The problem with literature in new Malaysia
(From ArtsEquator. Link to the complete article given below)
I have to be honest: we have a problem with our literature, and frankly, I do not have the solution. However, before we attempt to address the issue, it is essential that we openly acknowledge what the problem is. The hope is that, by being honest and self-reflective, we can, collectively, fix some of the problems afflicting our literary scene.
There are several issues, but I want to focus on two for the moment. I hope that soon, within the next five or ten years of the monumental change that the people of Malaysia made happen on 9 May 2018, we’ll overcome these problems. Otherwise, we may be forced to wait another 60 years to rectify the situation.
The first problem? The dilemma presented by the notion of National Literature. Because Malay is the National Language, literature written in Malay occupies a special position as National Literature in Malaysia, in comparison to literature written in other languages. Yet, in our hearts, we know that good literature is good literature, regardless of the language it is written in. Why should there be a language criteria? Further, we repeatedly affirm that literary works are at their purest when expressed in the writer’s mother tongue.
And it is here that the friction arises, for our National Language is not the mother tongue for many of us. For those born and raised in ethnic Chinese or Indian families, it is possible that their language is Mandarin, or Cantonese, or Tamil, or Urdu; and that does not include our friends born and raised in Iban, Dayak, Melanau or Kadazan families. They each have their own mother tongues. We also have many writers who were born and raised writing in English, the one language that slips most comfortably off their tongues, that flows off their fingers. We should not condemn them.
Yes, Malay is a National Language, we read it in school and use it in our daily lives. However, literature is the sense of touch, thought, knowledge and culture. And if all of that stems from the non-Malay languages, then are the works written in these languages non-national?