Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Outsider Within: The Expatriate Writer in Malaysia – Medwell Journals


Medwell Journals, a scientific research publishing company, has just published Jamaluddin Aziz and M.M. Raihanah’s article The Outsider Within: The Expatriate Writer in Malaysia”, a psychological or Freudian analysis of Lovers and Strangers Revisited

This article or paper was originally titled “Masculinised (American) Eyes, Feminised (Malaysian) Dreams? A Psychoanalytic Study of Robert Raymer’s Collection of Short Stories in Lovers and Strangers Revisited and presented at a short story conference in Lancaster, UK in 2006.  Later in Malaysia, it was posted on a USM website.

When I first blogged about this in Being Re-blogged, Psychoanalyzed, and Nominated two years ago, I stated that this was quite an honor for a writer based in Malaysia, writing about Malaysia with a Malaysian publisher, and even wondered if the short story conference presentation was a first for a collection of short stories written by a writer from or living in Malaysia.

In the blog, I wrote:  “If you’re a critic and you’re looking for symbols, phallic or otherwise, you’re going to find them. Whether they’re true symbols, consciously or subconsciously placed by the writer, or the critic groping at straws to support his preconceived theories is anyone’s guess . . . .Although I questioned some conclusions (is an umbrella used on a rainy day, as in “On Fridays”, a phallic symbol or merely an umbrella used on a rainy day? Or is a cockroach, like in “Symmetry”, remotely sexual?) I had an enjoyable banter with the critic, a former colleague at USM, who gamely responded to my queries and my own criticisms of his criticism."

I only saw the paper after it was presented, and for me, it was tough to get through.  It seemed rather personal, and I didn’t particularly like some of the conclusions being drawn.  Five years later, I still have qualms about it, yet I do feel honored that Jem took the trouble to analyze my work (he could’ve chosen someone else) and present it in the UK.  In the long run, what really matters is not the criticism, but the actual writing itself.  I hope.

I guess you can’t really call yourself a writer if someone doesn’t find fault with your writing somewhere. When you put your work out there, whether in book form, in literary journals, magazines, newspapers or blogs, you have to expect some criticism, or comments regarding your competency as a writer.  There’s not a famous, universally acclaimed, award-winning writer out there that hasn’t been trashed in a review or had his or her sanity (or sexuality) called into question, or his life’s work picked over by some vultureistic graduate student. 

It’s all part of the writing game like developing thick skin.  Remember, it's only one person’s opinion.  Think of your favorite singer or band, favorite movie or TV show, favorite and most-loved book of all time, and there’s going to be someone out there who absolutely hates it for a perfectly valid reason.

I do wish that this article, in the five years since it was written (though the journal may have held onto for a couple of years), had been updated by using the MPH (2008) version of Lovers and Strangers Revisited instead of Silverfish version (2005). Some of the examples cited had been edited out of the collection, and all the stories have been heavily revised, and that was three years ago.  In fact, I just revised them all again to prepare for the French translation

Still, it can be interesting (even amusing sometimes) to see how others view you.  As a writer, as an expatriate, you’re always going to attract attention and people will judge you, often through their own pre-conceived ideas.  For example, when an aunt from Sarawak came to Penang to visit my future wife (and to check me out for the family), we took her to a nice restaurant and I drank ice-tea. 

My aunt told everyone back in Sarawak that I drank beer, so when I made my first visit to Sarawak, everywhere I went they kept offering me beer and were puzzled when I declined.  I don’t drink beer.  We all had a good laugh over this, including the aunt, and she had been eating with us!  But instead of looking at the evidence (there’s ice and a lemon slice in my ice tea), in her mind, expats drink beer, therefore I drink beer.  I suspect that some of this was going on in this analysis of my short stories and by extrapolation, me.  It’s human nature.

But when it’s published in an academic journal and made available online and it pops up on a random Google search of my name, it’s out there…and those who don’t know me personally or have never read any of my work, this may well be their first impression of this writer.  First impressions, as we all know, are very hard to change...

So to help offset or balance this out, I’ll add a couple of links to other views of my collection, including the very same Silverfish version, which at the time I was very happy with and got a lot of good reviews: The Star (MPH), The Expat (Silverfish), and NST (Silverfish and cited in the Medwell piece). 

The fact that the book, including the original Lovers and Strangers (Heinemann 1993), has been published three times, won the 2009 Popular-The Star Reader’s Choice Award, been taught (as a collection and individual stories) in numerous universities and private colleges, high schools, and SPM literature, and it's getting translated into French, means it can’t be too bad.  The individual stories have also been published 81 times in 12 countries (15 of 17 stories set in Malaysia - so they must be fairly accurate).  

And an umbrella on a rainy day, in my opinion and as the author who wrote “On Fridays”,  it is still an umbrella. . . .Read the beginning of the story and you be the judge.  Of course, if some French graduate student or lecturer takes me to task on that umbrella issue, I won’t have a clue as to what they’re saying, and that may not be a bad thing.  I’d rather just focus on the writing.

*Update, the 20th anniversary of Lovers and Strangers Revisited
**Here the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

1 comment:

BorneoExpatWriter said...

I like the "Notice" that Mark Twain wrote at the beginning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, "Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot." By Order of the Author

That should also apply to persons attempting to find symbols...