Selling it for what people want it to be

I first fell in love with Cassandra back in 2006.

Then an intern with Pioneer magazine, I had been sent to report on the results of the previous year’s Chief of Defence Force Essay Competition.

It was pretty standard military fare, with ideas centred on whatever was the rage of that post-9/11 and Iraq II age. The first-placed essay, for example, was a paper on terrorism, while the bronze-medallist wrote about peacekeeping operations.

Cassandra by Evelyn De Morgan (1898)
Cassandra by Evelyn De Morgan (1898)

What caught my eye was the runner-up’s paper – “The Laments of Cassandra: Reflections on Warning Intelligence in the Information Eden”.

As an English Literature undergraduate with a keen interest in military affairs, I was impressed. Officers of that era were not particularly known for their knowledge of culture, especially when compared to their predecessors from colonial times.

The irony of the metatextual context amused me further; a paper on the pitfalls of ignoring prophecies coming in second, almost as though its prescience were itself being disregarded.

Mostly, I was intrigued by the Greek myth of Cassandra. How tragic, the Romantic in me thought. To be blessed with the gift of soothsaying, but to be cursed by never having anyone believe your predictions.

Nine years on, the story of Cassandra still fascinates me. I’ve started to wonder, though, if we should uncritically accept Cassandra’s fate for what it seems to be.

It began a couple of months back, when a contact expressed a view about the nature of communication and recipient receptivity.

In his words, if the recipient has already rejected what it is you have to offer, then:

If you keep selling it for what it is, of course people are going to say “No”.

So in the modern day, where we understand so much more about human psychology, design thinking and the nature of communication, can Cassandra complain if no one believes her, especially when she persists in peddling her prophecies in the same way?

It seems to me that Cassandra has two options:

  1. Carry on with tradition, and hope her recipients see the light one day; or
  2. Reframe what she is saying – instead of selling it for what it is, sell it for what people want it to be.

Perhaps more people will finally start listening to her then.

QLRS: Bending laws, reclaiming lore

Eastern Heathens: An Anthology of Subverted Asian Folklore (Edited by Amanda Lee-Koe and Ng Yi-Sheng)

Since 2011, when I reviewed Tan Tarn How’s Six Plays, I’ve made it a point to review a Singaporean literary text for each Jul issue of the Quarterly Literary Review, Singapore (QLRS).

This year, I’ve reviewed Eastern Heathens: An Anthology of Subverted Asian Folklore (Edited by Amanda Lee-Koe and Ng Yi-Sheng).

I forgot to mention this on Facebook, but special thanks to Jessie Koh for helping me bring the text up to Korea when I was there from April to May 2013.

I like having some lead time to read and digest the text/stories so that the review can ferment on its own and more or less write itself by the time I begin writing.

Bending laws, reclaiming lore
Writers (re)narrate traditional tales for a contemporary audience


Literary writing in Singapore has entered a renaissance; a Reformation, in terms of both the amount of literary work and the type of writing produced. The last half a decade or so has seen a marked increase in the number of Singaporean writers publishing and performing their literary works. Within these works, a further trend can also be observed – the subversion, reclamation, revision or redirection of narratives (traditional or otherwise) in Singapore writing, evident in works such as Jean Tay’s Boom (2008), in which the modern Singaporean narrative of economic progress and prosperity is given a careful rethink, through to Ann Ang’s Bang My Car (2012), a novella that challenges form by mixing multiple writing genres and using Singlish in place of Standard Singapore English.

These counter-narratives are indicative of the post-postmodern Singapore zeitgeist: a desire to reclaim narratives as an act of remembrance of a Singaporean past that is constantly being demolished and, at the same time, to wrest power away from the ones who traditionally tell the narratives by retelling the same narratives in different ways. It is in this context that Eastern Heathens: An Anthology of Subverted Asian Folklore is situated, inhabiting an equally important space in this segment of Singapore literature that focuses on revising or unearthing narratives for a contemporary Singaporean audience and beyond.