Thursday, March 23, 2006

Triple Schizophrenia as Normalcy

Went to Prof. H's office hours this afternoon talking about the final paper, future research, and issues of diaspora. As the conversation eventually went down to his own upbringing experiences in Malaysia as a Malaysian Chinese, I was struck when he said,

"I am schizophrenic with regards to my identity."

"Schizophrenic in what way, Professor?" I asked. "Schizophrenic as a Chinese vs. Malay, a Malay vs. British, or British vs. Chinese?"

"All of them, British, Chinese, and Malay."

"So a kind of triple schizophrenia?"


"Then do you too feel like you're constantly living in diaspora, or some kind of state of exile?"

"Well, to me, diaspora is normalcy ..."

"Like a daily-life experience, a part of who you are?"

"Yes, part of who I am and what I live by every day. And that's a notion that I want to convey to the students in this class as well, that diaspora isn't just a recent, 20th-century phenomenon, but a continual, historical experience, repeated over and over again as a state of normalcy."

A state of normalcy, by being in diaspora.

What's even more interesting is the following:

"Verbally my proficiency of language goes like this: Hokken, English, Arabic, and Malay (the first being the most proficient or most comfortable). In terms of reading proficiency, on the other hand, it goes from English to Malay, Arabic, and then Hokken, with Hokken being almost non-existent."

Wow, 4 languages in completely different order.

"To me, I approach Hokken on a folk level whereas English commands my level of communication and entire mentality of thinking and processing on a formal level."

I can completely relate, really.

If language is a window to a whole new set of worldviews, mentality, process of thinking and communication, knowing three languages doesn't mean acquiring three different sets of windows of worldviews and experiences that are mutually exclusive but - in fact in very confusing and tormenting ways - three intertwining worldviews and perspectives whose boundaries remain forever blurry. At times all three live in peaceful co-existence, yet at times they live in continual attention, splitting the inner core being apart into pieces that is dying for coherence yet does not know where such coherence may be found.

In one of my classes this semester called "Bilingual Arts," bilingualism is constantly celebrated, praised, and deemed positive. Yet almost all the writers we've studied so far had undergone a certain journey of ID/soul-searching. The ending in sight might be a beautiful one, but the journey through which such an ending may be reached remains fuzzy, uncertain, and at times scary as hell.

Worst of all, no one can finish that journey for you, not even as a bystanding companionship.

Nor is there even a cheerleader in sight.

Though that accounts for many aspects in life in general, isn't it? At the end of the day, we are all lone travelers down this lonely path calls life. I guess one has to endure the darkest hours of the night in order to see the rising sunshine the next morning huh?

No skipping step, whether we like it or not, as the earth continues to evolve and time continues to flow.

Schizophrenic ID-searching as normalcy? 開始懂了.

梅ちゃん at 7:03:00 AM



at 3/23/06, 1:59 PM Anonymous Derek said...

Being unilingual, I often wonder how language may sculpt thought and creativity. My observations of the cultural and syntactic constraints imposed by different languages suggest to me that thinking about a topic in English might channel one's cliched train of thought towards certain directions than if one were to contemplate something in, say Japanese. Would you agree with this assessment? Or does Chomsky's notion of a universal grammar trump the differences among languages?

Although disquieting, cultural diaspora seems easy to relate to, especially when discussing the common experiences of a people-group in a foreign land. However, the choice of which cultural and linguistic values to incorporate in one's own integration of disparate ethnic backgrounds remains with the individual. (I prefer the term "integration" to "schizophrenia" ...).

The definition of self in a cultural sense is an important exercise in establishing identity, rather than allow oneself to be carried along with the prevailing tides of one's local culture. My former pastor pointed out how the themes of exodus and exile recur throughout the Bible. God's people were always called to be holy, to be distinct from the forces of cultural assimilation around them. Peter offers his advice "to God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered ... [yet] chosen". Perhaps cultural dissonance is a blessing after all that reminds us of this call to be defined in Christ.


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