Category Archives: academic papers

Social Inequality Under Colonialism As Reflected in Noli Me Tangere

In any society where there is hierarchy of power, privilege, prestige and wealth, social inequality invariably exists. The inequality is marked by unequal opportunity (education, occupation, employment, justice, health), and/or conditions of living (income, wealth, prestige, material goods and power). It is thus characterized by wide disparities, in terms of reward and punishment, social positions or status, and unequal distribution of social and economic resources. In addition, social inequality is also associated with gender, race, class and religious differences.

Rizal narrated the existing social inequality in his novel, Noli Me Tangere. The setting was Philippine in the 19th century, when the catholic hierarchy (Spaniards or mixed) hold dominant power, spiritually, politically and economically, in the archipelago. Acting as an omniscient narrator, he exposed the “social cancer” prevailing in colony. He recorded detailed, but petty, conversations between people in social gathering, quoting “real” places (with exact street name) in specified time. The first chapter began with narration of a lavish dinner party at Captain Tiago’s house in Manila, within the exclusive walled city. The huge mansion, with colossal architecture, expensive and “uncomfortable” furniture and a “magnificent grand piano” without any player, was “squatted” near Binondo Creek. Tiago was an uneducated, a cuckold, mestizo landlord, who rubbed shoulders with Spaniards and friars. Despite being pious, he was indulged in polytheism and the opium trade (page 36). He benefitted himself financially at the expenses of the poor masses. There was display of wealth and pretentious elegance, with description of food and wine, and corruption offered to officers (pg 39). Among his guests were Fray Damaso, Fray Sibyla, Dona Victorina and her quake doctor husband, the vice governor general, and Crisotomo Ibarra. In the fiesta, Fray Damaso was engaged in self trumpeting about his own holiness (he knew all the confessions of “six thousand souls” in San Diego) and power (“toss the body of a heretic out of the cemetery”, page 12). The collaboration of merchants, priests and administrators deprived the natives of decent livelihood. The inequality was reflected in excessive alms and taxes, often in the name of religion. His satiric rhetoric was interwoven in the narration of people, events and places.

In his recollection, as his carriage passed through the central district of Manila, the country’s infrastructure remained unchanged, no progress and reform was implemented, in the last seven years or more. Even at San Diego, which produced sugar, rice, coffee and fruits, it was the merchants that reaped gain. It was ruled by two powerful person, namely, Padre Salvi and a drunken civilian, Alferez, who often drilled his soldiers under the hot sun, a clear abuse of power. Ironically, the protagonist’s ancestors also owned much of the forest land, and he was not as benevolent to his workers as he had thought, and, in his anger, the hero could be as violent as other people to right personal justice. The cemetery scene showed that segregation and discrimination (race, religious faith, and personal vengeance) even occurred after death of a human being. This was followed by discussion on the existence of purgatory, a catholic invention, as a spiritual weapon of control.

The Chapter on Sextons exposed how the curate and his cronies made false accusation against the Crispin brothers of stealing two gold coins. One of the brothers suffered frequent physical and verbal abuses, and eventually died .The other brother, Basilio, was fined for “not rolling the bells in the proper rhythm” (pg 88). He managed to escape and a bullet grazed his forehead. The family was so poor, who “barely earned enough to sustain life” (pg 90), and had to bribe all the way to stay alive or free from punishment.

In the next scene, there were eaves dropping on the sisters in the convent on the plenary attendance to get out of purgatory. The religious miss-education was also responsible for the social helplessness. At that point, Sisa, the brothers’ mother, brought a basket of her best vegetables from her own garden for the priests to prepare salad. She was physically pushed out in the street with news that her son was not in the church, and was accused of stealing. She eventually becomes insane.

The subsequent chapters dealt with the poor education in the country. School buildings were lacking in the town, for the fund allocation were siphoned by the priests for fiesta celebration. Plans for education could not be implemented due to friars’ resistance.

In conclusion, the selected snapshots artistically narrated by Rizal helped to see the social inequality or social cancer in the colony better than mere presentation of raw data and figures in reports. With emotional content in an imaginative fiction, it intensified man’s awareness of his own reality.

(782 words)


1. Dr. Ashley, Crossman, Sociology of Inequality, Arizona State University, cited 18-7-2013.

Yi Jing and Michel Foucault

Nick Mansfield in his book on “Subjectivity” (2000, p180) concluded that subjectivity was about us, and could only be defined and known with “thorough analysis and critique.” Exploring subjectivity was discovery of the self in human existence through relationship, feeling, experience, identities and attributes, and would invariably touches on the interior life of “I”. The self has become the focus of many subjectivity theories in the West, and he advises us to have endless “open discussion” in a modern era so that the self gain some insight into each rather than anchor in any particular fixed theory. The Chinese has discussed such theories since the beginning of their recorded civilization. Despite this, Duan Dezhi commented that there was no exact translation for subjectivity into Chinese, and he proposed two aspects of subjectivity in Chinese lexicon, namely, zhu guang xing (ideas, concepts and consciousness) and zhu ti xing (body and material base). He elaborated that Chinese philosophy stressed more on attainment of universal human values in “compatible and complementary relationship”, mutual interdependence and interpenetration of the selves of the “I” and the “other”.

Yi Jing is considered the premier of ancient Chinese Classic (scriptures). Yi in Chinese means change, easy, or transformation. The cannon defined yi (change) as “sheng sheng”, meaning “life and growth”, “production and reproduction” or “creative creativity.” I think a more appropriate translation will be becoming or unceasing. The pictographic in Chinese character has a composite picture of a sun and a moon, which implied about the Yang and the Ying or the unity of Duality (or polar opposites). The binary concept is easy to understand rationally, but due to its constant flux and dynamic alteration of the hexagrams, complicated by the ancient vocabulary in the text, it becomes not so easy to understand Change. Jing meant the string of texts linked together. It is a bi semiotic system, consisting of two sections:

1. Jing: the core or basic text. This again is sub divided into two unequal chapters; the upper volume consisted of 30 hexagram (qua); and the second volume of 34 qua, thus a total of 64 qua. This basic text, extremely ancient, diverse in origins, appeared unsystematic and complicated, is basically used for divination, and appeared in earlier text and translations. It is interesting to note that hexagram 63 represented “completion” and the final 64 meant “incompletion” so that the cycle of change repeated itself ad infinitum for a different rebirthing interpretation.

2. This section consisted of “Ten Wings” (Zhuan) or Commentaries, consisted of seven sub-sections. In the middle is the Philosophical Guide (conspectus), or Ci Zi meaning attached verbalization. It was alleged to be written by Confucius himself, as evidenced by the sage’s quotation in the appendices. However, Daoism and Buddhism claimed their text was inserted in the commentaries, and Yi Jing was a hybridization of many prevalent teaching. The subjectivity in interpretation of text depended on the readers’ philosophical perspective. The rest, e.g. Shuogua (Explaining the Trigrams) are commentaries or appendices, explaining each trigram (yao) or hexagram (qua, or double trigram), either in its sequence, origin, order or relationship.

During the course of Chinese history many commentaries were added into Yi Jing, at times enriching it, and at times, complicating it. Early Chinese feudal history and philosophical thoughts could be assessed through Yi Jing commentaries and appendixes. The scripture was considered by Professor Cheng as an “onto-hermeneutical” text, with the “purpose of helping us to understand the world both phenomenological and ontologically” simultaneously. Tu Wei Ming, quoted by Joseph A Alder, commented that the cannon was “anthropocosmic”, meaning dynamic interaction of humans and the natural world. Its symbolic nature was not designed for mere intellectualization, but more for apprehending the nature of reality, understanding, practice and action as one.

There are three different versions of Yi Jing, viz. Liangshan, Guicang and Zhouyi. The latter is the current popular version. These three versions existed at different period of history, from pre Hsia, to late Zhou dynasty more than five thousand years ago. They differ in the sequence of the hexagram, and also in the method of deriving a hexagram. They also used different basic qua (hexagram) for style expression. For instance, Liang Shan used Gen, hexagram 52 as reference point, Guisang used Kun, hexagram 2; and Zhouyi used Gian, hexagram 1.
Yi Jing is not written by any single person, or in any single historical period or dynasty. The hexagram was originated from the mystic sage, Fuxi. It evolved from the initial eight hexagrams into 64 hexagrams in late Zhou dynasty by King Wen and his son, the Duke of Zhou. During the subsequent Spring-Autumn period and The Warring States, Confucius and his disciples edited its philosophical Guide, Xi Ci and the “Ten Wings” (appended commentaries and Verbalizations). After the Han (206BCE – 220CE) and Song (960-1279 AD) dynasty, modifications and commentaries were amended or reconstructed. In Zhou Yi (Literally meaning Change in the Zhou historical period), Gian (heaven) and Kun (earth) are its two main doors. These two hexagrams are its basic, forming part of the trinity, namely, heaven, man and earth. Man resides in the space between heaven and earth. The Chinese character for man, ren, shows a picture of a pair of feet on the “ground” or earth image; a horizontal line across the middle means immense and a third horizontal line on the apex represents heaven. Each trigram has a representation of natural, cultural, familial-social and psychological phenomena, and also shows events and effect in temporal relation. Each hexagram (quo) is composed of two trigram stacked together, and each quo has its individualized image and interpretation. Each trigram is composed of three Yao; each Yao is either a straight line or an interrupted line. The straight line represented Yang, male, with its phallic symbol; the Yin, female, with a “river” in between the “shores”! Each line in the trigram, whether broken or unbroken, represents each of the trinity: heaven, man and earth, in their yang or yin manifestation. The changes in the yao, trigram and hexagram represent the laws of transformation and change. The word “yao” in Chinese consists of two crosses stack on top of one another, implying choices and options at the “cross road” or junctions of changes. Therefore, sixty four hexagrams consist of three hundred and eighty four yao. They interact and interconnect, nourish and block one another in ceaseless activities.
Again, when Yi is impoverished, it undergo changes; when appropriate changes occur, flow then become smooth; when flow smoothen, it last (it has its own duration too) … the cycle of change repeats its cycle repeatedly in dynamic and voluntary ways. Each hexagram is a temporal frame, in cyclic alternations in incessant change. The temporal embraces knowledge of opportunity, ability to exploit the right timing, and ability to understand that opportunity has come and gone. The ethical aspect incorporates the Middle Path, and the ability to refrain from negative action. The temporal nature also points to a potential future state, which fortune tellers exploit it for prognostications, for Yi Jing, apart from its philosophical and psychological ontology also has a numerical and logical domain. The explanation of hexagram contained historical or mythical narratives, which helped belief in divinity and geomancy (Feng Shui). Divinity was also a language of Change, for the self had wish fulfillment to transform or to overcome obstacles. In the Ten commentaries, there are narratives or stories explaining the line-statements (yaoci), and qua or hexagram statement (quaci). Together they offer philosophical interpretation of the subject’s existence in a cosmological time frame, within a social and cultural construct. The self thus relate with the other in multiple dimensional ways, with awareness of the risks and benefits, and yet never certain of its outcome.
The scripture opened with these statements:
“Heaven is high and honorable, earth is low and base; thus the positions of Qian and Kun are determined. The high and low being set out, the honored and lowly are positioned”.
This simple introduction was often misunderstood that Yi Jing was patriarchal in nature and masculine dominant. It was looking at the subject with a vertical view of inflexible hierarchy, ignoring the horizontal aspect of duty, responsibility and order in family relationship. When there is personal order in the self, then the order is regulated in the family, which brings order to the state and peace and harmony in the world. The statement was a template for the importance of social hierarchy to achieve order in the person, family, community and nation; without order relationship would be in chaos, as observed in social turmoil or revolution or war. In Chinese philosophy, the yang and yin is not exact Cartesian divide, for in the “baqua” image, we saw each in the other. The Chinese word, good (“how”), is composed of female and a male in unison and completion; each stand in its right perspective position. Yang (nourishing) and Yin (supportive) were representation beyond sexual connotation. They might mean hot and cold, hard and soft, activity and passivity, liked a pair of chopsticks in action. Thus the introduction was interpreted as spatial and temporal relationship in human interaction and interpenetration with nature and nurture in the fluid state of becoming. The centrality of yin-yang alteration is also linked to moral principles and fulfilled in virtuous conduct.
The significant lesson in Yi Jing is for human being to understand the constant and unceasing change in human existence, with its varied time and event perspective to consider. There are factors of fate, luck, opportunity, conditionality, connections and personal knowledge and cultivation to consider. The Chinese word for fate, ming, is written with three radicals (ren, yi, kou) on top of one another, which meant, the first thing a man has to bow is his destiny. The self has free will and autonomy and rationality, and yet, at times, he cannot always escape his destiny, for not everything is within his will and control. In the face of so many available options, choices could also be an illusion for the self. Nevertheless, the scripture advises, “When conditions are impoverished, adjust, adapt and transform to change for the better; when the right change is made, the Dao becomes functional again, and persist until it’s time the outmoded is replaced the new.” With such complexity, permutations and difficult language, Yi Jing is really not “easy” to read or understand. In the same vein, the self in human relatedness is not easy in existence, unless one can transcend all bipolarity values (fame and shame, pretty and ugly) limitations.
Yi Jing is a didactic, moralistic and humanistic teaching, which promotes self cultivation based on benevolence and harmony of Confucianism. It provides insight to the experience of complexity, fragility and spontaneity of living in a world of contextually. The classic empowers the self to adjust and adapt to change, but also to acknowledgment human destiny. It is a teacher directing instruction, and the relationship between mentor and mentee are liked father and son. The phonic structure of Chinese language enables easy rote recitation for memory. In contrast, Foucault discourse is more student centered, where students are encouraged to exercise intellectual independence, do their own research and thinking and challenge existing scientific teaching. Foucault’s discourses are more diverse and logocentric and sexual; whereas Chinese teaching are more conservative and the self and the others have a common shared tradition and culture. Foucault teaching was about micro power dispersed everywhere in the “sociology of knowledge” level, where conduct impacted conduct in power relation, and he challenged epistemological status quo. In contrast, Yi Jing examined the subjectivity of the human beings from the theoretical ontological level, where the I-self seek harmony with the other self and with nature to achieve personal transcendence. Foucault had distaste for “meta narratives” and disliked his discursive discourse to be labeled, whereas Yi Jing was loaded with commentaries.
(1977 words)
1. Adler, A Joseph, 2012.”The Great Virtue of Heaven and Earth”Deep Ecology in Yi Jing, Kenyon College,USA. 24-3-2013
2.Yu,Yih-hsien. (2005) Two Chinese Philosophers and Whitehead Encountered. Journal of Chinese Philosophy 32-2 (June 2005) p 239-255 Cited 24-3-201
3.Yu Yih-hsien.2010.The Jijing,Whitehead, Time Philosophy .Zhouyi Studies(English)Vol6,13-31 Tunghai University, Taiwan.
4.Hall, E. Donald.2004.Subjectivity: The Neocritical Idiom.Routledge,Taylor & Francis Group.
5.Mansfield,Nick 2000.Subjectivity:Theories of the Self from Freud to Haraway.UK Allen & Unwin.
6.Shaughnessy, Ed.2001.The Writing of Xici Zhuan and the Making of Yijing, Chicago cited 15-03-2013
7.Duan Dezhi. On the History, Theoretical, difficulties and Prospects f subectivity in Western Thought. cited 24-12-2013
11. Some images of qua :
Yao is either yang (unbroken line) or yin (broken line).
Three yao stack together to make a trigram; two trigram together to make a hexagram. Each hexagram is a guq, with images of representations as follows:
12.Images of baqua , showing the yin and yang interpenetrate into one another:

Paul-Mitchel Foucault: Power and subjectivity – Personal Appeal

Foucault contends that power permeates and pervades everywhere. Relationship between power and subjectivity is a defining aspect of Foucault’s key theories, and the subjectivity may be affirmed in its relationship with society and institution. As individual we react to situations in different ways under diverse social conditions. Foucault agrees that power has constructive qualities, a strategy that may co-exist with resistance and not necessarily negative or restrictive. Power shapes the subject’s outlook on the world and self relations are reflections of power relations. Adapting from Paul Oliver, the notion of subjectivity is discussed over discourses on the nature of power, power and the state, power in different historical periods, power and pedagogy, power at both macro and micro levels in personal or communal lives1.

Foucault’s conception of power is a departure not only from classical Marxist dogma, but also differs from others. On the nature of power, Foucault writes “power reaches into the very grain of individuals, touches their bodies and inserts itself into their actions and attitudes, their discourses, learning processes and everyday lives” (Foucault 1980, page 30). He sees power disperses and originates from everywhere rather than wields or dominates by oligarchy or sovereign acts. He advises us to look at power as a system, beyond mere oppression, for even in repression and censorship, new behaviour of subjects emerges, even at mundane level in daily lives. He looks at power relationships between people as impersonal, in the sense of not willed or concentrated by any individual but each has its own hierarchy. Thus power relationship is rooted deep in the social network, not constructed from “above”. By shaping another’s behaviour, whether via intimidation, pressure or other means, is power relation, for it effects or guides the other’s behaviour too. Thus the exercise of power is more about influencing others and changing their thought. Given time and opportunity, institutions and society may also change. Foucault writes about the importance of politics at the micro-societal or personal level that may influence the state on a bigger scale. Revolutions may topple government without really effecting change at all, for instance, the recent “Arab Spring” in the Middle East countries. There is mobilization of counter power resistance, causing social upheaval and political unrest, without achieving the “revolution” goal.

Foucault elaborates that power and knowledge are linked in complex forms of strategies to regulate people’s conduct and shape their behaviour in the assumption of truth, via network and practices around us. Thereby, each society has its own “regime of truth”, a narrative of power that makes us what we are in discursive discourses, reinforced by educational pedagogy, the media, prevailing ideologies and social-economic construct. Transformation of power relations can be achieved by changing social structure and social relations with effective education. Students must be taught not to accept knowledge passively by rote learning. Instead, students learn to challenge or reinterpret existing views for the betterment of society. For empowerment of the education system, teachers and students are encouraged to research on their own and develop newer ideas in discourses.

Foucault argues that in society there are interlinking connections between power, education and knowledge. Each requires the other to generate power to affect the subject of subjectivity. Knowledge of the legal system of the state can effectively challenge the prevailing idea and thus influence change in people’s opinion. The discourses generated can determine whether something is true or false. On the other hand, the power-knowledge bond is achieved through system of social control, by observation, panoptic surveillance, disciplinary regulations in prisons or schools, acceptance of rules, promotion of norms on gender and sexuality, and docility without coercion. With awareness of the expansive power of the state and authorities to observe, monitor and control, the individual feels restricted power and freedom over their lives. Nevertheless, people do not have to succumb to power, and any resistance to the exercises of power generates more power in another direction. At different historical period, different discourses or episteme will arise to replace the existing one, with a new way of thinking, meaning and episteme, so that “truth” can be seen in a new historical context in the discursive shift2, 3. Foucault is against an absolute claim of truth. Hence each society has its “regime of truth” and the will to make things true via discourses which can be accepted as truth.

With regard to knowledge, authority and power, Foucault focuses on how power operates within institutional apparatus and technologies. The former includes punishment, laws and regulations, morality, philanthropy, philosophic propositions, linguistic and other elements, whereas the latter is about technique and strategies of application in specific situation, social context and institutional regime. Echoing Foucault, power is everywhere and everyone exercises it through language at the level of the individual, between langue and parole, deriving meaning over what is true or untrue in their interactions. The power vocabulary and philosophy of Foucault is not easy to read or understand for he gives new meaning or twist to conventional concepts and ideas. His theory of power is not from a single work, but reconstructed from the body of discourses, across multi disciplines, throughout the years. Foucault does not enunciate a doctrine of what is power. He elaborates how power is exercised in action, relationship, and perspective participation, in certain historical context with consequent effect. In short, power is how one entity interacts with another entity to influence the actions of that entity to effect change.

“Power is everywhere” by Foucault (1991) is a very appealing perspective, for it implies the network of power is distributed everywhere in power relations, actions and participation. The talk about diverse, multiple actions in actions in daily participation generating micro power, from small setting to a bigger scale, is the most empowering aspect for the powerless, for instance, in the pre-election year.

Foucault’s “power relations” appeals to me in a dialogue with my six-year-old granddaughter. She visited us some weeks ago and was so appreciative and happy that her mother had her own bedroom with beautiful lace curtains, pictures and toys and small memorabilia. Innocently, she asked me why I was so good to my daughter (her mother), with her own pretty room and possessions. I replied, “Your mum was our only daughter.” “I hope I was her only daughter too.” The language used was simple, for it spoke her feelings and mind. Indeed it would all belong to her. To reprimand her would be exercising “punishment” in relationship of dominance. I followed her flow of feeling experience, “You have a little sister.” “Sometimes she snatched my things away and hit me.” “Yes, she could be naughty. She would learn when she grew up, just liked you. It would be lonely when you had all these things in your room without anyone to play with. Don’t you think so?” “Grandpa, I like to have my own belonging and I like to share and play with others, even with my little sister.” “That’s very good.”

That snippet is an exercise of power relations, influencing the feeling, thinking and conduct of a conduct. If we are afraid of approaching a “taboo” topic, then the child will not have the opportunity to make a proper choice. The same scenario happened when she was very stressed in her “Wu Shu (Kong Fu)” competition. “If you love martial art, you practise more often for the joy of it. Achieve the best, and let your teachers do the rest”, was the advice given. Foucauldian subjectivity on power relations is a reflection of self with reference to another.

In our national education system based on grades and academic merit, we observe power hierarchy and power pressure in schools and colleges, teachers and students, teachers and parents, teachers and principal, principals and the education ministry. It is a relationship of power and knowledge, and not a power relation which facilitates learning, knowledge and discipline. If our school teachers push or relegate the teaching of their academic subjects to tuition centers, instead of shouldering responsibilities as educators, then such “decision making” or negative choice are powerful in the sense of involvement of a vast network of people (students, parents, teachers, principals). The power relations are results of action upon action or conduct upon conduct where mutual trust and respect dissipates in our education system. Our students are taught by rote instead of developing ways of questioning and independence of thought and actions. Many of the current educational pedagogy is Foucauldian inspired or nested in Foucauldian power relations in “ascending analysis”, from “small scale” in family and interpersonal relationship, to “larger scale” in national education system4.

The appeal of subjectivity in Foucauldian critique is empowering for the powerless in Malaysian politics. The unfolding in the political struggle between the government component parties and opposition parties in a pre-election year reveals shift in power relations between ethnic, gender, class and religious groups. Prior to these, many Malaysians live in fear of ISA (Internal Security Act), surveillance by government through the media (including the Internet, e-mail, Facebook, Twitters), CCTV and other spy cameras or spies in public places and institutions. Through the instrument of government (administrative, police, army), it is intended to crush any opposition into submission. As the political and economic fiasco continue to deteriorate, the campaign to cause race, class and religious divide begins to fumble. Group protest and group discussion (blogs, twitters, public places) across race, gender and class divide, begin to question the ruling party’s governance, especially on topics such as corruption, sex scandals, education, immigration, citizenship, religion and the morality of leaders. The political unrest brings its opposite intention – it opens up more discussion and protest among the ordinary people at the micro level. The participation, on a wide network, changes peoples’ experience, feeling and ideas. Thereby it effects conduct on conduct and forms new alignment with another. The Foucauldian perspective of participation allows people the freedom or autonomy to speak, to listen to one another and act on the actions taken. With that power, the individual seeks freedom of expression. Echoing Nick Mansfield in his book (Subjectivity, 2000), subjectivity is reborn to fit into the needs of national political imperative, and affects our conduct to look beyond race and religion, as truly one Malaysian. The exercise of knowledge, in authoritarian ways may cause artificial division of people into distinct categories and function as instrument of power, representing modern imprisonment and punishment/rewards, and blurs the perception of truth. Foucault’s conception of power/knowledge, an indivisible doublet, empowers us to understand power relations in different perspective. Paraphrasing Mansfield, his idea motivates us to explore the “complex interplay between power and language (page 58). The heated controversy about the translation of “God” into the National Language is one such instance where political overplay turns on itself. Politics in religion misrepresents spirituality in language. Ideology needs subjectivity (page 53) through language to affect the subject. In response to that, I compose these lines:

The one and only one was the sole trade mark;

Any other remark was against the monarch.

Ownership of truth was the absolute right;

Birth right barreled out of power of might.

We are all one, except this one magic password;

Gates of heaven open with alphabets was absurd.

Fallen angels chastened with divine sermon;

Fancy the stolen bullion from their brethren.

In conclusion, Foucault is an eclectic thinker. His discourses on power/knowledge are so complex to defy a fixed identity or label. He provides a “perspectival perspective”. In fact, he refuses to be labeled. With whatever limitation in his critique, he rejects any “totalitarian” or closed view on any subject. The appeal on his discourses is on the transformative power it engendered. He has shown how actions acted on actions and conduct acted on conduct in power relations in society.

(Word Count 1958)

1. Oliver, Paul. 2010. Foucault: The Key Ideas. United Kingdom: McGraw Hill Company.

2. Hall, Stuart. 1997. Foucault: Power, Knowledge and Discourses. Reading Seven. Cited 01-03-2013.

3. Ballan, Sergiu. Year not stated. M. Foucault’s View on Power Relations.’S%20VIEW%20ON%20POWER%20RELATIONS.pdf. Cited 01-03-2013.

4. Gallanhger, Michael. Foucault, Power and Participation. Cited 01-03-2013.

Secondary references:

Mansfield, Nick. 2000. Subjectivity: Theories of the Self from Freud to Haraway. New South Wales: Allen & Unwin

Owen, David. Michel Foucault: An Overview. Cited 08-02-2013.

Foucault, Michael. 1982. The Subject and Power, Critical Inquiry. Vol 8 No 4. Cited 01-03-2013.

Whisnant, Clayton. 2012. Foucault and Discourses. Cited 01-03-2013.

Mason, Moya K. Foucault and His Panopticon. Cited 01-03-2013.

Freud and Lacan: A Learner’s Understanding

Despite lots of criticism and distortion in his main theories, Sigmund Freud’s work continues to influence our understanding of psychology, psychotherapy, philosophy of mind and other social and humanity disciplines. We may disagree with many of his interpretations, or accuse his theories as “fundamentally flawed”, “lacked empirical data” or proper methodology, his insights (unconsciousness motivation, theme of sex and aggression, and the frequent revision and elaboration of concepts by his followers) are simply too compelling to ignore, for instance, in cognitive neuroscience. Today, clients have less money and patience to seek psychoanalytic therapy, for medication and counselling therapy are more practical, and many people consider such analysis outdated.

Freudian psychoanalysis is both a theory of personality and a clinical therapy, based on what Freud reckons as “scientific” in the post Darwinian period. One of the most often quoted aspects of Freudian theory is the Oedipus complex (masculinity biased), where the subject’s gender relations and sexual identification are interpreted in socio-familial setting within a dominant western culture. The unconscious id is Freud’s version of subjectivity, as it encompasses the libido, the power that drives our sexual and biological needs. The id acts on the pleasure/pain principle in either seeking or avoidance. The superego is our social conscience. When conflict arises between the id and superego, a “split” comes into being. The ego is formed through identification with the father figure or representation. The socio-cultural life of the conscious self “split” with the unconsciousness impulses by repression and wish fulfillment in dreams, slip of tongue, jokes or neurotic symptoms, in over-determined ways. Subjectivity is over ingrained into sexuality, where children, undergo six stages of psycho-sexual development, either suffer from castration anxiety or penis-envy (due to “lack”). Subjectivity is thus a social construct by the symbol of the father’s penis (“Anatomy is destiny”) (1912); its ownership a reassurance of dominant fixed subjectivity. Feminine subjectivity is best achieved by bearing a son (“missing penis”), a substitution for repressed feminine unconsciousness. Paraphrasing Zizek’s comment on Lacan, phallus is an organ without a body, an in sigma, a “transcendental signifier” without insemination1, and 2. In short, it is a man’s desire in the other’s desire in the fantasy world he dwells in which subjectivity is identified.

Lucan’s Analysis is a “return to Freud” as it is also psychodynamic and developmental, with tripartite schema of the psyche representing the real, imaginary and the symbolic, in an inter-related knot. The real is the unconscious id, the imaginary is the site of ego, and the symbolic co-relates with the paternal superego. The overlapping space represents sexual appetite or desire. Desire is sexual to Freud, whereas, to Lacan, it is ontological, more of a struggle for wholeness. Paraphrasing Ayla Michelle Demir, Freud psychic model has a more intimate link, whereas Lacan modified version shows more erotic relationship between the unconscious and the symbolic3. The differences are in the prose Lacan used –figures of speech (metaphor, metonymy) that resemble psychoanalytic free association that will resist neat conceptualization and systemization. To quote, “The unconscious is structured as a language” . Subjectivity is the unconscious experience of something we miss as a lack which Lacan calls “desire”1. Lacan’s critique of Freudian psychoanalysis is their clinical orientation, for his goal is to confront the patients head-on with their desire (“object petit a”). As the subject seeks for material or other possessions, the insatiable desire creates demand, which in turn creates more desire, and the endless tension between desire and demand is the source of human motivation and frustration ad infinitum. The drawback for Lacan is people can overcome such vicious cycle through self-reflection or self-actualization, instead of being trapped in such blind alley forever. Commenting on Lacan, Mansfield writes that we feel desire because both the imaginary and the symbolic has escaped us, and our demands can only be pursued in the symbolic2. Again, he criticizes Freud for his “talking cure”, with no awareness of the implication of language. Psychoanalysis to Lacan is a way of reading text, oral or written, like philosophy and the arts of popular culture.

Jacques-Alain Miller writes that both Freud and Lacan agree on the limitation of the analytic experience, but differ on the transformation or reversal of the analysand into analyst4. Thereby both Analyst and analysand are of concern regarding the question of sexual relation of the unconscious. Freud designates as castration anxiety or impotence (or penis envy for female) and cause for despair, whereas Lacan alleges there is no actual sexual relation, but only a phallic symbol of power, plenitude, and wholeness or as signifier of original desire beyond anatomy. The signifier for male is libido, and the category for female signifier is an alien or empty concept, and thereby, explains her entry into a “structural hysteria”4. If the signified implies meaning, then the network of the signified will refer to another signification. Lacan explains that the process of signification is created when the signified aligns with the signifier until we move to a chain of signifiers. In other words, signification is always in a flux, a movement towards another meaning until closure. Freud attempts to bridge the verbal as a means of the conscious, whereas Lacan, with his linguistic ability, is precise in naming the unconscious itself. By linking linguistic with psychoanalysis, Lacan has won recognition for moving Freudian theory beyond, but he is also criticized by the fact that the unconscious is highly symbolic and therefore an over simplification in attempting to reformulate it into syntax.

To elaborate further on the differences between Freud and Lacan, we need to return to discussion on Freud’s Theory of Psychosexual Development. Freud believes that human psyche is motivated by the unconscious id, the libido, which contains all drives, instinct and biological needs that act on the pleasure/pain principle. The ego is the rational level of personality in our pre conscious, and acts on the Reality Principle; the superego is partly unconscious and acts on the Morality Principle. Children go through six psychosexual stages of development, starting from oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital5. Freud’s theory is well known, but controversial, and cannot be scientifically validated, as it is based on his personal case studies of adult females instead of children. The libido energy level is too subjective, and cannot be measured, and the theory deals mostly with males. The Oedipal complex occurs in the phallic stage of development, around three- to six-year-olds. There may be a “fixation” or other acquired habits due to either over or under stimulation at every stage of development. Fixation at the phallic stage is thought to be a root cause of homosexuality; fixation at the genital stage may cause frigidity, impotence and other dyad marital problems. All these simplifications may appear ludicrous to many in our modern era. Yet the self cannot escape many of the psychical “defense mechanism” (such as repression, displacement, rationization, denial, regression, reaction formation, projection) written by Freud. Normality and abnormality merge imperceptivity onto one another, and difficult to disentangle them. Subjectivity is socially rather than biologically constructed and the biologically differences are meaningful only in reference to prevailing mores and norms. Freud finds the similarity of his unconscious processes in tandem with the Greek drama of Oedipal Rex, where Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother, in pre-determination. The arts and humanities deepen our understanding of the unconscious processes and conflict in the mind. The revelation of such unconscious guilt meets with social denial and condemnation. The blinding by Oedipus is a metaphorical implication of our resistance to psychoanalytic insight. The fictional perspective of truth compels us to understand the falsity of reality. The social mask appears more real than the subject who wears it.

As stated above, Lacan’s version of the Oedipal Complex is based on Freud theory, but structured with linguistic. Lacan does not completely abandon Freud’s stages, but comments they are inter-subjective and the latter focuses more on the “psychic dynamics of transference” (Zizek p28), and he is more targeted on the “father” than on the analyst. In his triad, Lacan’s Imaginary Order ushers in the gaze in the Mirror Stage of early psycho-sexual development. He introduces a pre-mirror, mirror and post mirror metaphorical concept to explain children’s identity progression in such development. The ego and the reflected image fuels the child’s fantasies and imagination. To Lacan, this is fusion of the child’s early ego, omniscient and narcissistic, with his mother, which remains dormant when we falsify our identity with others in adult lives6. Narcissism becomes a more central function of the psyche than Freud’s theory. In the pre-mirror (0 – six month old) stage, the infant’s experience is fragmented, with unmet biological needs and unsatisfied desire for affection and care. The reflected external image of child and mother gives rise to the illusion of an “I”. Identification with the image thus serves as a gestalt for selfhood perception, which is illusory, for the proto self found in the mother is imaginary. The criticism against Lacan is the discovery of self is based on proprioception (awareness of the body), and it is this consciousness first that we can know other mind.

The mirror stage (6 – 18 months) marks the child’s identification with his/her own image in pre-language development. Lacan terms as Ideal-I (stands for idealized self image, imagery small other) and ego-idea (the symbolic big Other); both terms are borrowed from Freud, but with some modifications. Freud’s ego-ideal is not imaginary other but seeks narcissism in infancy. The difference between them is, Freud’s theory is based on an illusory omnipotence whereas in Lacan’s, the ego obtains identity via injunction of the superego (parents and society). This creation of an ideal version of self echoes Freud’s narcissistic fantasies. This imaginary order continues to influence the child until the next stage of development. The post mirror stage (18 months – 4 years) is the acquisition of language and the process through the oedipal complex, as discussed above.

The Symbolic Order is signifier for Lacan, together with the world of language, structure and law, interacting between the conscious and unconscious, the id and superego, in perennial search for inaccessible meaning. We are thus frustrated, always lacking or missed something in the desire/demand chase outlined above. The unconscious persists in filling the gap of unconscious. Thereby, we are “split” and possess an empty centre call “beance” by Lacan. The symbolic order, a phallic signifier, is equated with Name-of-the-Father intervened in the imaginary relationship between the ego and mother, with desire repressed by the superego. According to Lacan, the individual, as a transpersonal subject, lives within a symbolic world.

In conclusion, Psychoanalytic Theory and practice is first developed by Sigmund Freud, but it is Jacques Lacan, based on Freud reading and with linguistic connections, who expands the landscape of psychoanalysis and therapy. Freud thinks his theory is based on post Darwinian scientific methodology, without awareness of its flaw then, but Lacan’s Mirror Stage has no assumption of scientific claims at all. Despite this, Lacan’s theories have great impact on psychoanalytic movement and practices. For Lacan subjectivity is wired into our language, fused into our culture and even politics. Despite their limitations, their theories explain many mental and psyche processes like hate, love, slip of the tongue, jokes, ambivalence, sexuality, familial and marital conflicts well, and offer valuable insights into these experiences. Lacan’s concept on desire and demand captures some of our experiences in modern consumption and sexuality. The Mirror Stage narrates some aspect of our childhood development, exemplifies a moment of self identification, and the asymmetry between the self and the image as reflected in the metaphorical mirror of life by another.

(1929 words)


1. Zizek, Slavoj. 2007. How to Read Lacan. New York: W. W. Norton.
2. Mansfield, Nick. 2000. Subjectivity: Theories of self from Freud to Haraway. Page 94. New South Wales: Allen & Unwin.
3. Demir, Ayla Michelle. Lacan’s Formulation of the Subject & Freud’s Development of the Ego. Cited 01-03-2013.
4. Miller, Jacques-Alain. 2009. The Symptom 10: Another Lacan. Cited 01-03-2013.
5. Tajuddin, Kamarina. 2012. Psychoanalytic Theory by Sigmund Freud. Cited 01-03-2013.
6. Lacan and Language. Cited 01-03-2013.

Debunking Race As a False Index Of Difference: Comment on Gadoh (film)

(Gadoh was a Malaysian film, written, produced and directed by Malaysians.It was banned by the government as the language used and content was racially sensitive. However,it was available in u – tube for free viewing. Gadoh means quarrel in Malay)

Turner (1999) wrote that film generates its meaning through its own system (cinematography, lighting, sound, set and design editing). These meaning making behavior which people engaged in the production of the film following convention, rules and interpretation are called signifying practice. In other words, it is the making of significance when the image or film (signifier) connect with mental concepts (transcendental signified).

The narration of “Gadoh” (fight, quarrel) commenced with the camera focused on the door indicating a meeting in progress. The principal, Mr. Chua, chaired the emergency meeting. There were noisy arguments among the teachers. They were blaming one another and shifting their responsibilities (even among the same race) over the press news of their students’ brawl. We thus see the power of the media in reporting and analyzing race and ethnicity .The teachers’ stereotyped suggestions were based on race and religion, which would aggravate the divide between “us” from “them”; thereby “legitimized” racial conflict as “real”. Teacher Anne suggested the formation of a theatre club, a novel way of seeing the students’ fight outside the habitual racial thinking box.

The camera then flashed back to what had happened the day before. A group of Malay students were chatting in the canteen. Then another group of Chinese students entered the school compound. They passed through an advertisement postal for thalassemia, “Kita Serupa” (we are the same), oblivious of its content and meaning. Phenotype differences were often held to explain genotype divergence, a false biological construct often used to categorize exclusiveness or superiority of one race over another.

The camera returned to the canteen scene, showing a wide display of local Sino Malay fusion food. The Malay students bullied Raj Kumar, an Indian, without provocation. The Chinese took turns to push him. When the two racial groups faced one another, we could feel tempers were rising among them. There was no exchange of words, but the body language was hot enough to start a fight, with a mere trigger of a dropping bottle. Fight ensured. The whole scene was blacked out, and the word “GADOH” (in white) was shown against a black screen. The “black” background symbolized darkness and the “white” represented brightness. We could no longer visualize or cognize people in simple black and white divide for there were multiple factors for differences.

The Theatre Club was formed and brought the two teenage groups together for the first time. The two racial groups, together with Raj and Linda, started to role play: eye contact, face-to-face contact, body contact, and then verbalizing all their racial animosities against each other. The languages (sometimes bi-lingual) used were raw, racial to the extreme, but these were their gut feeling then. They were then asked to reflect on these sentiments at home. After the drama class, the students and teachers walked out of the room. The camera showed the high fence above the door. It appeared to be a formidable barrier or a prison, difficult for “inmates” to exit. The camera was filmed from below up; suggesting overcoming race obstacles would not be easy, even though the wired fence were all man-made. Despite this, they all “walked out” of the “prison”.

A dispirited Khalid then listened to his music in bed. The lyric played:

Believe in love
I ask you here
To accompany me
Love is embedded
In the valley of the soul
Quiet and deep

The music “feel for us”, a powerful emotional feeling for change, for reflection. We need to search our souls to look at racialism in each of us; we need to look at differences beyond race.

In the same chapter, the camera switched to Asman, reading late into the night, on topics, such as “politics, Malay Nationalism” etc… In a later chapter, Anne asked Asman, “Do
you regret such living?” He was top in their graduating class, and his peers were all very successful, “well ahead, holding high position in society.” Azman’s reply was simple. To him, life was not about living comfortably himself. He aspired to help to build a better Bangsa Malaysia for all races.

Chapters 12 to 18 shown violent and obscene scenes of how gansters and loan sharks in action. In crime, the two racial groups were “partners”. Each race bullied its own kind mercilessly. The crime committed was beyond racial concerns. Zahir learned that his own family suffering, in the hands of Chinese loan sharks in the past, could no longer be interpreted in simple racial divide. He was later beaten up by his own Malay “friend”, who thought he exposed them to threats by the Chinese gangs. Zahir would be badly hurt if his school friends of different races did not come to rescue him. They saw themselves as friends or people that required help rather than in racial terms. If we adopt such perceptive and cognitive shift, then this scene would debunk race as a false index of differences.

In chapter 11, the camera focused on a reflexive Khalid with his usual Malay group in a bus stop. They saw a blind Malay attempting in vain to cross the road. They did not bother to help him; the same negativity with two passers-bys who were Malays. A Chinese girl came to his help as a human being to another. The scene symbolized that “blindness” and “visualization” was beyond biological construct. Race must therefore be seen beyond the skin appearances.

The last few chapters were about their “show”. The language used was raw gut feeling of each race. It was meant to “shock” the audience to rethink about race relations. Again the lights were off for the beginning of staging to symbolize the darkness of the whole “system” (the governance and the education system).

“All I see is Darkness
We are not blind
We only live without light
How different I am from you?
My color of skin, language, culture, race…?”

The play ended with applause by the audiences and contempt by the teachers and minister. The same play was interpreted differently.

“Gadoh” showed that we need to explore and reflect on “differences” in a holistic context. There were similarities and diversities in the differences apart from race. The biological differences were over emphasized over the similarities. Racial stereotyping has their family, social and political origins. Miseducation was a significant factor. The play thus debunks race as an artificial divide, for its superficiality in interpreting differences. The racial division were politicized for those in power to “legitimize” their political, economic, cultural and social control over people, for these differences were not based on truth or facts.
1144 word

1. Turner,Grame,(1999).FilmAsSocialPractice,Routledge.pg52-75
2. Devereux,Eoin.(2011).Media Studies:KeyIssuesAnd Debate,Sage.

Personal Reactions to Images of Female Bodybuilders;

Biologically and traditionally, we develop ideas or representation of what constitutes male/masculinity or female/feminity based not only on sexual organs and look, but also on physical strength, power, bodily idioms and gloss. Our work, adornment, gait, mannerism and conduct are also reflections of our gender stereotypes and identities. Feminism view gender roles and body and images as culturally shaped and “historically colonized” in a dominant patriarchal system. Any controversy of the strict binary divide is considered a form of transgression that is, crossing the “boundary” of socio-cultural norms and “attacking” both patriarchal and matriarchal systems. The gender roles into masculinity or femininity are western socio-cultural construction. There is thus a blurring of “natural” bodily forms with socio-cultural “nurture”, for there is no ready “build-in” mental content of gender, since such knowledges come from experiences and perceptions. The human body is viewed as both an “object” (objectified body, e.g. body identified as sexual object to be looked at) and a “subject” (embodied being, e.g. perception of sexual differences). (pp201). In other words, the human beings are embodied person, and the bodies are cultural expression of our status, power, cognition and emotion. Our “docile bodies” (pp224) can be trained or mould to provide “body capital”. The gym and trainer provide such an opportunity to manage or civilize the body-technique for gender identification.

In the above context, bodybuilding, whether male or female, is a sport that provides muscular strength and physique. It also has a carnivalueque spectacle, which is constantly shifting. The human selves have varied ways to understand society and their bodies, and also ways to exploit their bodies to redress or re-balance socio-cultural inequalities. Female bodybuilding can be seen as a socio-cultural offshoot to seek power at par with their male counterparts, but also to transgress or transcend gender hegemony.

With such background understanding, I view at pictures or images of Maria Wattel and Virginia Sanchez ( and Karen ( with discomfort, eye sore and repulsion.

The strong initial reaction was due to the gaze of unfamiliar body distortion in an unexpected feminine feature. However, I do admit that my reactions are less strong in viewing male bodybuilders. I console myself by stating that I harbour no gender prejudices, as long as these female bodybuilders are not related to me, and must in no uncertain ways be my spouse, or girlfriends. Again, I tested my reactions by gazing through the gorgeous pictures of male and female images/pictures of Vogue magazines. I have no interest in viewing those pompous pictures, but there is no such dislike. Therefore I am not as free or neutral as I imagine myself to be. There is some dissonance between cognitive idealism and raw emotion. The reactions towards female bodybuilders are strong because of gender “transgression” and feminine image “distortion”. Instead of viewing graceful shapes, bouncy breasts and sexy waistline and hips, I am confronted with muscles, and muscles in places where soft fat should be. I cannot escape my cultural conditioning to free from prejudices and gender stereotyping.

The bodies of females in bodybuilders and in vogue magazines emit different kinds of meaning, and are, therefore, not neutral at all in their representations .The former is regarded as “freaks”, or she-male, and the later identified clearly as sexual objects. The interactions and interpretations are different. They are “goddesses” to different worshippers – “beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beholder”.

Moreover, female bodybuilders impose more challenges to many accepted norms and rules, besides gender transgression. There are problems of chemical (human growth hormone, testosterone, and anabolic steroids), techno-transgression (as in gym with weights), pornography and other sexual deviance (sado-masochism). Such multiple transgressions are due to power or knowledge challenges that manifested in our bodies. In other words, our bodies become “key sites” or platforms for power play in socio-cultural construct, whether in conformity or resistance. Echoing Foucault, such power is everywhere, pervades everywhere in constant fluxes and negotiations in every “regime of truth”. Power not only describe, but also inscribe on our bodies, and our body and body image connects and inter-connect to the World Wide Web for meaning.

However, our bodies are not just massive muscular development; body and health does not equate to muscles only. Female bodybuilders pick up only hyper muscular development as the only criteria of power. Such selective excesses in muscular development create not only distortion of their normal bodies, but also cause injury and damage to their normal development and health, plus the harm the drugs caused. It is also a gross misunderstanding of strong, beautiful and healthy muscular body. Moreover to reach their targeted goals, their intensive training ostracizes them socially. They have no fatty breasts, and breasts implant, lipsticks and hair-dying appear weird in a super muscular woman. Female bodybuilders are free to choose their gender identity, and yet maintain ambivalence towards their own transformed biology. Such denial causes inter and intra interactional problems with their family members and friends, especially with their spouses or partners It is also a naive way to resist domination by hegemonic patriarchal system. In short, there is a gross misunderstanding of bio power and existing hegemonic ideology.

In a dominant patriarchal society, power is not manifested in hypermuscular development alone. According to Foucault, power is not held in any special power group (bodybuilders, whether male or female), but is dispersed in “capillary fashion” and inscribed in discourses and knowledge’s. However, in our postmodern era, we find some acceptance of feminity in other female bodybuilders of past era. The over emphasis on hyper muscular development would be toned down. My disgust was partly contributed by the wide consumerization in bodybuilding and the pornography that might be associated with it. Power is inscribed in the body metaphorically, and the body must be considered wholly as an embodied being, not just massive muscles. Right knowledge empowers the body, mind and spirit interactions in holistic ways.

(980 words)

1.Longhurst, Brian ET el (2008) Introducing Cultural Studies Pearson Longman. Chap 8
2Risman,Barbara (2011) TheKaleidoscopeofGenderPart1Chap1:.ThePrismofGenderSage cited 12-11-2012
3. Lim, David. (2012)Lecture Notes on Cultural Studies, OUM
4.Gaventa,Jonathan(2003)Foucault:Power rs Everywhere 19-11-2012
5 Female Muscle Fetish cited 19-11-2012

For/Agaist Feminist Resistance: Article by Niall Richardson

Niall Richardson journal article titled, Flex-rated! Female bodybuilding: Feminist Resistance or Erotic Spectacle (Journal of Gender Studies 17:4, 2008) offers two contrasting views on female bodybuilders, as outlined below:-

(1) Praise;
(2) Dismissal

Praise is about feminist resistance to traditional ideas of femininity. This view is also shared by post structural feminists. It is also a challenge to traditional female iconography or stable sex/gender continuum.

Dismissal is about “muscle worship” or doing homage to some supreme muscle “goddesses”. The living body sculpture is a strange form of sexual fetishism and erotic spectacle.

Richardson quoted academic literature on hyper muscular female bodybuilder’s opposition to traditional patriarchal ideas of femininity. However, critics quoted by the author reckoned the images of feminine iconography, eroticism and fetishism, as depicted in commercial e-media were accepted as erotic spectacle or dismissal of resistance. The commercial paid views were acts of sexual desire, short of coitus. Whether it is read as praise or dismissal, it depended on interpretation of context and the way it was coded in the representation or reception. The author elaborated that bodybuilding was a sport about weight resistance training, specialized high protein low carbohydrate diet, and anabolic drugs. He pursued by quoting experts that women could be strong and densely muscular, and as such, it poses challenges to biological and gender divide. The malleability of the body affirms that the body’s gender has performing effect and has flexibilities. Quoting Coles, Richardson wrote that gender was a kind of impersonation or imitation. Competitive bodybuilding demanded female athletes to transgress their feminism and yet maintain some feminine traits (breasts, hairstyles, adornment). Richardson did not explain why the flex hyper muscles were “love making vaginas” to their worshippers when they already possess normal biological organs. These female bodybuilders transform their bodies into “anthropomorphized phalluses”, that means to surrender their real biology for imagined images. This female athlete trained so hard not to offer resistance to patriarchal system but to inspire male fetishism and sadomasochism in order to allay their worshippers’ Freudian castration anxieties. They “flex their muscles even harder” to turn the sport into pornography for doubtful benefit, except eroticism. The pleasure of the female bodybuilder is the ability to control every voluntary muscle of the body in the mind-body link. Quoting academicians again, the author maintained that the superior mind represented masculinity whereas the” unruly body” with their menstrual cycles is coded as “bestial” femininity. The stresses of keeping up with the image of sexual goddess eventually break down, as observed in the relationship between worshipper Charles and body goddess, Aurora. Fashion expert theorized about the dialectic of clothes for bodybuilders, best to be clothed in partial rather than full nakedness for seduction. To gain respectability, IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilding) stated new clothing and costume regulations on on-off stage appearances.

Despite this, strip tease shows continue to gain popularity, and female bodybuilders easily fall prey in the shadowy representation of sadomasochism, as witnessed in the figure of dominatrix. She is always in control, “feared and obeyed” by her male “slaves”. A detailed description of the act of sadomasochism was then described. However, the female bodybuilder differs from the dominatrix, for she has to maintain her muscles from atrophy. The bodybuilder requires constant hard training, strict nutrition and medication to maintain her body construction or “naturalness” of built. She “overpowers” and “humiliates” her worshippers in “acts” or “fixes”, by constant teasing. Popular psychology maintains that a male masochist visit a dominatrix to seek relief from patriarchal pressures and to enjoy the bliss of passivity when normally he is always in control in his work. Yet the arguments proceed that such subjugation provide opportunity for worshippers to regain lost control, and power, simply by requesting the dominatrix to “unmask” herself, or stop or change her pretence by prior consensual agreement. The author cautioned that it would “too simplistic” to reckon these “sexualized display were mere erotic spectacle, as there were other erotic spectacles around and abound .It is to be reminded that sexual taste and activities varies across individual appreciation. What is fascinating to the author is muscle worship challenges conventional queer and narrow definition of hetero-erotic. There are other alternative ways of sexual pleasure beyond gender based power relationship and hetero sexual penetration. These female bodybuilders push their bodies to almost absolute physical limit to achieve recognition in a male dominated sub-culture and gendered body.

Chris Shilling and Tanya Bunsell’s article, The female Body as a Gender Outlaw, not only dismisses the idea of female bodybuilder as feminist resistance, but also shout aloud at them as “disgusting” sexual deviant group, deserving condemnation by all. The co- authors regard female bodybuilders are not alone in transgressing gendered interactions as transsexuals or lesbians. Female boxers, bouncers and soldiers are also all multiple transgressors for they have “polluted” gender norms, “aesthetically, kinesthetically and phenomenologically” .These female bodybuilders have excesses of muscular and deviant actions, excesses of dietary consumption, and excesses of drugs (anabolic steroid, testosterone and growth hormone). They are stigmatized, considered gender outlaws and cause “moral panic” and “collective conscience” by their looks and posture. I think such criticism appear excessive, but not unreasonable for those who hold on to strict gender divide. Most importantly, muscularity is more than a ‘visual marker “to signal man’s dominance in the social and cultural arena. Far from being an erotic spectacle, they encounter social sanctions, face social inconveniences in daily interactions, and without making real significant impact on feminine resistance on patriarchal ideas on femininity. The sad thing is they are unprepared to make adjustment to achieve their initial goal.

Nicholas Chare article, Women’s Bodybuilding: Towards a Radical Politics of muscle, queried whether female resistance must occur on conspicuous “marked contrast”, instead of subtle and obvious change. This was evident in the first generation of female bodybuilders, who were “ostensibly fit bodies”, yet emanate youthful feminist look. Fitness gets the female athlete into shape, whereas excessive work-out distorts her shape and interrupts the life style, complicated by pain, power and financial promises or penalties. The paper quoted Castelnuovo and Guthrie conception of two forms of resistance. Both “reverse resistance” and “resistance as freedom” were inspired by Foucault. The former is resistance within power relations, whereas the latter is “breaking out of the discourse” that links sexuality to identity beyond gender stereotypes .Chare wrote that bodies only exists through the functions of power, and, in turn, it is power that enables the bodies to be perceived as either good or bad. The body of hyper muscular woman is endless performance at the edge of dismemberment of body parts. The body is paired and fragmented into body parts in the work-out. Muscles per se are meaningless outside the context and coding in representations, unless the female bodybuilders are willing to produce counter-hegemony via her contest.

In “Flexing the Tension of Female Muscularity”, Lex Boyle noted IFBB’s ideals on balance between gender muscularity and feminine sexuality. The current shifting trend is due to gains made by feminine resistance in civil-right movement and experiences over the decades. A female athlete must be fit and muscular (perfect symmetry, even proportions and acceptable muscular size, as stated by Andra), and yet possess graceful femininity. Her biological sex, gender and heterosexual identity must remain intact, and able to enjoy hetero-sexual relationship, or, I may be allowed to add, even “normal” lesbianism, not extreme enough to cause what Kate cautioned as “moral panic”, but her own personal choice and expression of gender freedom.

Today, with changing political, ideological and social paradigm shift, there is a declining trend for professional female bodybuilding. The professional trade is dying. Feminist resistance to hegemonic patriarchal ideology is fought not via exhibition of body muscles alone, but gain through political power. Normal sex appeal, rather than abnormal erotic spectacle or sick sadomasochism, is now gaining popularity.

Richardson’s research article assumes that there are only two available choices (praise for feminine resistance or dismiss as erotic spectacle) that existing academic literature wrote on female bodybuilders. These females transgress not only gender hierarchies and hegemonies, but also sexual, technological and medical as well. Their resistance to cultural ideas of femininity is not well elucidated in her long article. Perhaps participating in the sport in a dominant male game is an initial form of resistance. These female bodybuilders believe they are putting up shows against the patriarchal system against feminism; in fact, they conform to it without realization. Worst still, they transform themselves into strange erotic spectacle for certain groups of male worshippers. Richardson wrote about feminist resistance without exploration of the power (politics, social and economics) inequalities that were inherent in the bodies. However, the author has rightly stated that interpretation of the images of female bodybuilders is dependent on perception and perspective of the context coded within the representation.


1.Richardson,Niall(2007)Flex-rated!Female:Bodybuilding:feminist resistance or erotic spectacle?Uni Sussex, UK
2.Shilling,Chris El al (2009) The Female Bodybuilder as a Gender Outlaw.Qualitative Research in Sports and Exercises.Vol 1 Issue 2 pp 141-159
3.Chare,Nicholas (2004)Women’s Body Building: Towards aRadical Politics of Muscle, LIMINA,Vol.10 cited 10-11-2012
4. Boyle,Lex(2005)Flexing the Tensions of Female Muscularity: How Female Bodybuilders Negotiate Normative Femininity in Competitive Bodybuilding.Women’s Studies Quartely, Spring2005pp 134-149.
5.Female Bodybuilders Free Term Essay. cited on 22-11-2012
6. Longhurst,Brian(2008) Introducing Cultural Studies, 2nd Ed. Chap 8.Pearson Longman.
7.Free Encyclopedia:, Politics: Re-conceives the Body cited 10-11-2012

Constructing A Truth: Life in Motion by Nicole Lamy

Albert Camus, the Nobel Laureate, wrote, “Only one thing on earth seems to be greater good than justice – that is, if not truth itself, the pursuit of truth.” The human quest for truth begins with our embodied self, inspired by the development and phenomenal experiences of all our senses. The sui generis notion of truth is generally defined as in “accord with facts or reality, or fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal.” Such propositional truth, the conformity of the mind with objective reality, which can be self represented, is valid but problematic. The reasons are perspective varies not only with different people interpreting, but also with the same person under varying conditions and time, especially in a multi -cultural and relativistic world .Nietzsche reckoned that the urge for truth originated from Man’s innate desire for self- preservation and harmony, and perhaps also implicated Frankl’s search for meaning making. Since each individual has a perspectival perspective, the caveat for illusion must be borne in mind, amor fati serves as raison d’etre (1). Preferences are also given to those with power, connections and fame at a given moment. There are also other kinds of truth, such as emotional, academic disciplinary or introspective, to ascertain. Besides, confronted with an abundance of contradictory information in the fast pace of digital world, with its new technologies and modern networking, it is never an easy task to evaluate, ignore, scan, reflect on claims of truth and their impact on literature, including non- fictional creative writing. Michael Foucault thus wrote about “regime of truth”, as truth evolves through historical and cultural episteme and David Shield’s remark that truth and untruth can happen at the same time, and may be a daunting task to decipher them, is noted.
The notion of truth reflected in the above introduction does not constraint the “stranger” to explore her inward emotional “journey” on what truth means to her. The narrator is a “stranger” in her own real life, and she needs to travel back memory lane to make sense of her childhood and the “home” she misses .She feels alienated, like a stranger that first appear in a new town. Her subjectivity is acknowledged as true and real. In her reminiscence, before turning thirteen, she has moved houses twelve times, and those moves are beyond “coherent explanation” and comprehension of a child. The facts of her past life are real: the events, dates, people are real and objective. However, the narrator’s feeling and the narration of her story may be subjective, for there are personal reactions. In other words, the history is about real people, family (mother, father, half brother and sister, neighbours) and actual events, and places, such as Maine, Hampshire and Massachusetts .The narrator is honest to admit at the start that she has “fallible memory”, and such admission of fallibility and memory gaps, belongs to different kinds of truth. Such authencity and sincerity rings right to the ears and pleasant to the eyes. Her perspective of truth will find ready acceptance for readers of creative non- fiction. Self honesty in non- fiction writing will ensure the text will not slide down any “slippery road” venture. As an adult in later years, she has planned to take pictures of “all the houses” she has lived, bind them into a photo album and present to her mother as a surprise gift. To her readers her photo album is a kind of photo journalism with the readers’ imagination of the houses – the “convergence of consciousness” between narrator and readers. She then put her ideas into action, and her father offers to drive her around. This is not just doing her own research work; it also reinforces and cherishes some of her old memories, sharing some of her experiences with her father, drawing the senior into her “life a little”. The readers, unfortunately, are not told about the father’s perspective for the frequent house move.
In writing “Life in Motion”, the author does not attempt to create a narrative but she re-constructs her narrative, based on factual thoughts and feeling of a developing child, and cross checking her facts by re-visiting that places she grew up. She has to rely on past memories to re-construct the details, reflect upon them and speculate on adult intention. The text is more than a personal essay or narrative, it is a lyrical literary essay, so the “facts” are “dressed up with fiction”, yet maintain a story line that is true, beautiful and good – the tri universal virtues advocated for centuries. The use of personal pronoun “I” relates her real personal experience, ideas and emotion. It is a personal truth for sharing. The essay uses fragmentation, instead of chronological order, to unite the theme of “life in motion”, yet each piece can stand alone. The white space between each succeeding segment provides structure of the story. Perhaps these spaces also imply memory gaps to be filled later. Maybe, this is also the space between fact and fiction, history and story. Lyrical essayist neither affirms nor dislodges this distinction in any conclusive way. The text encourages the reader to ponder in diverse ways.
As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the narrator earlier life is fragmented, enhanced by almost poetic effect of living in “duplexes” and taking “pictures at the edge of frame” .Truth to her is not only represented by left sided brain (language, logic and numbers), but also by right sided hemisphere (visual and intuition); truth is also found not only in straight whole view but also alternative view at the edge. Her imageries and associations are powerful, as she recalls using “Ciceronian memory”, visualing her “walk” through the rooms for recall. As she revisits those houses as an adult with her father, there are memory flashbacks of her childhood days with the family, and the sceneries of “ducks, snowdrifts, weathered cottages, and the barn.
The full address of her first house in Maine is provided. The three-family member shares the house with students, with pet duck in her bathtub and ghostly interest. Pleasant odour sensation and visual constellations are sensory language to promote the reality of “family lore”. She recalls no privacy as neighbours can wander around their apartment for showers. She “toyed with perspective”, a pun on “vantage point” for mug shots, and the perspective of reflecting on bygone days as a child and adult. Historically, the family then moves to New Hampshire and the border of Massachusetts, where they find changing landscapes with changing time. Despite the observation of current new developments, her mental images take reverse turn to remember a chimney with no fireplace (symbolism of house without warm). However, during each move, she plays home alone in empty card boxes, until she is tired but feels secure. Any separation from her familiar space causes phobic reactions, strong enough to evoke imageries of Greek mythology of life and death. Then her parents divorced before she is five, and she marries again before her mid first grade .The split causes many of her childhood disappointment, and she is determined to destroy those nightmares .Her journey in the photo album project is perhaps motivated by the desire to explore what is home.
She inserts emotional and actual colours on “a piece of every home” to make a composite picture of a home in a “flip-book”. The use of metaphor is evocative: each coloured piece is a part of her life that each house she lives helps to develop her complete self. Liked a jig-saw puzzle, the fragmented pieces together will make a complete picture of a whole person. The historical project has given “shape” to her life. With that “satisfaction” she gives her gift of life, her photo album, to her mother, but she finds it as representation of all her” failure”. Caught by surprises, she realises that they hold different perspective of those representation of truth. The narrator is “ashamed” for not taking the other’s perspective into consideration. With that new realization, she finds her new home and self-identity.

Life in Motion by Nicole Lamy is a meditative journey by the narrator in search for self -identity, and the meaning of home. It is a personal essay based on selected recollection of her past childhood, namely, her life reactions and experiences in the frequent and inexplicable reason of moving house. The narrative is based on real life or verifiable facts, such as events, setting and houses. However, she discovers that her emotion, thoughts and experiences are subjective truth to her, and others, including her own mother, may not share her sentiments and has different perspective of looking at the same scenario. In other words, the objectivity reality or truth may be portrayed subjectively, and yet remain true. She uses literary skills, such as imageries, association, metaphors and figures of speech, to re-construct her story, into a creative lyrical essay.
(1497 words)
(1) French: Belief in faith is the reason for existence


1. Gardner, Howard(2011).Truth, Beauty,& goodness Reframed. Basic Book.Chap 2:Truth
2. Ocay,Jeffrey et al.(2007).Nietzsche’s Notion of Truth & the Problem of cultural Relativism.Silliman University,Bohol.
3. Hagberg, Garry ed.(2010)A Companion to the Philosophy of Literature. Wiley-Blackwell Pub.Chap 19 Literature & Truth pg. 367 – 384
4. Hood,David(2012)The Lyrical Essay. cited 2-11-2012
5. UVMWritingCenter.TipsFromTutor. Cited 3-11-2012


Historically, the Malayan peninsula and Singapore[1] had Chinese and Indian presence long before the arrival of the colonialists.[2]The Chinese lived around the ports (Penang, Malacca and Singapore) and the mining towns (Ipoh), whereas the Indians worked mainly in the rubber estates and railways, and the local Malays resided in the rural areas and worked as farmers, or as civil servants (administrative, police, army) in the cities. During the British occupation, more Chinese and Indians were brought in or immigrated into the country due to world demand for tin and rubber. This unplanned immigration caused a significant shift in the demographic pattern, where the non Malay population almost outnumbered the locals.[3]  The plurality of ethnicity, culture, religion, and language, a colonial legacy, had significant impact on race relations and conflict, and resulted in uneven distribution of economic and political power and control. The conflict was aggravated by the division of occupation and education along racial and language lines. During Japanese occupation, Sino-Malay relations worsened due to the racial incitement by the Japanese because of the invasive war with China. In the post colonial period and after Independence, the divide repeated itself, and inter-racial and intra racial rivalry became more intensified, culminating in the May 13th 1969 racial riot. In the aftermath of the riot, NOC (National Operation Council) was formed and led by Tun Abdul Razak, which implemented the NEP (National Economic Policy) and the policy was extended from the Second Malaysian Plan until today, with 30% Bumiputra ( Privileged  Malay, mainly UMNO)  participation target. To racialised and politicized the issues, the Language Act of 1967 and the Amendment Act of 1971, proclaimed Malay as the national language, and the rest of non Malay language (Chinese, Tamil and English) as “vernacular”. That was the beginning of “linguistic imperialism”, drawn from the dagger of ethnocentrism, extending from the political arena into the literary domain. Literature in the Malay language was to be dominant and hegemonic and the others as “subordinate” or as “non literary.[4] Thus, Malaysian Literature was divided into mainstream” National”, and “sectional or vernacular”; mirroring the controversial political arena of what was exactly the true version of history. Malaysian Literature in English, a strange semantic tag, could be seen in such light. Of the three main genre of Literature in English, Malaysian prose fiction, took precedence over poetry and drama, beginning from the late nineteenth century.

With awareness of the above historical backdrops, local authors attempted to seek engagement on what would constitute national or shared identity and unity. Malaysian fiction, on whatever language written, would partake in the same “melting pot”, emphasizing in  universal theme, such as multi culturalism or the plurality of ethnicity, racial relationship, education, and language, in the spirit of “continual negotiation with redefinition” (Philip Holden, Asiatic, page 66)  in the process of enquiry. Early prose and verse writing were mimicry of British Literature, and later works showed cultural de-conditioning, for our language education was strongly tied to ethnic divisions. We would also consider the landscape of literary work, including the geographical place the writers wrote, the residence of readers and characters in the stories, and authorial intention. We shall proceed to analyse how the writings of three contemporaries in Malaysian Fiction in English reflected the historical background and how their literary work, responded in different ways with changing landscape. ”Green is the Colour” (abbreviated Green) by Lloyd Fernando, on the events after the dystopic aftermath of 1969, “The Return (abbreviated TR) by K.S. Maniam on diasporas and dislocation of Tamils in their new land, and “The Gift of Rain (abbreviated Rain) by Tan Twan Eng on exotism and conflict between personal, communal or national interest, will be our novels for discussion.

The historical setting of “Green” was set in post 1969, with the country and people in chaotic social order and political upheaval .It was a very sensitive period in Malaysian history, and the author had the courage to take the theme of inter and intra racial conflict, inter and intra religious contradictions, discourses on ethnicities, inter racial and gender relate, personal, communal and national identities, and interwoven them into a loving and humanistic short story. The political landscape was clearly Malaysian history, with the named geographical locations, the description of fauna and flora of the country, the heteroglossia and the local slang, and political power “game” that could be easily identified with this country. Had “green” been written earlier or set the scene in a contemporary period, lots of emotional, political and religious trivia would complicate his literary work. In fact the author acknowledged that the novel was a re-working of “an episode in Misa Melayu, an 18th Century Malay literary and historical classic by Raja Chulan into a modern fiction.

“Green” may be the verdant colour of healing, acceptance and tolerance of the racial chaos or it may be the bilious colour of envy, hatred and destruction, or it is a “neutral” colour. In fact different and diverse colours co-exist in nature; they complement one another, and contribute to the “wholeness” and “beauty” of living in our world. Choices and options are all open to us. Each character in the fiction represents a “mindset” or ideological typology in confronting and solving the conflict; each character is also individualistic as a living person in the story, or each represents a different voice in the country. Despite each character appears to “rush off” in differing directions, the elements of the plot is still able to hold them together, culminating in the rape scene of Siti Sara by Panglima.

Siti Sara represents the beautiful, carefree, young modern scholar, graduated from the States. Towards the end of the novel, she makes an insightful remark that that we have to use our own ways instead of the ways of others to solve our own problem. She is married to Omar, but their marriage relations fail. She has love affair with Yun Ming in the aftermath of the recent racial riot. An extra marital relationship between a Malay and Chinese at that chaotic period was foolhardy, especially a sexual one. Similarly, Dahlan, a Malay lawyer graduated from the States, speak out against injustices and unfairness against his own people, married Gita, a Hindu. These two pairs are of different cultural, racial and religious background. How do we understand such complexities in the fiction? Do we accept it literally, factually, or do we visualize it at a higher metaphorical level,  that it is love, acceptance of differences, tolerance and understanding of one another’s faith that Malaysians can find unity in such plurality and multiplicities to enable us to integrate willingly into a truly “Bangsa Malaysia”. Each race must be willing to make “adaptation and adjustment” to find a common belonging and shared identity, instead of a forced integration by the dominant group. It may be naïve to think that inter-racial marriage will be a solution for the future of the country’s racial problem. “Green” offers a creative comparison for readers to decide whether they prefer to choose the path of violence depicted in past history, or to transcend it with love, let go of grievances of the past and pin their hope for a better future, if there is possibility of time shift.

Lebai Hanafiah, father of Sara, is a religious teacher for “generations”. He is the embodiment of the “beauty of belief” and the “glory of Islam”, and is respectful of other races, and religion. He lives a simple life in the rural and a “liberal humanist”. He teaches, “There is nothing to forgive, only love to be given.” (Green pg 108)  His love applies to all races. He scorns at the “folly spread in the name of such right path.”  He is accused by his ex-students not for what he has done, but for what he has not done. His humanism is probably the kind of religious understanding and tolerance that will unable us to forge a national unity.

Dahlan’s “extreme egalitarian” (Green pg 124) and idealistic approach to fight the authority may not work. He represents “fair and justice” to all, and scrutinizes his own community for their “excesses” towards the other. He is accused of “apostasy and “kaffir “and is eventually tortured to death. He married Gita, a Hindu, without asking her to convert.

Omar become a follower of Tok guru Baharudin, a Muslim sect. His religious transformation begins after his travel to Pakistan and Iran. Followers are taught to believe that if they recite certain rites, they will be bullet-proof. Again history and literature shows religious extremism and gullibility, even for a Harvard doctorate, will not work to find national unity, not even among Muslims themselves. Fortunately, he recovers from his blind following, and probably realizes there’s no religious utopia, but his self realization is not depicted.

Yun Ming is a symbol of an obedient civil servant who pledged dogged loyalty to the government of the day. His faithful service is interpreted by Vikram Toh as “carrying balls”. At  the beginning of the chapter, Wan Nurundin misquoted Confucius about loyalty to the government, but the Chinese Sage meant good governance, and not blind obedience. “Green” shows that misquotations are used to serve political conveniences in order to get loyalty and for politicians to stay in power.

In “Green”, we read about penaung (protector, or symbol of authority). These people represent power, both political and religious. Even Lebai Hanafiah was accused of being a wrong teacher and a traitor by the penaung. Hidden political and religious power is dangerous to the welfare of the people and society. There are always “hidden hands”   in the power game, They possess and control awesome political and religious power, and they will surface at the proper moment to exercise their will.

Panglima is a symbol of mixed ancestry and ethnicity. He migrates to Malaysia and picks up some local Kedah dialect. He moves his way up the political ladder to become a top civil servant. and he is also a penaung. during the turmoil. His lust for power is also reflected in his sexual prowess – a common feature of politicians observed by the author.  Historically, what constitutes an ethnic Malay are debatable, even all our past prime ministers, including the VIPs have mixed ancestry. Panglima represents the view of forced cultural and religious assimilation, not unlike “Bangsa Malaysia”.

Chris Yun Tan and Phyllis (Yu Ming’s ex-wife) are secondary characters in the fiction and symbolize people who choose immigration as an exit to our national problem.

[1]Malaysia was formed in 1963, and Singapore separated as an independent nation in 1965.

[2] Portuguese 1511, Dutch 1641, British 1786

[3] In 1941 Chinese and Indians had a combined population of 53.2% in peninsula Malaya (Subramanian, Ganakumaran  , 2008,Malaysian and Singapore: socio-cultural and political backdrops, chapter 1, page 4)

[4] Even in China, the mandarin is officially termed as “ordinary or common language”, not “National”. Language. The Free Dictionary defined vernacular as ordinary and non literary.