Opening the second edition of the LILA PRISM lecture series, Malaysian puppetry conservationist Eddin Khoo had reaffirmed cultures, history and memory as the subversive forces to political shortsightedness. In this second event, ecology activist Vandana Shiva forwarded the confirmation of cultures as the main force of continuity. In fact, Vandana Shiva’s response was but inevitable: it is only in the last four centuries that the word ‘culture’ shied away from its initial meaning – cultivation, growing soils – to the establishment of a cardinal metaphor: human culture as the cultivation of the mind, of manners, of practices. Not only could humanity sprout through agricultural innovations, but the very elaboration of cultures, traditions, customs also followed the paradigm of nature. And at the heart of culture, of cultivation, is food. Food is life. In Sanskrit, Pran means rice, and life.
Puppetry, a paradigm of continuity. Why? Opening the PRISM Lecture Series 2014 on Cultural Continuum with Malaysian cultural conservationist Eddin Khoo was a hint at the ambitious spatial and temporal scope of the debate. South East Asia is a cultural crossroad, echoing the multiplicity inherent in Indian traditions, and, in fact, often genealogically related to them. But, the spread of Sanskrit as the lingua franca of literature and the arts around the turn of the first millennium, or the simultaneous spread of Hinduism and Buddhism, should not reduce the region to a mere offspring of Indian cultures. What makes South East Asian culture, then? What is Malaysian culture? Eddin Khoo recalls the interrogation he offers to initiate with his students. “What is the Malay identity?” The only available answers are constitutional. Never cultural. A unified, common cultural history cannot easily be found. And it is precisely through culture, and through the multiplicity of cultures, that the concept of identity can be questioned. Through culture, the ubiquitous starting point of today’s political climates can be shaken.