Edwin Thumboo's Political Position

Ee Tiang Hong

In Gods Can Die, the focus [of Thumboo's poetry] shifted from the rural scenes in the previous volume to the setting of an industrialising society; and from a private to a public concern. The poetic response changed from spontaneous sirnplicity and unity of the nature or love lyric to a manysided treatment of complex character and situation. The new character included real, living people betraying the deleterious effects of living in a time of rapid change, in a society that was becoming more highly competitive and achievement-oriented, and when the interests of the state seemed to prevail over those of the individual. Accordingly, the individual had to make considerable adjustments to his life and personal relationships. The progress of the state was systematically charted and monitored by teams of social engineers. Their methods of keeping the public informed were through a barrage of campaigns and injunctions via the mass media. This did not quite equate with a big-brother vigilance and an Orwellian control of thought and language, for the ultimate aim was really to ensure that policies were explained and understood, an essential condition of a participatory democracy and a way of ensuring that the demagogue would never be able to influence the rabble by disseminating half-truths. In fact, a remarkable feature of political life in Singapore besides the existence of Parliament, the Courts and Civil Service, is the holding of regular public forums where ministers as heads of government and statutory bodies go to great lengths to explain government policies or defend them, and where any citizen can raise his concern on aspects of policy or their implementation that give cause for concern. [70]

Those poems of Thumboo critical of the establishment . . . did not question the fundamental assumptions, the framework that made possible the decencies and security of civic life. He was already seeing that the way ahead was not by a mindless conformity but the active involvement of the citizen in a city state. As citizen, he would not hesitate to point out the excesses of a zealous official nor the cost to the person of his docility. [71]

The preceding passage has been quoted from the late Ee Tiang Hong's Responsibility and Commitment: The Poetry of Edwin Thumboo, ed. Leong Liew Geok (Singapore: Centre for Advanced Studies/Singapore University Press, 1997. It can be ordered from Singapore University Press, 10 Kent Righe, Singapore 119260 [GPL].

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