Sunday, 28 October 2007

Farish A Noor's The Other Malaysia: Writings on Malaysia's Subaltern History is a series of impotent yelps that by some alchemy were posted on the Web site malaysiakini over a period of several years. In 2005 it had a second printing. The very subtitle contains the seeds of his own defeat although, clearly, Noor is an educated man.

But what kind of education has he had? The most prominent method is postmodernism which, angled full-tilt at colonialism, has resulted in a strong brew. But ready-to-wear. Noor's dialectic 'imagines' the world in such a way that prevents him from either moving forward (he distrusts contemporary Malaysian politicians) or moving back (he despises the English overlord). So he spins on a narrow axis, waving his arms, and shouting 'not fair'.

"The technocrats and securocrats have responded to the emergence of these sites [Web sites not controlled by the traditional governmental arms of censorship] with alarm and suspicion," he writes in the first essay ('Many Other Malaysias').

In 'The Sultan Who could not Stay Put (Part 1)' Noor then shifts aim and coughs up the standard post-colonial theory that has prevented emerging economies from reaching their full potential. The colonial system is a "sorry state of affairs", where subjugation by the british is "part and parcel" of an inhuman hegemony.

Because of the "universal standard of all progress" applied by the Brits, Malays were disadvantaged. The words of a white rajah are "boorish" and any methods of discrimination were "simplistic categorisations". Honours from the British crown were "poisonous gifts".

This trope continues to preoccupy Noor in the present age, where favoured status accorded by the U.S. are "gilded baubles".

Noor's prose is, typically for former colonial subjects, long-winded and slightly archaic, as if he were afraid that any innovation or concession to readability might be mistaken for weakness. He refuses to even consider alternative narratives, beyond the standard post-colonial one that so many Western academics and pundits produce, ad nauseam, in the respected periodicals of record in countries like Australia.

The book was a gift so I am slightly ashamed to give it so poor a ranking, but execrable it is, truly and verily. Forsooth.

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