Performing Identity” article Language and Culture WTUC March 2007
  2. 2. Rajendran asks: <ul><li>how come your English is so good? </li></ul><ul><li>When is the last time you were asked 'how come your English is so good? </li></ul>
  3. 3. Rajendran recalls: <ul><li>“ And as we turned into the entrance to the school she turned to ask me &quot;how come your English is so good?&quot;. I was fairly dumbfounded as I was not expecting the question and thus cannot recall what my reply was.” </li></ul>
  4. 4. Our language, their language <ul><li>“ As we got to the parking lot, she turned to her Assistant and remarked &quot;Isn't it incredible we have come so far and people everywhere speak our language ' - how amazing it was that they travelled all over the world and almost everywhere they went people spoke their language.” </li></ul>
  5. 5. Rajendran’s English <ul><li>“ That is not to say my English is particularly good at all. I am fairly sure that if my skin were a different colour and I lived in a different country, I would not be asked this question ever. And I have been asked it several times. “ </li></ul>
  6. 6. My English is a multilingual English <ul><li>“ My English is simply a Malaysian English. Whatever the accent I choose to use and whatever the lexical item I choose to incorporate, it is my English and it is Malaysian. Because I am Malaysian. And there are several brands of Malaysian English on the market where I got mine.” </li></ul>
  7. 7. <ul><li>“ My English is also a multilingual English - an English of many types, many strands and many varieties.” </li></ul><ul><li>“My English also can switch one.” </li></ul>
  8. 8. Englishness has been Malaysianised just as English has <ul><li>But what is the English I speak at home and among friends? </li></ul><ul><li>What aspects of Englishness do I breathe and live? </li></ul><ul><li>Or is this language which is my mother tongue and father tongue, my grandmother tongue and my grandfather tongue, a foreign language that has invaded my being but has no real place there. Is not authentic. </li></ul>
  9. 9. <ul><li>“ Perhaps it is not even English anymore. Because it was learnt from people who are not English in a land that is not English , it is spoken most of the time to people who are not English and thus what connection does it have with Englishness at all?” </li></ul>
  10. 10. <ul><li>“ If these are some typical aspects of Englishness, then they have stayed with us in post-colonial Malaya and have now become a part of us in semi-globalised Malaysia.” </li></ul>
  11. 11. <ul><li>“ Englishness has been Malysianised, just as English has. And with each variation or hybrid, a new brand emerges. That which we subscribe to and sometimes even prescribe is a sense of English and Englishness that we feel is ours and is in synch with what we aspire towards. Whether or not they will survive the market forces of change is another question of course.” </li></ul>
  12. 12. <ul><li>“ English has acquired a culturally viable and hybrid local sensibility of its own in the former British colonies where the language has had a relatively long history. The localisation of English as well as the ongoing viability of other languages point to the ascendancy of contradictory and contesting cultural flows. ( Sumit Mandal)” </li></ul>
  13. 13. <ul><li>“ The contradictory and contesting flows have led to a multiculturalism within a broad category of culture - a multicultural Englishness, in a multicultural Malaysianess - where there is no fixed and ready culture or identity in the singular (Stuart Hall) - and the cosmopolitan merges with the provincial to create a condition that is transnational as well as transrural.” </li></ul>
  14. 14. <ul><li>“In the mix that makes Malaysia, we choose the strands that make up the composite of our individual identities for acknowledgment, approval and attention. Sometimes this is done carefully and in accordance with the rules, but at other times it is irreverent and blatantly disregards the rules.” </li></ul>
  15. 15. <ul><li>“The act of identity is not one that can be quantified strictly. Sometimes its purpose is far different from its interpretation. The accent may be a convenience and not really anything to do with who I am and what I feel, apart from the fact that this will get me through the queue faster and with less hassle.” </li></ul>
  16. 16. A style that has a particular charm <ul><li>Identity has to be performed before it really has a place in the collective or individual experience or psyche. And identity works best as a creative selection made for a purposeful performance. Like a selection of food or clothes. </li></ul>
  17. 17. <ul><li>Identity as performance is a composite that makes art. When we write our own identities we exercise the power to create and to transform. </li></ul>
  18. 18. <ul><li>This is not about performance as pretence which acquires for itself authenticity or identity as labels or medals to show off on the shoulder. But performance as an act that is governed, influenced, suggested and driven by policy, preference, passion, need, etc. and the whole conduct of the shaping presence which will create its own sense of self, community, society. A new composite making a new brand. </li></ul>
  19. 19. must vary in texture and tone <ul><li>Yet identity must vary in texture and tone if it is to satisfy and be of more than just functional value. The selection of what to wear depends of course on a variety of factors from fashion to mood, convention to convenience. </li></ul>
  20. 20. <ul><li>Outfits that work are about combinations that bring out the best in a wearer whilst being suited for the occasion. Outfits also serve to make a statement. Whether to stand out or blend in. Whether to attract attention or deflect it. </li></ul>
  21. 21. <ul><li>So whether it is about ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, ideology or whatever else, identity is like a shifting mosaic or composite in flux that needs to be changed every so often. </li></ul>
  22. 22. <ul><li>Affiliations and associations are then built up around the choices made and each particular mix comes with its own luggage of problem and prejudice. </li></ul>
  23. 23. <ul><li>Because language and ethnicity are important factors in the Malaysian political arena, and they have been used by politicians to manoeuvre and malign when they deem fit, Malaysians cannot help but be affected by the extent to which the languages we speak and our ethnicity is either regarded as majority or minority, indigene or migrant, local or foreign, regardless of actual cultural practice. </li></ul>
  24. 24. <ul><li>Being Malay means being bumiputera or prince of the soil and thus entitled to certain privileges of affirmative action. Speaking Malay means being nationalistic especially if one is not ethnically Malay. Being Chinese means being part of a so-called migrant community although some families have been in Malaysia for more than 400 years and others have inter-married so extensively to become a very mixed ethnicity. Eurasians or Pan-Asian by blood and culture. </li></ul>
  25. 25. <ul><li>Speaking Tamil means being communal and appealing to only a small sector of society. Being a part of the aboriginal community is often to be even more marginalised because rights and privileges are determined by those who do not belong to the community at all. </li></ul>
  26. 26. <ul><li>Categories and stereotypes that are changing and being modified by the new forces in the market of identity brands. But labels that continue to hold strong nonetheless. Luggage that is difficult to get rid of. </li></ul>
  27. 27. a seemingly neutral medium <ul><li>Whether it is the acquisition and indigenisation of the language or the cultural practice, English has expanded vigorously in key areas of life following the state's embrace of globalisation in the 1990's. In particular it has made inroads in the corporate sector, technology, education and in the social life of major urban centres. (Sumit Mandal) </li></ul>
  28. 28. <ul><li>For a long time in recent history it was adopted as a language of education and administration, colonialism and imperialism, and thus has remained a language of power and prestige that still has very high status compared to the National Language which is Malay. </li></ul>
  29. 29. <ul><li>Able to be more inclusive of all kinds of grammars and vocabularies in the spoken form because a range of people use it and appropriate it without feeling cultural betrayal. This is partly because it has no traditional ties to ethnic groups in the society although for many of us it is our mother and father tongue. And it is less regulated and ruled compared to Malay. </li></ul>
  30. 30. <ul><li>But being English educated, or seen as Western or Anglophile has certain elitist and distancing effects. And thus to deal with this, certain variations have evolved that soften the elements of Englishness and yet do not lose them. </li></ul>
  31. 31. <ul><li>'A Chance Encounter' is a devised play directed by Krishen Jit from Five Arts Centre, about a Chinese cosmetics salesgirl who meets an Indian Muslim elderly lady in a shopping mall. It is a recent example of a play that used multilingual English and Malay freely. Most Malaysians who watched the play were not bothered by this as it sounded fairly similar to the way these two people would talk if they were real, losing some the artificiality of some staged material based on scripts that adhere to grammars and vocabularies rarely used in spoken discourse. </li></ul>
  32. 32. more concerned with the verb than the noun <ul><li>The accumulative effect of each performance of identity is a redefinition of meaning, a shift of emphasis and a relocation of focus. Identity becomes more concerned with the verb than the noun - the doing more than the labelling. </li></ul>
  33. 33. <ul><li>In the threat of a loss of identity in the face of modernisation or globalisation, which seems to suggest a homogenisation of sorts, language and culture become the contesting forces that write back and speak back. These acts of identity are about securing and retaining power - power to speak for and against, power to wield economic influence and clout, power to claim space for one's self, community and nation. </li></ul>
  34. 34. <ul><li>The performance of identity is then inclusive of every selection of language, word, food, clothing, ritual, ceremony, and so on - each making its own rite of passage into the spaces where identity lives and breathes - inroads into the sensibility and the self - not just technology, education and the corporate sector. </li></ul>
  35. 35. beyond the textbook version <ul><li>In discussing the developments in English language theatre in Singapore, and looking at the instrumentalist-rational attitudes that have dominated policy for so long, Wee Wan-ling suggests that &quot;we need a stronger and critical historical discourse so that we have an understanding of history in depth, as the past is that foundation of individual and collective identity. A rigorous approach will help pre-empt the danger of theatre potentially catering either to merely nostalgic impulses or falling prey to easy notions of 'global culture' which may resemble the multi-cultural emptiness of Benetton advertisements - given capitalism's amazing commodification capacity&quot;. (C J Wee Wan-ling). </li></ul>
  36. 36. <ul><li>History does help keep our balance. But an open and honest history that takes into account the meek and the bleak, the glory and the gory. A history that is multi-pronged in its approach to telling the story because it too is a performance of sorts, it too is an aspect of identity. </li></ul>
  37. 37. the need to go back to an essence or root <ul><li>Have English and Englishness been so overwhelmed by their expansion and extension that they have begun to desire smaller spaces with more exclusivist memberships? Or have they begun to seek their own version of exoticism and quaintness? </li></ul>
  38. 38. <ul><li>Certainly in Malaysia, when ethnic, religious, cultural or linguistic groups feel threatened they revert to a greater protection and propagation of that which makes them distinct. And there is more rigour about not losing the essence or the essentials of the culture. This creates unfortunate repercussions that range from widespread social instability to rising tensions within members of a family. And the problems of essentialism come to bear. </li></ul>
  39. 39. <ul><li>I suggest that the way to deal with this kind of fear is to recognise that there are multilingual languages and multicultural cultures that accept and validate all performances with purpose as acts of identity that have right of space and voice. These are not determined by core and periphery, centre and margin, but elements and performances which move in and out, to and fro depending on the need and purpose to perform. </li></ul>
  40. 40. needs to be loved <ul><li>In recognising identity as a live performance that changes all the time, we have to insure the linguistic and cultural category as an elastic one which integrates all kinds of vocabularies without feeling threatened by regular entry and exit - passages to and fro. After all identity seeks to be acknowledged, paid attention to and approved and to gain these it needs to be more than politically or grammatically correct. It needs to be enjoyed, desired and loved. </li></ul>
  41. 41. <ul><li>When we write our own identities we make them what we will in accordance with our liberty and capacity to craft an identity that we think we will enjoy and that will perform its task effectively. History, language and culture are primary elements in this composite, and we shift and change when we need to or so desire. </li></ul>
  42. 42. <ul><li>Every selection and performance is a thrust of power that seeks 'love'. And when that love is taken away or denied, identity seeks to alter itself in order to re-gain love, performing acts that will accord it the affection and affirmation it needs. The audience is imperative. </li></ul>
  43. 43. <ul><li>The self that is able to play freely and with a sense of humour with aspects of identity, is perhaps the more engaging self. And the stage for its performance whilst being a constantly moving stage is a flexible and elastic one. The individual and the collective then learn how to adapt to the space and audience to create performances that explore new terrain whilst juggling the elements of the old. </li></ul>
  44. 44. <ul><li>So' how come your English is so good?' Perhaps the next time I am asked this question I will be less dumbfounded and reply - 'because I love my English and my English has grown to love me back.' </li></ul>

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