Thursday, 31 January 2008

但願人長久,千里共嬋娟

連日在電視新聞上看到那麼多離鄉背井的人,因為暴風雪的緣故,被逼滯留在南方大城市的火車站或冰封雪擋的公路上,空有一顆憂急如焚的心,卻沒半點辦法。

即使待在家裡的,也可能因為電力短缺,在嚴冬下無法用空調取暖,甚至連基本的日常起居也出問題。

心裡一陣酸楚。

同樣受到寒流襲擊,香港的毛毛冷雨和透骨陰寒也令很多人叫苦連天。我從小不怕冷,早在暗恨這些年香港幾乎沒有了冬天,心想目前攝氏十度左右的天氣,才稱得上是冬天嘛。收藏多時的毛衣和厚外套,總算有了用武之地。

但是今年,首次體會到風雪無情的滋味。

不知道是偏見還是恨鐵不成鋼,有很多人在問:為甚麼會弄成如此田地?

印象中美國也曾有過大規模的暴風雪,導致交通癱瘓,情況未必比內地好。只是內地人多,受影響的民眾以數百萬計,又適逢春運高峰,所以情況一發不可收拾。

基礎建設不足、應變稍慢,當然是導致問題遲遲未能解決的原因,但始終惡劣天氣才是罪魁禍首,與人無尤。與其胡亂批評政府處理失當,不如為受災的人送上祝福來得實際。

我們身在福中的,沒有資格取笑別人。

從來沒有甚麼生日願望,如今只希望滯留旅途的人,可以在農曆新年之前趕回家中,與親人團聚。

但願人長久,千里共嬋娟。

Monday, 21 January 2008

Literature As A Political Manifesto

Perhaps it would be premature to proclaim myself a fan of Terry Eagleton's, but I simply can't agree with him more on his conclusion on literary theory.

As I wrote last month, a Chinese reader like me finds no difficulty at all in understanding the inextricable relationship between politics and literature. This is because the Confucian commitment to public good has made everything we do a political behaviour in one way or another, and obviously literature is no exception. For most of the time throughout Chinese history, literature has seldom been appreciated solely in its intrinsic terms as works of creativity. At least for some of the most prominent writers of imperial China such as Han Yu and Ouyang Xiu, literature is a means by which moral values and traditions are articulated, disseminated and bequeathed. Thanks to this ingrained tradition of Confucianism that assumes an immutable positive causal relationship between personal moralities and political integrity, both of which are penetrated in everything we do, literary works are seldom appreciated solely in creative or aesthetic terms without any political tint.

Eagleton's piercing statement about the nature of literary theory offers a blunt challenge to those who insist, even though in stifling hypocrisy, that politics should be quarantined from arts and sports like patients suffering from contagious diseases:

There is, in fact, no need to drag politics into literary theory: as with South African sport, it has been there from the beginning. I mean by the political no more than the way we organise our social life together, and the power relations which this involves; and what I have tried to show throughout this book is that the history of modern literary theory is part of the political and ideological history of our epoch.

Isn't it refreshing to read this at a time when those top-notch businesspeople are complaining that Hong Kong has become more politicised than ever on the one hand, and they are taking advantage of Beijing to secure their political and economic interests by participating fervently in all those political institutions and making absurd and senseless comments about Hong Kong that are politically correct in the eyes of Beijing leaders on the other?

Following the same logic, one may now understand why the efforts of those Olympic Games hosts calling for a quarantine of politics from sports, apparently including Beijing, have failed despite their tireless attempts. As Eagleton argued, they are simply trying to leap out of their skin, simply because, as we all know, the bidding process for hosting Olympic Games is much more of a showdown of political, economic and diplomatic clout than a competition of excellence and experience in project management.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

A Struggle for Power

It has been quite some time since I last enjoyed a book on the so-called "hard subject" like Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction (Second Edition). His lucidity and sagacity demonstrated in his critical account of the leading literary theories is absolutely enjoyable.

While it is both rewarding and entertaining to go through the overview of different schools of literary theories, it is even more thought-provoking to read the last chapter of this edition, in which Eagleton, a renowned Marxist critique, gave a critical snapshot of the latest development of the literary theory since the book was first published in 1983. At a time when the Hong Kong press and the so-called "cultural circles" are obsessed with the perspectives of postmodernism and post-colonialism, it is undoubtedly a hearty experience to read the piercing commentary of Eagleton.

Let's just take a look at how Eagleton challenges postmodernism as an example:

We are always, in short, installed firmly on the inside of the culture we hope to criticise, so thoroughly constituted by its interests and beliefs that to put them into radical question would involve leaping out of our own skins. As long as what we utter is intelligible - and any critique which is not would be merely ineffective - then we are already in complicity with the culture we seek to objectify, and so plunged in a kind of bad faith. This doctrine, which depends on an eminently deconstructable distinction between 'inside' and 'outside', is currently being deployed by some to defend the American way of life, precisely because postmodernism is uneasily aware that no rational critique of that way of life, or indeed of any other, is any longer possible. To pull out the foundations from under your opponent is, unavoidably, to pull them out from under oneself. In order to avoid the unwelcome conclusion that there is no rational justification for one's form of life, one must seek to disable the very idea of critique as such, branding it as necessarily 'metaphysical', 'transcendent', 'absolute' or 'foundational'. Similarly, if the idea of system or totality can be discredited, then there is really no such thing as patriarchy or the 'capitalist system' to be criticised.

How about post-colonialism? This is how Eagleton sees the essence of the buzzword:

Post-colonial theory is not only the product of multi-culturalism and decolonisation. It also reflects an historic shift from revolutionary nationalism in the Third World, which faltered in the 1970s, to a 'post-revolutionary' condition in which the power of the transnational corporations seems unbreakable... Post-colonialism, in short, has been among other things one instance of a rampant 'culturalism', which has recently swept across Western cultural theory, over-emphasising the cultural dimension of human life in understandable overreaction to a previous biologism, humanism or economism. Such cultural relativism is for the most part simply imperial dominion stood on its head.

The quoted texts may seem a bit long, but they are certainly excellent food for thought. They remind me of the ruthless criticism and repudiation of Chinese traditional culture since the demise of Qing Dynasty at the turn of the nineteenth century, when the intelligentsia believed that China would be re-born if it could cut off from its past. As we can see in history, from the half-baked Westernisation initiated by the Qing royalists to the radical repudiation by the idealistic communists, all of those who promoted a complete purge of heritage have been proven miserably wrong. How sad it is for we Chinese to realise only after more than a century that we have been sweating ourselves running after something that have brought us to nowhere. Like many other countries, China is too unique to address its problems simply by duplicating someone's solution. While it is always useful to make references to someone else's success, we can never escape from the intrinsic responsibility to tackle the problems of our own.

Eagleton's comments also remind me of the annoying rhetoric from the academia and the so-called "cultural circles" in Hong Kong. The fact that they seek to monopolise the power of discourse on how Hong Kong should evolve using the esoteric jargon of cultural studies is by all means irritating. Any member of the community should be able to participate in the discussion about everyone's future in the most comprehensible language possible. If they truly believe that the power is being monopolised through political (government) and economic means (formidable multinational corporations), why are they doing the same in the arena of discourse, which is supposed to be public?

It is equally annoying to see the rhetoric of Hong Kong's cultural studies circles that primarily focuses on attacking the loopholes and weaknesses of the existing system without proposing any constructive alternatives. Perhaps I'm being too utilitarian here, but, tell me then, what is the point of fussing about something if one doesn't give a damn to roll up his/her sleeves and make a change himself/herself? When those of the extremely exclusive and esoteric circles are locking themselves up in the ivory tower, taking advantage of the community by self-victimisation, by which they claim to be marginalised and discriminated for what they believe, aren't they looking forward to a day when their "alternative" school of thought would replace the existing one to become the "mainstream", at which time they would have become victorious heroes with power and authority at their disposal? How different would they be with those who are currently in power, again obsessed with their school of thought?

Saturday, 5 January 2008

A High Definition of Blunder

One of the buzzwords of the New Year is "digital high definition television", which was introduced to Hong Kong on New Year's Eve last week. Unlike many other occasions on which Hong Kong people wasted no time to catch up, digital high definition television seems to have received a cold shoulder from the local public despite the overwhelming promotion.

In my opinion, the launch of digital high definition television is yet another example of the Hong Kong Government's indifference to the lives of their loyal subjects. The rhetoric of "serving the community" appears more hypocritical than ever.

The fundamental reason that digital high definition television has not been enthusiastically welcomed as the Government and the television operators might have expected is that, quite surprisingly, the majority of the local population is not technically and psychologically ready. Despite the heavy promotion that emphasises nothing more than the visual quality of digital, high definition television programmes, there is little information on what to do in order to enjoy the new mode of television broadcast. Specifically, there is virtually no information on the criteria of choosing decoder, a device essential to receive digital images from the television operators. Simply telling people to get decoders without explaining what factors or criteria should be considered is just like asking people to replace their iPods with professional Hi-Fi systems for nothing but good quality sound, something that not every one of us would be able to appreciate anyway.

Interestingly enough, the Hong Kong Broadcast Authority informally announced in phone-in programme this morning that most basic decoders that enable the reception of standard definition signals currently available in Hong Kong have not passed the official tests. The Hong Kong Broadcasting Authority representative even reportedly called for people to refrain from buying basic decoders for the moment.

Isn't it ridiculous that the new technology was introduced at a time that there is no viable device available in the market by which the audience can enjoy the benefits?

Moreover, to be able to receive digital high definition images on television requires more than a viable decoder connected to one's television set. The most important thing is to ensure that the antenna of the building has been upgraded to receive digital signals. To many tenants and home owners, this is something that not only involves a group decision-making process but also a time-consuming tendering and even, before that, fund-raising process to finance the project. It can take months or even years to implement.

The second thing is to have a high definition ready television set. How timely it was for Friends of the Earth to remind us last week that up to 460,000 old television sets could be disposed of when people rush to replace their old entertainers with high definition ready models. Yet I wonder how many of us would listen to the kind advice of the green group and think twice before getting a groovy television set.

What bothers me most though is the fundamental question of "Why do we need high definition television?" Essentially there is nothing more than clearer images that, as we can see now, are not free from backfire. There have already been half-joking complaints that high definition images are too capable of exposing the wrinkles and pimples of actors and actresses, which are by no means enjoyment for the audience. While watching television is perhaps the least expensive way of entertainment that has been a daily necessity for thousands in Hong Kong for decades, having clearer pictures is nothing more than a complement that would be welcomed but far from being essential.

Obviously the television operators, which are also news organisations at the same time, have been silent over this important question that challenges the fundamentals of their hard-earned opportunity to promote their services to the long-standing audience. Even the print media have chosen to join the party without asking this fatal question.

Who said that news organisations or journalists are supposed to represent public interest? Who said that again?

This is precisely why I keep questioning the need for high definition television, which seems nothing more than the latest example of the Hong Kong Government's high-sounding but meaningless ambition to keep up with "international trends". Given the technology advancements that require not only the replacement of television sets but also public antenna installed in their buildings, why we need to introduce this new technology in such a hurry? Why at this time when most of us don't even have our antennas upgraded and safe and viable decoders available in the market? Why wasn't there any public consultation and ample transition period for technical upgrades, product development and promotions and public education before the launch? While spending several thousand dollars on a new television set means little or anything at all to some, to many underprivileged families in Hong Kong, it could mean spending more than a month's income to be able to continue to enjoy the supposedly least expensive form of pastime. Even though the traditional analogue transmission would not be scrapped in the near future, the Government's plan to terminate analogue transmission in 2012 is a ruthless contempt of the poor.

The Government didn't seem to realise what kind of life most of its people are living until after the phone-in programme this morning. It was reported later in the day that the analogue transmission system may not be terminated, subject to public response to the new system. Again, the Government's change of position can only represent a blunder out of poor planning and project management and a severe lack of understanding of the community it is committed to serve.