Unitext #001 – David Marshall on a More Wholesome Approach to Living

I’m starting a new section which will deal with words, either written or spoken. Featured will be (forgotten? lost? overlooked? as-yet-unearthed?) quotations of (primarily) Singapore(an) voices dealing with music or music-related issues. Sometimes the connections will be obvious; at other times, the issues raised may seem more tangential. The overall aim is to uncover linkages between music and other “larger” issues, of which may include (but are not limited to) aesthetics, culture and society, politics, political economy, etc.

david marshallThe first quotable is from David Saul Marshall (1908-1995), a charismatic public figure who established himself as a top criminal lawyer before becoming Singapore’s First Chief Minister in 1955 as leader of the Labour Front. Later, as the People’s Action Party (PAP) swept into power, Marshall became a key opposition figure and was noted for his sharp criticisms of the PAP and its leader Lee Kuan Yew. However, he was also known to be a fair critic and would give credit where it was due, praising the PAP government’s economic achievements as well as the integrity of the civil service.

In this interview from 1984, Marshall criticises the petty materialism that has been allowed to hold Singapore society in its vice grip, a phenomenon not unrelated to the government’s stubborn insistence on privileging statistical economics and neglecting less easily quantifiable pursuits. In turn, Marshall proposes a more Romantic, “wholesome approach to living”, one which would value an intrinsic goodness of music, a sublime mystery that Singapore’s political leaders in all their one-dimensional wisdom have not been able to decipher (as least not in pragmatic, calculable, utilitarian terms), spiritually impoverishing a generation of people (or two, or three) in the process.

I wonder if Marshall might have been a Pink Floyd fan?

David Marshall: In Singapore, you scrabble for what you can achieve for yourself. And status symbols of Mercedes Benz, swimming pool, a string of women and horses and that is, those are the symbols of success. I think we are going through a dangerous phase. But it is a gold rush phase that is not unknown. And I’m hoping, and I believe, that our very basically decent people will soon settle down to a more wholesome approach to living.

Lily Tan: How would you interpret this wholesome approach?

Marshall: First, a recognition that gold dust in our veins is not necessarily good. That the warmth of human relations is the ultimate good of all human beings. That the joy of living is not tied to the sound of the cash box. That there is music and there is beauty and there is joy that no computer device by the PAP could ever evaluate. A greater understanding of the miracle of living.

– Oral History interview with David Marshall, 1984

Source: Oral History Centre, National Archives of Singapore, Acc. no. 156, Reel 19


2 Responses to “Unitext #001 – David Marshall on a More Wholesome Approach to Living”

  1. January 21, 2009 at 1:46 am

    a design for life?

    looking forward to your future posts in this series: )

  2. 2 Harold
    January 28, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    sometimes it’s not so much the mentality bred by the govt but the very instrinsic need by Sporeans to have the gold dust running in our veins 24/7, 365…

    i wonder if we unlocked the shackles, will yr average Sporean know what to do with the freedom to design his/her own existence beyond material pursuits? or will they get upset gahmen didn’t provide any design or template for them to follow?

    gold is the ultimate opiate…..

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a paean to bootlegging,
to memory,
to ubiety,
and to the Unity
of the Song

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UNITY SONG at Blogged

January 2009
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