Introduction

Introduction

“Our generation,” Singaporean playwright (and USP alumnus) Joel Tan remarks, “is sick with nostalgia.” This module studies some examples of such nostalgia, predominantly as manifested in Singapore art: ad campaigns, documentaries, essays, films, graphic novels, poems, TV movies, and short stories. Although Tan seems to be referring to events of the past 20 years, our class will more broadly analyze post-1965 Singapore, examining in particular: the nostalgia of exiles and émigrés; what sociologist Chua Beng Huat calls “nostalgia for the kampung”; the national mood during the recent SG50 celebrations; and the nostalgia that appears to be responses to recent perceived crises in heritage, and demographic changes brought about by immigration. 

When looking at these episodes, we will ponder Tan’s characterization of nostalgia as a “sickness.” Tan is not alone in this view: numerous cultural and intellectual historians, geographers, literary critics, political thinkers, and sociologists have argued against nostalgia, though just as many have sought to rehabilitate it. Accordingly, we will survey arguments about nostalgia’s complicated relationships with capitalism, consumerism, history, heritage, memory, nation, politics, progress, and sentiment. Do these critiques and debates apply in the case of Singaporean nostalgia? Or can practices of nostalgia in Singapore art help us rethink the potential of nostalgia?

The artists we will study include Boey Kim Cheng, Boo Junfeng, Koh Jee Leong, Eric Khoo, Oh Yong Hwee and Koh Hong Teng, Alfian Sa’at, Tan Pin Pin, Royston Tan, and Simon Tay. More theoretical essays will come from Kevin Blackburn, Alastair Bonnett, Svetlana Boym, Chua Beng Huat, Fred Davis, Paul Grainge, Linda Hutcheon, Fredric Jameson, Michael Kammen, Christopher Lasch, Loh Kah Seng, Pierre Nora, Kimberly Smith, Kenneth Paul Tan, Brenda Yeoh and Lily Kong.