Mrs. LKY: “The Dragon Lady”

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A look at Kwa Geok Choo (Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew) through the perspective of Peranakan culture.

This post is presented in 12 sections:

1. Peranakan Roots + Family Background
2. The Dragon Lady
3. Kwa Geok Choo’s Gold Coin Necklace
4. Images of Gold Coin Necklace
5. Peranakan Culture: General Info
6. Peranakan Culture: A Hidden Matriarchy
7. Peranakan Culture: Phoenix Symbol
8. Peranakan Culture: Females
9. Lee Kuan Yew on Kwa Geok Choo
10. Kwa Geok Choo: Intellect and Capabilities
11. Kwa Geok Choo: State Funeral
12. Kwa Geok Choo: Political Legacy

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1. PERANAKAN ROOTS + Family Background

1) Madam Kwa and her husband, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, both Peranakans, are featured in the Great Peranakans — Fifty Remarkable Lives exhibition.

Source: The Straits Times (2015)

2) . . .born to a well-to-do family, studied law as a Queen’s Scholar in England’s Cambridge University, [and] remained a deeply private person.

Source: Philly.com

2. THE DRAGON LADY

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Mrs and Mr LKY | Image from HerWorld

“Dragon Lady”: A woman of somewhat sinister glamour often perceived as wielding ruthless or corrupt power. (Dictionary.com)

Kwa Geok Choo was described as a “proverbial dragon lady” by a former senior correspondent for The Straits Times.

Francis Seow also referred to Kwa Geok Choo as a dragon lady (short version below; click here for the full-length interview):

Transcript:

The whole structure of government, from the time [Lee Kuan Yew] took office, to the present day, has been designed in such a way that his son will succeed him. And the son has succeeded him, you know?

Now in order to preserve that legacy that he has passed on now to his son, all the troublemakers have to be run out of town, to use an American expression. Behind all this grand scheme of things is. . .the word I’m looking for is. . .The Dragon Lady.

Lee Kuan Yew’s wife. She’s the one with the overweening ambition for her son to take over. She is the one who has been advising Lee Kuan Yew what to do, how to do it, etc.

Many people don’t know this.

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Dowager Empress Cixi.

But I’m telling you today, the power behind the throne is the dowager. The dragon lady, if you like. And she is very smart! That is why all these guys have to get out of the way, and they had to be ruined. Or like me, driven out of the country. If I were to go back, I would go straight from the aeroplane to jail.

— Interview with Francis Seow (former solicitor-general of Singapore)

3. KWA GEOK CHOO’S GOLD COIN NECKLACE

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Kwa Geok Choo’s gold coin necklace.

1) A nyonya and her jewellery are never apart. . . the display of opulence was not just a statement of wealth but also spoke volumes of their shrewdness and austerity.

Source: A Nyonya and Her Jewellery

2) For the 25th anniversary of Lee & Lee law firm in 1980, the firm’s partners had two gold coins specially made for the two senior partners, Mrs Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Dennis Lee.

Unbeknownst to them, Mrs Lee had a chain made for the coin, and would wear it as a necklace on special occasions and at formal functions.

Long after she left the firm, partners would glimpse the gold coin around her neck when her image appeared on TV or in newspaper pictures.

She was appearing at those formal functions as the wife of Singapore’s founding father. But the gold coin around her neck was a reminder that she was also a trailblazing legal luminary in her own right.

Source: Straits Times

4. IMAGES of KWA GEOK CHOO’s GOLD COIN NECKLACE

5. PERANAKAN CULTURE: General Info

1) The Baba Culture is one that is unique to the early settlers along the Straits of Malacca. Since the 17th Century, Chinese traders arrived and lived along these coastal lands bringing with them their wealth of wares, customs, traditions and religions from the south of China.

The off-springs of these ‘locally born Straits Chinese’ were called Peranakan Baba (or Nyonya for womenfolk).

With the arrival of the Europeans in the 18th Century to this part of the world, the Babas were quick to adapt to the changing environment. They became the compradors or ‘go-betweens’ for the Europeans and the locals. Many Baba men held office and important positions in the Portuguese, Dutch & British governments and they rose in status & stature to become successful businessmen who even took on leadership roles in society.

Source: The Main Wayang Company

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President Yusof Ishak with Mrs. LKY’s Parents, Kwa Siew Tee (left) and Wee Yew Neo (right), 1968. | Image from NAS

  • Note: Kwa Geok Choo’s father, Kwa Siew Tee, had several leadership roles (he was one of the founders of the OCBC Bank which he served as General Manager from 1935 to 1945, the Municipal Commissioner of the Colony of Singapore in 1947 and Public Service Commissioner in 1953). (Source: PDF download)

2) Peranakans were bilingual, speaking English as well as their dialect of Baba Malay, and embraced influences from various religions including Buddhism, Taoism, ancestral worship and Christianity.

Source: Five facts about Asia’s unique Peranakans

6. PERANAKAN CULTURE: “A Hidden Matriarchy”

“Matriarch”: A woman who controls a family, group, or government. (Dictionary.com)

1) “While the males are out working to support the family, it is the females that preside the household. A hidden matriarchy, the Nyonya wives rule the household with an iron fist, managing and directing the day to day activities of the household and also controlling the funds in the family.”

Source: Women in the Peranakan Family

2) As someone who married into a Chinese/Peranakan family, [KMN’s] family does hold fast to one Perankan tradition: a powerful matriarchy. The women plan the gatherings, steer the families, and in my observations, usually have the first (and last) say on many matters of importance.

Source: I Married Into a Matriarchy

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Source: ST

3) Chris reminded me that Peranakan families are ‘outwardly patriarchal and internally matriarchal’. Of course! Look at the Little Nyonya, scheming matrons obviously reigned over the households, pretending to be subservient to weak-minded husbands on the surface. Chris, who is Baba by the way and should be awarded some authority on the subject by way of relation, attests to the *fact* that the average Baba man is weaker than the Nyonya woman.

Source: Baba Bling: The Peranakan Museum

4) The portraits of matriarchs displayed above Peranakan Chinese altars in Malacca indicate the powerful position of the matriarch in ruling over the family. These Nyonyas came across as assertive, even bossy as they rose to the position as matriarchs in charge of running an extended family under one household. A mature Baba with great status and influence in the society would have to submit to an uncompromising mother at home.

Source: China Media Research: Analyzing the Little Nyonya

7. PERANAKAN CULTURE: Phoenix Symbol

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What appears to be a “Phoenix” motif on Mrs. LKY’s cheongsam. The bird has a crest of feathers on its head.

1) [Kelvin Pow] explains that the Peranakan culture is matriarchal, hence the phoenix rather than the dragon is the preferred embellishment in its decorative arts.

“I think it is very important that we retain our heritage. I think it is also important for people, especially younger Singaporeans to understand their culture and where they came from.”

Source: ST Jobs — House of Antiques

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Nyonya porcelain featuring a phoenix motif, at the Peranakan Museum.

2) A typical motif used in nyonya porcelain ware is the Phoenix, a symbol of the matriarchal infrastructure of a Peranakan household.

Source: On the Trail of the Phoenix

3) The images above show the Peranakan traditional wedding costume donned on the bride. The geometric layering around her neck is the phoenix collar to symbolise the power of the feminine phoenix in Peranakan society.

Source: lonelytravelog (Peranakan Museum + Phoenix Collar)

8. PERANAKAN CULTURE: Females

a) Young Women

In contrast to her sheltered teenage years, the married Nyonya was given relatively more freedom. It was as if she had served her time, and was now qualified to manage a household and take care of herself.

As she gained more confidence in her dealings with her neighbours, friends and counterparts, her role was likened to that of the strong-willed managing director of a corporation. She controlled almost everything that happened at home.

In public, however, it was the husband who was seen to be the number one person.

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Image from BBC / Getty

b) Keeping it within the Family

In the early days, the younger members of the community married among themselves. This desire to remain within the community was so strong that it was common for people to marry their relatives, even their cousins. The only restriction imposed involved unions between paternal cousins.

c) Colourful Metaphors

Be warned that Peranakans have a way with words. Eavesdrop on two Nyonyas having an animated conversation, and you will be in for a linguistic experience that is hard to forget.

Source: Asiapac Books (Gateway to Peranakan Culture)

d) Cooking + Sewing

“Peranakan families are matriarchal, though the nonya’s role is often seen as supportive to the husband – women are often expected to cook and sew well.”

Source: FRV Bali: Peranakan Museum SG

“She was a skilful knitter, and knitted us sweaters to stay warm, one after another.”

Source: Lee Hsien Loong on Mrs Lee Kuan Yew

9. LEE KUAN YEW on KWA GEOK CHOO

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1) “Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life.”
Lee Kuan Yew

2) “. . .a discerning judge of character. She would tell me whether she would trust that man or not. And often she is right.”

Source: Straits Times

3) “My great advantage was I have a wife who could be a sole breadwinner and bring the children up. That was my insurance policy.”

Source: LKY: The Man and His Ideas, Page 235

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Lee Kuan Yew and Kwa Geok Choo. Image: ST

4) “. . .[she’s my] tower of strength.”

Source: Philly.com

5) “Over the years I’ve been a kept man. My wife keeps the family.”

Source: Lee Kuan Yew in Parliament, 1985

6) Lee Kuan Yew discussed the possibility of euthanasia with his doctors and family in his final years as he struggled with illness and mourned the death of his wife.

Associate professor Michael Barr, who has studied and published on Singapore, said Lee had been left lost and distraught following the death of his wife, Kwa Geok Choo, in 2010, to whom he had been married for 60 years.

Source: South China Morning Post

10. KWA GEOK CHOO’S INTELLECT and CAPABILITIES

1) The late Madam Kwa, wife of Singapore’s former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, was undoubtedly an excellent Peranakan woman, steel clothed in velvet, as Peranakan women were known to be!

Source: Passage Magazine by FOM.sg (PDF download)

2) Mrs Lee Kuan Yew was the firm’s ‘intellectual mind‘, while Mr Dennis Lee took care of the business side of things.

Mrs Lee’s personality, according to one prominent lawyer who declined to be named, is best summed up in the way she always dressed impeccably in a cheongsam to work, but would change into rubber flip-flops once there.

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White cheongsam worn by Kwa Geok Choo. Image: Peranakan Museum.

‘When we heard her walk around in the flip-flops, I would joke that that is power,’ he said. ‘Power in rubber flip-flops.’

Source: Straits Times

3) In 1940, Geok Choo entered Raffles College where, to Kuan Yew’s consternation, she beat him in the English and Economics examinations.

They married while in Cambridge, and graduated together with first class honours degrees in 1949. Geok Choo did it in two years; he in three. She was the first woman in Malaya to get a first class honours law degree.

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Lee Kuan Yew and his wife, Kwa Geok Choo in 1968. Photo: Benson Lo

Though she opted to stay in the political background and play the role of supportive wife, she was a founding member of the People’s Action Party (PAP). She was highly skilled in legal draftmanship, helping to draft the PAP Constitution, and later the crucial provisions that guaranteed Singapore’s continued water supply when Singapore separated from Malaysia.

Source: Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame

4) Standing proudly atop its box on the third floor of the Peranakan Museum, the barrister’s wig that belonged to the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo (21 December 1920 – 2 October 2010) is very much a tribute not only to its erstwhile owner, but also to the era’s fledgling coterie of able Peranakan women.

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Kwa Geok Choo’s barrister’s wig.

Source: Passage Magazine by FOM.sg (PDF download)

5) Known for her attention to detail, Kwa Geok Choo once interrupted the taping of an interview to touch up [Lee Kuan Yew’s] hair and makeup.

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Source: Straits Times

11. KWA GEOK CHOO: STATE FUNERAL

From the Press Statement from the PM’s office on the passing of Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew:

The family requests that no obituaries and no wreaths or flowers to be sent. All donations will go to the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI) Health Research Endowment Fund.

Kwa Geok Choo was given a heroine’s funeral:

The glass-encased brown coffin of Kwa Geok Choo, who died aged 89 on Saturday after a long illness, was transported to a suburban crematorium on a ceremonial gun carriage normally reserved for state and military funerals.

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Casket of Mrs. LKY

The government said the usage of a ceremonial gun carriage “is in recognition of her exceptional and unique contributions to Singapore for more than five decades, beginning before Singapore became independent.”

12. KWA GEOK CHOO: POLITICAL LEGACY

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Mr. and Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew. Image: CNA

Her political legacy runs deep.

In 1959, she delivered her first and only party political broadcast during the general election that year, urging women to vote for the PAP. She was the only English-speaking woman in the party who had the requisite firmness and conviction for the broadcast.

‘I have been proof-reading and sometimes correcting [Lee Kuan Yew’s] speeches from his earliest 1950 speech to the Malayan Forum in London,’ she told The Straits Times in 1998.

The early history of the People’s Action Party (PAP) also bears the stamp of her involvement.

‘Who else would have drafted that Constitution for them?’ she said. ‘My husband doesn’t draft things. He was an advocate; he was a court lawyer.’

Drafting the rules of a society, by contrast, was her speciality.

Source: Straits Times

MORE INFO:

This blog post has a family tree of Kwa Geok Choo’s relatives holding government positions in Singapore.

Snippet from Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore (on “the people’s minds”)

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5 more chapters and I’ll have completed reading Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore by T.J.S. George (pub. 1973).

Thought I’d share an interesting snippet from the book. I may add a few more snippets when I gather my thoughts for a review later.

Conversation between two friends — a visiting Asian editor and a PAP minister (Page 109):

EDITOR: I have just come from Djakarta and Manila. Nothing worked there. Here my telephone works, my flush flushes, everything is clean and antiseptic. Singapore is simply great.

MINISTER: All right, old chap, what’s bothering you?

EDITOR: Look, what does it all mean? What about people? Don’t they have minds? I see no evidence of people here having minds of their own, feelings of their own.

MINISTER: They are happy. See those modern high-rise buildings? We gave them decent places to live in.

EDITOR: What have you done to their minds?

MINISTER: Well, we are thinking about it. Having given them a clean city, modern amenities and a strong economy, we are now thinking of what culture we should give them.

EDITOR (after pause): Is the culture factory also going to be in the Jurong industrial estate?

End of conversation.

UPDATE (29 May): Book review + excerpts of this insightful book.

Fifty Shades: William Giraldi / Jennifer Hamady / Lily Zheng

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A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I was working on an article about quality sexual literature.

The article is titled Beyond the Hype of Fifty Shades of Grey, and can be viewed in full at the OpEdNews website:

http://www.opednews.com/articles/Beyond-the-Hype-of-Fifty-S-by-Jess-C-Scott-Books_Culture_Sex_Sex-140814-381.html

The article features the expert opinions of ten professionals in the fields of academia, psychology, and media communications, who comment on the cultural implications of the series and share their recommendations for quality sexual literature.

I received some VERY lengthy and passionate responses, which I have compiled here on my blog, divided into three different posts. I could only feature excerpts in the above article, due to space constraints. Here are the full responses of the first three guest contributors!

P.S. Check out Part 2 and Part 3 for the full replies of the other guests.

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1. William Giraldi, professor at Boston University and Fiction Editor for AGNI:

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William Giraldi | Image from TinHouse

I’m not certain that men and women deserve better than Fifty Shades of Grey. Emerson once quipped that “people do not deserve good writing, they are so pleased with bad.” And I rarely disagree with Mr. Emerson. I’d tell men and women to put down these books because they are bad for their health, but people never listen to advice about their health.

Quality sexual literature can be found among the poems of Sappho and Catullus, in the satires of De Sade, and in the novels of Nicholson Baker. The Story of O and Venus in Furs are not masterpieces but they have some psychological depth and the prose isn’t toxic. I’d caution that the best sexual literature knows what to leave to the imaginative and what not.

2. Jennifer Hamady, voice coach, psychotherapist, and online columnist at Psychology Today:

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Jennifer Hamady

Thinking aloud, I don’t think the question is necessarily about whether people deserve better than Fifty Shades of Grey. In general I think wrong vs. right arguments aren’t the most helpful. Rather, I’d say that in our culture, which isn’t entirely open about and comfortable with sex, a book like Fifty Shades — or any book — can tend to have a more powerful influence than it might in a healthier context. I will say that the more violent aspects of the book concern me because — again — our current cultural context does not hold women on an equal footing to men (watch any music video if you need evidence). Whether or not it is intentional, the book therefore can be seen as agreeing with the idea that violence against and the subjugation of women is sexy, and even necessary for young women who want to be in relationships.

3. Lily Zheng, president of Kardinal Kink, an advocacy and support group for the kink community at Stanford University:

Stock Image from Dreamstime

(1) On whether men and women deserve better than Fifty Shades of Grey:

Fifty Shades of Grey enjoyed so much success because it talked, frankly and explicitly, about the type of sexual and sensual encounters that our society idealizes but outwardly condemns. In the existing social landscape of almost Puritan-esque opinions on sex and intimacy (sex is something that, if enjoyed at all, can only be enjoyed a certain way) the existence of Fifty Shades was disruptive and subversive in many ways. Not only the book itself, but the surprising number of men and women (women, mostly) who purchased it indicated that the book was fantasy, a fantasy that resonated especially well with its fans.

Erotic literature is necessary because it fulfills desires; erotic literature is necessary because it helps create a culture in which the sensual is more normal, in which physical intimacy is as much a diverse and varied staple as emotional intimacy.

And that precise reason is why Fifty Shades isn’t good enough.

Fifty Shades of Grey is ultimately a tale of nonconsent. As the relationships between characters develop, nonconsent becomes increasingly stamped across interaction after interaction. There is no negotiating of scenes, no establishing of hard and soft limits, not even a facsimile of the consent rituals and focus on safety that the real life kink and BDSM scenes feature. Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t a story that could or should happen in real life. Fifty Shades is fantasy.

To some extent, that’s okay. It’s perfectly fine for fantastical or improbable tales to exist, and many are excellent in their own right. It becomes a problem, however, when people begin to mistake fantasy for reality. People read erotica to experience it. We seek the sensual because we project ourselves into the stories we read, and envision ourselves — tied up, gagged, begging for release, our bodies burning like firebrands — through the lens of the words on the page.

We deserve erotic literature. We deserve good erotic literature. We deserve realistic erotic literature. Argue all you want the Fifty Shades is “good,” but it’s unmistakably unrealistic. Worse still, most people who read it don’t know that.

Most people who read Fifty Shades find themselves fantasizing about or imagining the nonconsensual, dangerous interactions as legitimate, as positive, as desirable. Almost every young adult (and their mother, apparently) knows the general plot of the novel.

“It’s kinky BDSM stuff, right?”

But Fifty Shades is to kink as rape is to sex; they may both look the same on the outside but the differences are fundamental, substantial, and potentially dangerous.

The inaccurate and fanciful depiction of kink in Fifty Shades of Grey hurts both the existing kink and leather communities and nonkinky people alike. The wrong type of kink is normalized by this book, and whether or not we fancy ourselves purveyors of good literature, we deserve to read better novels.

(2) On quality sexual literature:

Quality sexual literature can be enjoyed in more than one way. Quality sexual literature engages with the reader aesthetically — the prose flows well, the flow is dynamic, the descriptions are vivid in lush, practical and concise exactly where they need to be — and viscerally — the writing evokes a physical or bodily reaction from the reader, whether that reaction be sexual, sensual, or emotional. However, the best sexual literature is these two things and more: the best sexual literature is relatable.

There is a difference between imagining the abstract notion of “bondage” and being able to conceptualize the excited negotiation, the handpicking of rope, the vocalizing of desires and fears all laid out bare on the bed long before any clothing comes off. There is a difference between imagining rope on your body and understanding the meaning of the tightness on your skin, the significance behind the vulnerability, the worth of that “yes, sir!” or “yes, mistress!”

Owning Regina, a novel by Lorelei Elstrom written in diary format, is a story about kink that meets that bar. Unlike Fifty Shades of Grey, there is no magic telepathy between people, no porno-levels of endurance, no “perfect” interactions or scenes, no encouraged nonconsent. Rather, this book displays kink as it is in real life: consensual, communicative, and imperfect, a dance between people.

The realism in this novel is impressive. The conflict feels real and pressing; the characters are deep, well-developed, and likeable, and most importantly, the writing tingles with that uncertain excitement that I can most accurately describe as the moment before knocking on the door of partner’s house. This is a diary — it’s not hardcore erotica, but it’s not a documentary either. It’s gritty, dirty, raw, and satisfying in a way that neither of the two are on their own.

I recommend this book because it isn’t fantasy kink. The triumphs the characters exult in are triumphs many practitioners of BDSM and kink, veterans and casual play partners alike, experience. The conflicts are conflicts everyone who has experienced kink with a partner must go through.

Kinky literature tends to be marketed towards those who have never experienced kink, with most people in actual kink communities scorning that brand of erotic literature. For that reason, when kinky literature succeeds with both kinky and nonkinky people alike, it is especially important to acknowledge and understand why.

Owning Regina is one of those few novels I have found that manage to meet the bar I have set for kinky literature.

Poet Interview, David Greshel

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Interview #57, with pop-culture junkie, David Greshel!

Describe yourself in 5 words:

David

Creative, Dreamer, Listener, Pop-Culture Junkie.

Share a short excerpt and blurb of your work (10-100 words):

watch the silhouette fade away to the inside of a distant shadow as we creep along the expanse of this haunted night…..footsteps tread lightly as we walk among the dwellings of the left behind….tension dimly lit by the last sliver of a dying moon….will the past undo the things we’ve often hoped for with their whispered resolutions and uncertain dreams….troubling this sleep we often never rest…compelled we wander on…..not quite lost but never really found…

Share an excerpt of your favorite poet’s work (10-100 words):

Sirens

Midnight
criminal metabolism of guilt forest
Rattlesnakes whistles castanets

Remove me from this hall of mirrors
This filthy glass

Are you her
Do you look like that
How could you be when
no one ever could

Jim Morrison

We just featured Matthew Andrako the other day who’s greatly inspired by Jim Morrison! Did reading a poem first spark the desire to write poetry, or was it an experience?:

I think it was a bit of both really. My grandmother wrote poetry and she used to read some of them to us when we were kids. I think that was my first real exposure to the form, but I didn’t get the desire to write my own until much later on. That came from a Jr. High English assignment, and I discovered that I really enjoyed reaching inside myself to pull out these ideas and emotions that I had a hard time really getting out in other ways.

That was kind of like what I experienced with journal writing :) What goal do you seek through your poetry?

I think more than anything I want it to mean something. Not just to me, but to everyone who takes the time to read them. I want everyone to take a piece of it with them because it speaks to them, maybe in more ways than I even consciously intended. I remember reading Morrison’s work outside of The Doors, and also works by Rimbaud, William Blake, Baudelaire, Bukowski and Kerouac and being completely moved by them. They spoke to me on many different levels and enlightened experiences that I might never have but could somehow relate to. Those are the same things that I aspire to. Money and Fame might be nice, but Poets are generally not famous until after death and the last bookstore I was in had their Poetry section reduced to four shelves in the corner by the bathroom so record sales figures are clearly not there.

Yes, I do sometimes think that commodity production is costing society its soul (and its ability to appreciate good things like the arts). Please share your #1 tip for poets/writers:

Don’t be afraid of your influences. It’s ok for those to shine through your work as they helped you develop and aspire to the work you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to grow beyond them either and become your own voice. Don’t let the fact that Publishers aren’t knocking down your door to promote your work stop you from putting it out. If you’re happy with it, there are plenty of DIY options available to help you share your dream with the world.

ITA — that DIY aspect is one of the best things about the Internet era. Your websites/blogs/etc:

* My book on Amazon

* My Blog

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Much thanks to Dave for stopping by!

Author Interview, Junying Kirk

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Author Interview #33, with multicultural writer/linguist, Junying Kirk!

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Hi Junying! Please describe yourself in 5 words:

Creative, Adventurous, Ambitious, Loving, Loyal.

Share a short excerpt and blurb of your work (10-100 words):

junying_kirk_2junying_kirk_3

Excerpt:

The time has come, when I must take a good, long look back, beyond the oceans and mountains, beyond countless borders, beyond the crowds of people I have encountered, beyond my shell, and search for the meaning of my existence. Through the looking glass, tinted with the rich colours of passing years, I reflect over significant events, essential to shaping an ordinary life in not such an ordinary way.

Blurb:

Pearl Zhang was born and brought up in China, and she seized the opportunity to study in the United Kingdom – and stayed. How did she adjust to the Western way of life, and what did she have to do to overcome the barriers? She was in a new world, both foreign and exciting – under The Same Moon.

Share an excerpt of your favorite author’s work (10-100 words):

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”
— Charles Dickens

Comment on the writing versus publication process, in your experience:

For me, writing is a compulsion, something I had to do. Therefore words come easily to me, most of the time. I know the stories I want to tell and the messages they will deliver, and I’m simply a medium to do it. The only challenge I have is how I can do it better, with English being my second language.

Publication is a completely different animal. Traditional publishing is extremely competitive and almost impossible to get into for the majority of indie authors. With the boom of e-publishing and amazing new technology, authors can have their work self-published and reach a global readership, however, the challenge is the promotion and marketing – how do we reach these readers?

I’ll always have a healthy respect for people who are bi/multilingual :) What is your definition of “good writing”?

I read non-stop, so I know good writing when I come across it :) For me, good writing has to have the essential ingredients of a great plot, believable characters, good writing style, wonderful use of words and images to deliver a message/messages. The different genres may require something slightly different, but fundamentally a good combination of plot, characters, pace and writing style is a must.

Yes, fundamentals will never lose their importance. Please share your #1 tip for writers:

Determination to see it through. People say that everyone has a story to tell, but how many of us actually get down to it and finish what we have started? It requires sweat, dedication and thousands of hours of lonely pursuit. Believe me, it’s all worthwhile at the end of that long winding road.

Please let us know your websites/blogs/etc:

Website: www.junyingkirk.com

Twitter handle: @junying007

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Much thanks to Junying for stopping by! Be sure to check out her website for info/excerpts, posts about travelling, multiculturalism, and more (P.S. Junying loves Leo Tolstoy — so do I!).

Matt Mullenweg Interview (WordPress founder!)

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Interview #21, with WordPress founder, Matt Mullenweg!

Note from Jess: I’ve used WordPress.Org in the past — I’ve never forgotten the tagline at the bottom of the page: “Code is Poetry.” So I decided to send a quick Q&A to 26-year-old Mr. Mullenweg, on the subjects of coding, reading, and life/WordPress!

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Hi Matt! Describe yourself in 5 words:

Co-founder of WordPress and Automattic.

Give an example of code which you consider as poetry (and explain how/why, for the less technowizically-inclined):

The best type of code poetry comes from reduction, where you’re able to take something that used to be long or complex and reduce it to a few lines of intuitive code. (Or sometimes, none at all.)

How have your experiences influenced your vision for WordPress?:

There is no five-year plan for WordPress, but what we work on next is usually very apparent in the feedback I get from users all over the world at WordCamps and other places where I meet WordPress users, like airplanes.

How does coding inspire you?:

For me coding is incredibly satisfying because it’s very concrete. You can start in the morning, finish at night and look back at the day and point to something you made with your two hands. That’s not possible to the same extent with strategic or managerial work.

Were you already thinking about/working on WordPress (beta versions, etc) during high school?

Nope, it was after I had started college.

Would you/do you write poetry and/or fiction, under a pseudonym?:

In my life, I’ve found that truth is stranger than fiction.

What aspect of traveling around the world do you enjoy the most?:

My favorite thing about travel is seeing how cultures and cities adapt to their surroundings, and take on the characteristics of what surrounds them.

Please share your #1 tip for fellow netizens:

Encrypt your wifi traffic. :)

Your websites/blogs/etc:

http://ma.tt/
http://wordpress.org/
http://automattic.com/

Much thanks to the gracious and very cool Matt Mullenweg (aka Mr. WORDPRESS himself) for sharing his thoughts! Check out the other great interviews @ Matt’s Blog (Press Coverage).

Greek Mythology and Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis

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Short essay for my “ENG 359 – Mythology” course, in Fall 2010. Yippee!

(Topic = Write about how classical mythology has enriched your understanding of a piece of modern literature)

P.S. De Profundis is one of my favourites. Have read it four or five times — it always gets better with each new round.

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Essay: Greek Mythology and Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis

I first read Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis a few years ago (an eighty-page love letter he wrote while imprisoned, to Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas). My knowledge of mythology has enriched my understanding of this piece of literature in several ways, albeit in a subtler and more intimate kind of way than the parallel Wilde continually suggests between Salome and the moon, in his play, “Salome” (which draws on traditions of Greek and Roman mythology that figures the moon as a goddess). De Profundis also reflects Oscar Wilde’s lifelong admiration and passion for Greek literature, culture, and mythology.

oscar_wilde_bosie

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas

Dante’s Inferno is one of the texts to which Wilde frequently alludes in De Profundis. Dante’s Inferno is heavily influenced by classical mythology (for example, it features the Greek mythological figure Charon, and the great Roman poet, Virgil). More than half of De Profundis is taken up by Oscar Wilde’s confession, not only of his own sins, but of Bosie’s. He evokes a striking image for Bosie — he uses his favorite passage from Agamemnon, about bringing up a lion’s whelp inside one’s house only to have it run amok, to compare it to Bosie. He also writes the following line to Bosie, “If Hate blinded you, then Vanity sewed your eyelids together with iron threads.” This is a visual image from Dante’s Inferno, where the envious have their eyes eternally stitched shut with “iron threads.”

Oscar Wilde mentions the sea in De Profundis, comparing it to the mention Euripides makes of the sea in “one of his plays about Iphigeneia, [which] washes away the stains and wounds of the world.” Oscar Wilde then expresses his view that he “[discerns] great sanity in the Greek attitude,” linking this back to the visual imagery of the sea, and the contemporary people of Oscar Wilde’s time having “forgotten that water can cleanse, and fire purify, and that the Earth [was] mother to [them] all.” As a consequence, Oscar Wilde stated that the art of his time was “of the moon and [played] with shadows, while Greek art [was] of the sun and [dealt] directly with things.” These lines evoke the sense of purification in elemental forces, which Oscar Wilde writes that he wants to return to, and “live in their presence.”

The concept of decadence is also frequently mentioned in De Profundis, which is linked to Dionysus in Greek mythology — the god of wine, vegetation, debauchery, decadence, depravity and self indulgence. Oscar Wilde’s self-reflection includes a mention on how he experienced “pleasure for the beautiful body, [which was] pain for the beautiful soul.” He also compares filling his life to the very brim with pleasure, “as one might fill a cup to the very brim with wine.” He allowed pleasure to dominate him, which ended in “horrible disgrace” — leaving him only one thing in the end: “absolute humility.” Oscar Wilde also compares the appeal of Jesus Christ to people “who had been deaf to every voice but that of [the voice of love] heard for the first time,” and finding it to be “as musical as Apollo’s lute.”

Oscar Wilde continues his self-reflection by bringing in the statement of the Greek oracle: “know yourself,” which Oscar Wilde states is “the first achievement of knowledge.” He also writes a wonderfully succinct and comprehensive passage, which refers to several Greek myths all at once. He introduces this paragraph by writing that “the Greek gods, in spite of the white and red of their fair fleet limbs, were not really what they appeared to be.” He then compares the curved brow of Apollo to the sun’s disc crescent over a hill at dawn, and “while [Apollo’s] feet were as the wings of the morning, he himself had been cruel to Marsyas and had made Niobe childless.” He writes that “in the steel shields of Athena’s eyes there had been no pity for Arachne; the pomp and peacocks of Hera were all that was really noble about her; and the Father of the Gods himself had been too fond of the daughters of men.”

Oscar Wilde goes on to say that “the two most deeply suggestive figures of Greek Mythology were, for religion, Demeter, an Earth Goddess, not one of the Olympians, and for art, Dionysus, the son of a mortal woman to whom the moment of his birth had proved also the moment of her death.” Knowing the background of these Greek myths greatly enhanced my appreciation of this particular passage in De Profundis, which drives to a person’s core the message of sorrow. In the preceding paragraph in De Profundis, Oscar Wilde writes that Christ made of himself “the image of the Man of Sorrows, [which] fascinated and dominated art as no Greek god ever succeeded in doing,” thus using this aspect of the Greek gods and goddesses to enhance the Sorrow he went through while imprisoned (and the realizations that came about, as a direct result of this humiliating experience).

Thus, having some knowledge of classical mythology greatly enhanced my understanding and appreciation of Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, which makes references to Greek mythology (as well as religion). De Profundis bares the innermost depths of Oscar Wilde’s soul via a long handwritten letter to his “hyacinth,” Bosie (in a letter to a friend, Oscar Wilde wrote of Bosie: “He is quite like a narcissus — so white and gold…he lies like a hyacinth on the sofa and I worship him,” which again brings to mind Greek mythology—in particular, that of Apollo and Hyacinth, as well as Narcissus).

References:

Wilde, Oscar. De Profundis. Courier Dover Publications, 1997.