Bunga Emas (‘Golden Blossom’, according to your reviewer, Robert Curtis, in nlr 31) means tribute, and as explained in the glossary and jacket, is a token resistance of the Chinese and Indian (non-Malay majority of Malaysia) writers and poets to their evanescent mother cultures. Inclusion of their work in this anthology was purely on merit, restricted to 272 pp. mainly for financial reasons. Lack of a Malay section was due, as stated in my preface, to copyright reasons. First, no Malay writer sent me his work in answer to my
Quite the contrary to what your reviewer implies, I have nothing whatsoever to do with the Congress for Cultural Freedom, and they had nothing whatsoever to do with Bunga Emas. Despite the dedication to Stephen Spender, the anthology, if it is ‘less than representative’, was produced at my own expense, and I alone am solely responsible.
My quarrel with your reviewer is not with his literary judgments, rather with his obvious factious interpretations. Let me explain. No attempt was made to varnish ‘what it feels like to be a Malayan, let alone a Malaysian’. As my task was quite plainly to present the best writing in the country, I do not see why this should have preoccupied my plans, nor how the inclusion of Malay writers, if for exactly the reasons Mr Curtis himself gives by way of comparison with the Indonesians, could have produced this identity or image. The stance any Malaysian writer can take must confusedly be plagued, on the one hand, by influences of the rooted middle-class, western-industrial-metropolitan culture, leavened by colonial Judeo-Christian teaching, and on the other, stiffen in an anti-wasp posture, harking back atavistically and clinging chauvinistically to his effete, village agrarian, communal cultures. What is a Malaysian? Where the cultural melting pot is yet to be brought to a synthetical boil, for my part, being a Malaysian is like suffering from some deeply incurable malaise. Probably, it is between being ‘hip-beat’—non-representative—and an identity, any identity, one’s character must find in a life, any life, forming or not forming with age. Finally, if what Mr Curtis wants of the English-educated Malaysians, a language to express ‘their own social and moral traditions’ to ‘fully manifest or strengthen their sense of identity’, then he should trouble himself to re-read How the Hills are Distant, the most significant sequence of poems to come out of Asia or Africa, originally in English. What has literary criticism come to if not belonging to some ‘tidy school’ becomes an unrepentable literary offence?
Footnote 6 was wrongly printed in Bob Rowthorn’s article, ‘The Trap of an Incomes Policy’, published in New Left Review 34. It should have read: ‘E.g. various articles by Turner, Lerner and Marquand in the Manchester School, Knowles in the Bulletin of the Oxford Institute of Statistics.’