S(t)imulating Singapore: Representing the City (-State) in Travel Writing and Urban Planning

Irvin Lim Fang Jau

Chapter Two: Postmodern Flâneurs

Travel produces the Other and locates it as a site of excess. Travel is simultaneously, the site of writing...In its repression it marks the site of presence and in its absence it marks the otherness of representation.

Jon Stratton, 1990: 86

"He found himself in a landscape that looked exactly like a giant chessboard."

Salman Rushdie, 1990: 73

"Why is the space of the one not the space of the other?"

Jacques Derrida, 1976: 288

By Way of Transit

Singapore's urbanization is not finished; and neither is its representation. Besides the usual fare of official tourist brochures laden with the popular promotional imagery of the city, the area where the representation of Singapore's urban space is nowhere more fecund and arguably florid is in the travel writings of globe-trotting intellectual elites. In this chapter, I would like to examine the politics of spatial representation of three recent travelogesque readings of contemporary urban Singapore, by Reginald Berry (1986), Kim Dovey (1993) and William Gibson (1994) [1], as related to the cognitive thematic of a scopic regime of disappearance. Rather than ask: What does the modern city-state of Singapore represent for these travelers? The question will be reposed in an active manner: How do these travelers re-present Singapore?

An appropriate point to begin answering this question would be to note that though all three travel writers independently journeyed into Singapore at different times and published disparate articles in different journals, they nevertheless pronounce common experential themes of urban disorientation and alienation in what they perceive to be a contemporary hyperspace of high consumption culture that has replaced the redolent old world charms of Colonial Singapore. In their common first-person narrative representation of rapidly urbanizing Singapore as a disturbing hyperspace of high capitalist accumulation and mass consumerism, Singapore is decidedly marked as the other of the travel writers' self-presentation. In other words, the travel writers bring "narrative order, significance and meaning to the city's landscape" (Crush, 1994: 257), which is invariably:

a form of cultural cartography that is impelled by an anxiety to map the globe, centre it on a certain point, produce explanatory narratives, and assign fixed identities to regions and the races that inhabit them. Such representations are always concerned with the question of place and placing.

(Porter, 1991: 20) (Emphasis mine)

Johnathon Crush (1994) in his article 'Gazing on Apartheid: Postcolonial Travel Narratives of the Golden City', describes how the South African city continues to be written "as a place of strangeness and difference" (ibid: 260). Travel writing, he argues, has "an enduring legacy of the colonial travelogue" (ibid: 262), which, following Edward Said's Orientalism (1978), manifests a colonial discourse of Orientalism, by which "travelers construct other peoples and cultures for home consumption" (Crush, 1994: 260). In this sense, the cartographic genre of travel writing represents "a powerful vehicle for a liberal North American (or European)" imagination "to eroticise and comment on South Africa's landscapes and people - to write the South African City as a moral text" (ibid: 260).

Similarly, the three travel writings on Singapore under consideration collectively bear poignant testimony to Crush's notion of the "moral text". Indeed it would not be an overstatement to suggest that urban Singapore is written as an 'uncomfortable moral text' (see Birch, 1993a) of anxiety over the contradictory meaning of the city as a space of social progress and political manipulation. Given the writer's 'uncomfortable' representations of Singapore, I will argue that their anxiety ensues as much from feelings of uncertainty in traversing an unfamiliar (yet ambivalently familiar) terrain, which eludes the cognitive mappings (senses) of the self-professed "theorizing tourist" (Berry, 1986: 10), as it does from their ironic but unself-reflexive adoption of a partial and myopic scopic regime of disappearance.

Simulation Emporia

Berry's article, 'The Road to Singapore: How to Become Modern and Return to Sources', is playful and parodic in its epigramatic narrative style of pastiche. This is augmented by a strong sense of spatial discomfort and suggestive didacticism as foregrounded in its title. 'How to become Modern and Return to Sources', evokes a temporal polemic between 'the old and the new', that threads through Berry's spatial account of contemporary Singapore:

We are in a city where the old verities don't apply...the theorizing tourist is getting confused. This is the exotic east, and everything is supposed to be making strange...What you want (as in fiction) is a new version of the old reality.

(Berry, 1986: 10)

The experiential disjuncture and unfulfilling contradiction between what is promoted in the hard-sell rhetoric of Singapore's tourist industry ('The Exotic East') and what Berry actually finds in the shopping malls/streets (Orchard Road) of capitalist urban Singapore, compels him to beg the question twice in the article, "What city are we in?" (ibid: 10/13). For him, the paradox lies in the familiarity of Singapore, not as an exotic paradise he had anticipated, but as a highly urbanised and commercial Modern city. According to Berry, "the exotic east..is supposed to be making strange" or 'defamiliarising' (ostranenye) in the Russian Formalist tradition (ibid: 10). Instead, the Singapore tourism industry's promise of an exotic "paradise is a very familiar one" - uncannily modern, comparable to the consumer havens in Regent Street in London, Rodeo Drive in L.A., Fifth Avenue in New York and Bloor Street West in Toronto (ibid: 10) - and represents the contradiction within the tourism discourse that promotes an unfamiliar 'foreignness' but delivers a familiar and unfulfilling reality. I would suggest that Iwabuchi's (1994) notion of a "Complicit Exoticism" whereby Singapore's cultural managers continue to promote Singapore as the site of the exotic oriental other, in pragmatic service of capitalist ends, is clearly at work here. Indeed, this 'interested' and 'internalized' self-Orientalism can be understood, according to MacCannell (1992: 102), as a paradoxical moment of arrival, when a community becomes postmodern and "develops consciousness of itself as a model and learns to profit from its image". And towards that culturally image-driven profit, the Singapore government-led heritage push and its recent injection of $S 1 billion to boost tourism infrastructure has resulted in the revitalization of heritage buildings and sites, and the creation of themeparks designed to capitalize on the 'oriental' and 'exotic' allure of Singapore's diasporic multicultural diversity, while at the same time maintaining its competitive edge as a leading regional commercial centre. As Jane Fraser (1994: 22) reports in a special advertising promotion commissioned by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB), "Singapore's current national project is a determination to be an information technology superpower and a themepark". In the same promo, Carolyn Collins (1994: 27) reveals that "nostalgic themes" will be developed to appeal to established tourism markets, Japan, Europe and its Asian neighbours". Undeniably, this 'complicit exoticism' is aimed at producing Singapore's cityspace as an attractive cultural potpourri for tourists and a commercial powerhouse for traders.

Having said that, this paradoxical observation of 'complicit exoticism' is nothing new or unique in itself, insofar as the 'East meets West' discourse now offered as an utilitarian capitalist slogan of tourism is concerned. It should be remembered that the British colonial history of Singapore, beginning with its founding in 1819, was a period of economic growth and urban development based exclusively on its compradore import-export trade, enhanced by Singapore's strategic position as an entrep™t along the confluence of the busy East-West sea trade-routes. Notwithstanding that colonial legacy of cross-cultural contact and influences, the essentialist assumptions of the A/not A (Authentic/not Authentic) binary logic continues to resurrect the idea of an imaginary return of a postcolonial romanticism qua neo-Orientalism [2], as Berry's travel writing exemplifies:

[T]he writer is just about the only person able to witness the radical coupure with the past, while everyone is able to recognise the familiar but foreign cityscape of the megapolis as it is imposed on the city and its future.

(Berry, 1986: 13) (Emphasis mine)

The nostalgic parapraxis is no more apparent than through Berry's self-aggrandizing depiction of himself as "the only person able to witness" the historical change of the city. Berry's claim to an exclusive eyewitness insight reminds one of a similar attitude in Baudrillard's (1988: 28) belief that only a European like himself, can understand America for what it really is: "Since he alone will discover here the perfect simulacrum - that of the immanence and material transcription of all values. The Americans, for their part have no sense of simulation...they are the ideal material for an analysis of all the possible variants of the modern world". Both Berry's and Baudrillard's claims to an exclusive insight represent what MacCannell (1976: 9) calls a "dialectics of authenticity", whereby their self-interested 'sacred' quest for autobiographical authenticity, belies a "rhetoric of moral superiority". In other words, they disavow their complicity as part of the class of the tourist (see Frow, 1991), enunciating a self-denial of group association by appropriating the experience of authenticity exclusively for themselves as opposed to the other tourists in the touring group or even independent travelers outside of the tourist group. This is an assumption and arrogation that smacks of hubris, and is ironically solipsistic.

In his quest to "see the real East" (Berry, 1986: 10), Berry takes a day excursion to Malacca, a former Portuguese colony now part of Peninsula Malaysia, and partakes in a tourist pilgrimage [3] of what Lefebvre (1991: 123) has called "the West's infatuation with village life and rustic homelands". En route by bus, Berry savours what to him constitutes "an authentic South East Asian townscape" and its "more authentic...freshly squeezed and iced lime juice" (1986: 11). In the midst of it all, Berry is taken aback with incredulity when he finds an immense Marlboro Country cigarette advertising billboard along the rustic highway. He asks himself again, almost schizophrenically, "What country are we in?" Berry's concern with authenticity leads him to contrast his experience of Malacca with Singapore. He believes that there is an archaeology in Malacca "which allows for discontinuities" whereas in Singapore, there is no discernible (scopic) depth or materiality of its past. Therefore by insinuation, archaeology and authenticity are impossible in an urban space where history has been ostensibly effaced and compromised.

The version of the scopic regime of disappearance which Berry adopts, belongs to an order of cognitive mapping, reminiscent of Cartesian perspectivalism, that desires to see and to know authenti(city) through an atopic and isotropic voyeurism. This enthralls him in Malacca, but 'eludes' him in Singapore for the latter's authenticity and sense of history is said to have 'disappeared' along with its 'natural' geography. In her analysis of European travel writing, Mary Louise Pratt (1992, cited in Crush, 1994: 261), reminds us of the resilient "dehumanising western habit of representing other parts of the world as having no history". This reminder is particularly telling of Berry's account of Singapore, where apocryphal Modern urban space is said to have no sense of history, having destroyed authentic traditional space.

Berry alleges that the "erasure factor" is involved in the "rapid and wholesale destruction of the old Singapore", with the imposition of a "foreign cityscape of the megapolis" (ibid: 13). Berry's nostalgic commentary replaces spatial analysis with abstract Manichean diremptions of 'traditional' (Gemeinschaft) and 'modern' (Gesellschaft) society, that deny the diachronic possibilities of a historical and geographical continuum between the two. Furthermore, his desire and claim to see the city and to read (know) it as one of incompatibility between the 'familiar' traditional space constituting the 'old Singapore' and the 'foreign' modern space of the new urban environment, leads him to conclude that modern Singapore is characterised by urban confusion and uncomfortable contradictions; "the theorizing tourist is getting confused" (Berry, 1986: 10).

I would suggest that the discomfort and disorientation brought about by the desire to come to terms with a city that challenges and disturbs his assumptions of what it means to be 'Oriental' and modern, is revealing for the dichotomous logic it embraces (reinforces). This is because Oriental is by definition not modern from an Orientalist point of view. Ironically enough, Berry proposes an answer to the perceived contradiction of Singapore's urban spatiality by categorically averring that Singapore is not a postmodern city "because the consuming environment cannot be aware of itself: it cannot be self-reflexive or self-quoting" (ibid: 13). In an apparent departure from Dovey and Gibson's reading of urban Singapore as postmodern simulacrum ( to be discussed later in this chapter), Berry believes that "Singapore is not a postmodern city because it has produced no simulacrum" (ibid:12). Instead, Berry prefers the creative swapping of the "simulacrum" metaphor for the "facsimile" to describe Singapore - the facsimile city of imitation, pretensions, pastiche and photocopy without progeny. Again, this representational trope is well nigh symptomatic of an obsession with a reductive logocentrism that decries a lost heritage of authenticity: "There would be no original by which to authenticate the copies" (ibid: 12). Here again, the essentialist generalisation of his argument is unmistakable. Singapore's urban modernisation efforts are alleged to be "clearly a technocratic gesture which aspires to a condition of absolute placelessness" (Frampton, 1983 cited in Berry, 1986: 14). Consequently, Singapore is lugubriously positioned as a city in which the old verities no longer apply and in this pejorative sense, it has 'lost' its past, its Gemeinschaft culture and along with it, a sense of an authentic essence and archetypal identity as an exotic other.

In stark contrast to Roland Barthes' Empire of Signs (1982), which valorizes the Japanese city and culture as sovereign, original and 'real', hence worthy of emulation and respect by the so-called 'West', Singapore's postcolonial identity and frenetic pace of urban transformation is depicted as synthetic, plastic and impure, therefore a liability rather than an asset in any contemplation of the 'authentic other'. That is to say, Barthes' Japan epitomises the space for celebratory cynosure, while Berry's Singapore is held up for cynical censure. To quote at length, this disparity in classic and neo-Orientalist attitudes has been succinctly analysed by Ang and Stratton (1995: 70/1) as follows:

[U]nlike Japan, which has traditionally been a fantasmatic anchor point for classic Orientalist discourse, Singapore has not become for the West the symbolic site of a primordial, mysterious and resolutely other culture. Unlike the intricate images popularly associated with Japanese culture, such as tea ceremonies or divine imperial grace, as well as samurai and the practice of harakiri, which the West considers the signs of a high (if sometimes barbaric) civilization singularly different from its own, Singapore's 'exotic Asianess' has been associated more with lowly images of coolies and rickshaws, generally signifying the mundane and pedestrain, rather than practices of cultural worth. While Japan's modernity is feared but respected by the West, Singaporean modernity is generally derided and dismissed as inauthentic, synthetic, derivative. For example, a recent Australian TV documentary referred to the urban modernization of Singapore in the last twenty five years in the following scathing tone:

A wonderfully chaotic, Asian place was turned into an ordered, user-friendly metropolis. ... The old Singapore was full of character ... Singapore these days is architecturally so sanitized, you need reminding you are in Asia. (Mini Dragons on Singapore, 1991)

What Singapore is accused of here is that it no longer fits the old Orientalist image of colonial 'Asia'. Singapore is a non-Western Other which does not know its place: in becoming modern, it has lost its innocuous exotic charms, while it will simultaneously never match up to the standards of Western modernity. Singapore's economic success may be recognized, but Singaporean cultural modernity is jeered at. Western tourists find Singapore 'too Westernized', while Western social scientists find Singapore wanting for failing to live up to Western definitions of a truly modern society (generally defined politically in terms of reified Enlightenment notions of freedom and democracy). Here we see, in a nutshell, the quandary of Singapore's place on the Western dominated international stage: it finds itself positioned between two competing systems of representation - neither in the West, nor properly in the Asia constructed by the West.

This spatial quandary or discursive quagmire is reproduced by Berry in his implicit insistence that the 'real' road to an authentic modern Singapore is achievable only by a "Return to Sources" (Berry, 1986). [4] Ironically enough, Berry's nostalgic 'return to sources' discourse is probably very different from the Singapore government's current promotion of shared 'Asian Values' amongst its citizenry. This is because the former belongs to the nostalgic discourse of 'Western' neo-Orientalism, while the 'Asian Values' debate belongs to the cultural discourse of self-Orientalising nationalism. [5]

Despite Berry's facile rejection of the term 'simulacrum' to describe Singapore's urban environment, there is nevertheless a discernible conceptual symmetry between his concern that "[t]here would then be no original by which to authenticate the copies" (ibid: 12) and Baudrillard's (1983: 2) definition of the postmodern space of simulacra and simulation as "no longer that of a territory, a referential being or substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality; a hyperreal". The hyperreal has acquired the status of a vox pop postmodern catch-word to burnish the contemporary capitalist city as a non-descript space of unrelenting and unreflexive consumption, anodyne alienation and stupefying simulation. In other words, Berry's ersatz facsimile city, as the mechanised and metaphorised model of Baudrillard's abstract simulacrum, depicts Singapore's urban milieu as a ravenous technophilic machine par excellence where the authenticity of history and geography virtually (visually) disappears. The facsimile model produces nothing more than moribund simulation.

Not quite moving away from Berry's neo-Orientalist rendering of Singapore urban space, both Dovey and Gibson also employ the hyperreal rhetoric of simulation (albeit more overtly), again mediated through a scopic regime of disappearance, to generalize Singapore's urbanisation as the most insidious, invisible and inimical form of Orwellian manipulation via the creation of what Soja calls a non-descript "exopolis". The exopolis defined as "the city without a centre, where the centre is simulated many times over, yet the whole is incomprehensible" (Soja, 1989: 244 cited in Dovey, 1993: 21) has resonance in Virilio's (1991: 120) notion of "unbounded" "ex-centricity". This exopolis or ex-centric conception of the postmodern city represents a discursive antinomy to the modernist conception of the city as isonomy - "a truly structural conception by which the centre alone is privileged" (Barthes, 1988: 192). Though Dovey admits that the exopolis represents a theory about the North American city, he nevertheless claims that he sees "more evidence for it in Singapore than in Los Angeles" (Dovey, 1993: 21). As a consequence, he describes Singapore as a place where the "pastiche of superficial reflections bewilder co-ordination and encourage submission" (Dovey, 1993: 21), a place where emancipatory or resistive power virtually disappears in passive consumption.

Dovey's "disorientation" and disquietude within the Singapore of themeparks and technological hyperspace is compounded by his anxiety towards its fragmented "sites of exotic consumption" which are all "at once seductive, disorienting, expensive, comfortable, fragmented, fake, disturbing and efficient" (ibid: 22). As with Berry's cognitive disorientation, Dovey bemoans his inability to match his tourist map (text) with the fragmented urban geography (territory). Again, we encounter a promontory desire to see and to know the city through a 'Cartesian' and 'Colonial' perspectivalism that is ostensibly denied or unavailable in a space of disappearance. This Cartesian perspectivalism is a mode of cognitive mapping that insists on the legibility of the modern city, as Kevin Lynch in The Image of the City (1960) tells us. In an unfamiliar environment with ostensibly no stable points of reference or recognisable grids, every image is fractal and confuses an effective cognitive mapping. Further compounded by the simulacral conception of Singapore as an exopolis, where the "solid familiarity of the urban melts into air" (Soja, 1992: 94), a profound sense of dislocation and distress is thus engendered; albeit a sense mediated by a scopic regime of disappearance. Not surprisingly, Dovey goes on to tell us that an economically efficient yet disturbingly deficient hyperspace like Singapore lulls the voices of critique into a comfortable position of silent consumption, [6 through the seduction of the semiotic spectacle of the exopolis. Consequently, the exopolis simulates the "electronic panopticon" (Dovey, 1993: 22), a high-tech prison-house euphemism for the notorious necropolis (d(r)ead city) of stupefying sterility and superficiality.

Likewise, Gibson's pessimistic account of contemporary Singapore as a "sea of unthinkable...weirdness" (1994: 119/122) is exacerbated by what he condescendingly calls "a species of low-key Orwellian dread". The neo-panoptic space of a developing Singaporean technopolis is described by Gibson (1994: 121) and Dovey (1993: 22) respectively as one where the citizens have "the policeman inside", inhabiting a penitentiary city of "imprisonment without trial". Both their accounts suggest the internalisation of Foucault's panopticism within the social subject, following Baudrillard's (1983: 49-58) belief that "we are witnessing the end of perspective and panoptic space". Sharing Berry's sentiments about the loss of authenticity, Gibson decries contemporary Singapore's "glassy simulacrum" that has prima facie superceded Singapore's "physical past". In other words, simulacrum satirises and substitutes sepulchre: "The sensation of trying to connect psychically with old Singapore is rather painful...there was very little to be seen of the past...The physical past here has all but vanished" (Gibson, 1994: 118). In this context, Frow's (1991: 135) argument that "[n]ostalgia for a lost authenticity is a paralysing structure of historical reflection", just as surely encompasses that of stymied geographical reflection.

As with Berry, the search for an authentic past preoccupies Gibson's glib critique of contemporary Singapore and the city-state incurs his romantic disdain and nostalgic disappointment when his quest proves to be illusory. Like the alienating effect of Los Angeles' mirrored-walled Bonaventure Hotel, which Jameson (1991: 42) allegorically diagnosed as "the glass skin [that] repels the city outside...the glass skin [that] achieves a peculiar and placeless dissociation" [7], Gibson's repulsion engendered by Singapore's tranquil urban images is vivid: "[o]nly the clouds were feathered with chaos". This leads him to describe the city as a "glassy simulacrum" that has "no dirt, no muss, no furred fractal edges...all too perfect examples of itself... Everything painted so recently that it creaks with niceness" (Gibson, 1994: 116/121). His observation is mirrored by Dovey's (1993: 22) remark that "Singapore is very safe, efficient and clean...there is no reason to complain because everything works so well". Again, the appearance of perfection represents for Gibson an unfamiliar, troubling mise en scne, arousing his suspicion and skepticism. Perhaps the skepticism arises because city living as he is accustomed to (in America?), is not suppossed to be "squeaky clean". [8] Underpinning this neo-Orientalist and pseudo-Orwellian account, there seems to be an implicit liberal political agenda that is found to be lacking in the otherness of Singapore characterised as an 'Oriental' city. The discursive double-movement is from an Orientalist obloquy to a political (democratic) lack. As Dovey (1993: 22) writes, Singapore, as the exemplar of emergent simulation themepark city prototype, "brings new forms of subjectivity that are disturbing of democratic ideals". In other words, democratic ideals as defined by 'Western' liberal paradigms, are supposed to be a 'sign of dirt', and any pretensions to 'squeaky clean simulation', as the glassy simulacrum and themepark allegory typify, merely serves to diffract political domination through the discipline of passive mass consumerism.

Gibson's satirical depiction of Singapore as 'a Disneyland with the death penalty' can be read as a parody of Baudrillard's idealisation of America and its irreal Disneyland in his America (1988). [9] The overt reference to Disneyland is significant, because Gibson adopts the same Baudrillardian mode of the 'cool tourist' who 'cruises' (in a taxi) through the streets of Singapore in search of an 'authentic' experience of its socio-spatiality for critical (cynical?) commentary. The travel theme of the Baudrillardian baroque memoir is duplicated here as a textual modus operandi of the theorizing theorist. However, whereas Baudrillard extolls America as the simulacrum par excellence to be an "absolute model for everyone" (1988: 77), Gibson's portrayal of Singapore as a glassy simulacrum, draconian and devoid of alternative dissident styles, is dismissive at best and derogatory at worst. For example, he candidly confesses that: "I didn't see a single 'bad' girl in Singapore. And I missed her" (1994: 119). Perhaps, his sense of longing has something to do with his later comment about health centres: "to relieve the paying customer of nagging erections" (ibid: 121). Clearly, the characteristic nostalgic discourse of phallogocentric desire or perhaps, the ambivalent return of repressed colonial desire (see Bhabha, 1994), is manifest in this account of a Singapore that has failed to live up to his hedonistic expectations and satisfy his libidinal desires. Or as Baudrillard (1983: 12) ironically puts it: "When the real is no longer what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning". There is little doubt then, that the full meaning of nostalgie de la boue (nostalgia for the mud: longing especially for sexual degradation) here is one of culpable (s)exoticism, if not neo-Orientalism.

Further, Gibson goes so far as to describe himself as "a curious foreign visitor who is more than twice as tall as the average human", and attributes what he perceives to be Singapore's lack of creativity to the citizenry's "two primal passions", shopping and eating. Here, Gibson echoes Berry's sentiments that a consuming culture cannot be self-reflexive, because it cannot be critical of its complicity with mass consumerism. To be sure, his extravagant and brazen claims are reminiscent of Baudrillard's influence10, and lays bare his adoption of the pseudo-anthropological flâneur persona. If America is the perfect simulacrum worthy of desire for Baudrillard, then for Gibson, Singapore exists as the anomalous and aberrant simulacrum worthy of derision.

The Return of the Flâneur?

Elizabeth Wilson (1992: 93/106) suggests that the 19th century figure of the flâneur "represented what was perhaps the most characteristic response of all to the wholly new forms of life that seemed to be developing [in the modern city]: ambivalence" as well as "enormous anxiety". This characteristic flâneurian ambivalence and anxiety with urban modernity is symptomatic of the three travel writers under consideration, as evident in their similar descriptive repertoire and responses of alienation and disorientation in urban Singapore. The mythological figure of the flâneur in the modern city has also been conceived by some critics like John Urry in The Tourist Gaze (1990: 138) to have a counterpart in the figure of the tourist in late modernity. The relation between the contemporary tourist and his/her forerunner, the 19th century flâneur, he argues, lies in the activity of seeing and recording experiences. And in this instance, the theorizing tourist travelogues of the three travel writers on Singapore, as postmodern flâneurs11, would be an apt point of commonality.

The mythological and allegorical urban figure of the flâneur has a rich literary and social history. He12 was the archetypal narrator of the 19th century modern European city, as found in the 19th century literary works of Engels, Baudelaire, Wordsworth, Balzac, Dickens, Poe, Whitman, Dostoevsky, Zola and Rimbaud13 on modernity and urbanization. The flâneur or stroller, experienced the city with a fascination and passion that provided modernist literary characterisation with an "extra aura of intensity" (Pike, 1981: 35). The flâneur has also been intimately associated with the sobriquets of 'the man in the crowd' or 'a surplus value of the city', whose parasitical yet passive wanderlust in the city borders on aesthetic retreatism and neurotic reticence (see Weinstein & Weinstein, 1993: 55-62). He conceived of the city as a labyrinth14, with the urban scene as a spectacle or diorama, in which he negotiated casting an anonymous and amorous gaze on its aleatory encounters. The flâneur experienced and embraced the alienating effects of the exploding population and size of 19th century European cities which he perceived as being increasingly unstable and unfamiliar; enstranged. While the modernist flâneurs may have passively anticipated the "appearance of phenomena" (Blanchard, 1985: 82) in the 19th century modern city, I want to suggest that the three travel writers as postmodern flâneurs are anxious with what they perceive to be a politically culpable disappearance of authenticity, sense of history and critical cognitive space, characterised by the simulacral placelessness that, following Jameson (1991), bewilders an effective cognitive mapping in the postmodern hyperspace of the late 20th century city. The Modernist's literary urban metaphor of the labyrinth is reconceptualized through the scopic regime of disappearance in terms of the urban postmodern simulacrum, invoking deep feelings of disquietude. Though Harvey (1989: 83) in his analysis of the Bonaventure hotel, may have argued that the fundamental spatial feature of postmodernism is the cultivation of "the labyrinthine qualities of urban environments...through the creation of an interior sense of inescapable complexity and interior maze", I want to argue that "[t]he postmodern may be no more than the exacerbation of the modern tendencies that precede it" (Goodheart, 1994: 268), and that the modern city was already popularly objectified as the flâneurian urban labyrinth, inviting negotiation but eluding any totalizing cognitive mapping in modern literature, long before any postmodern simulation city was conceived.

Following this, it can be argued that the postmodern flâneurs' metaphysical understanding of the postmodern hyperspace of the simulacrum mimicks the "metaphorical understanding" (Blanchard, 1985: 54) of the modern cityspace as an all-encompassing labyrinth of the 19th century flâneurs. Perhaps, Jameson's (1991: 44) comment that "one cannot help but feel that something of a 'return of the repressed' is involved" in the alienation between the modern city of the previous fin de sicle and the contemporary late capitalist postmodern city, is emblematic of both his, and the postmodern flâneurs' anxiety with a sense of placelessness associated with the labyrinth of the postmodern simulacrum.15 As a result, we get the 'return' of the Modernist flâneur in the guise of the pomo travel-writer or theorising theorist, manifesting a flâneurian interest in the city expressed as "a concatenation of traits making it appear strange". This feeling of strangeness is "based on perception of the profound, unalterable otherness of the city" (Blanchard, 1985: 144), its ambivalent incomprehensibility of 'otherness'.

The 'otherness' of the city is caricatured in the flâneur's characteristic "alignment with all the marginals of society" (Wilson, 1992: 107). The 19th century flâneur sought out the irregular existences of characters such as the criminal, the prostitute, the drug addict, the beggar, the outcasts et al., inhabiting the big city as a place of danger (concrete jungle!). The poet Baudelaire chose to identify with the criminal hero because both were part of the cities and yet set apart of the crowd and marginalised; part of the crowd yet isolated amongst it, the heroic poet enters into a world of outcasts and yet as an artist remains at the same time an observer. The identification of the postmodern flâneurs with the flâneur's quintessential characters of the city, may not be as obvious or overt, but it is nonetheless typified by Berry's (1986: 11/12) hawker stall waiters and street watch tout, Dovey's (1993: 22) bicycle repairshop man and Gibson's (1994: 119/6) "cab driver" and anonymous "bad girl". These 'marginal characters' allow the postmodern flâneur's the opportunity to express and ascribe their nostalgic and moralising sentiments about why the contemporary Singapore city is fraught with a disturbing sense of placeless pretence and deep foreboding. For example, while on the one hand, Gibson alleges that the "bad girl" character or street prostitute is visibly absent from the urban space of Singapore, on the other, he insinuates that they can still be found in Singapore's massage parlours (1994: 116). This 'masterful' male gaze represents women in a rather perverse way, whereby the loss of the Singapore "bad girl" from the visible public realm of the city implies the disappearance of an 'authentic' urban character of 'the other' subsumed and sublimated by the simulacral space of commodification.16

While the modernist flâneurs were immersed in the "paved solitude" (Hawthorne, cited in Pike, 1981: 23/4) of the European city, often embracing the anonymity of the urban as their asylum, the postmodern flâneurs are neither bounded by the Occidental locus nor do they have an intimate affinity with the city they portray. Instead, they jet-travel into the 'Oriental' (other) city of Singapore and reject its 'otherness' as the ostensible exemplar of an invidious seamless simulation. Their feelings of disorientation in an environment mediated by a scopic regime of disappearance is not unlike Bachelard's (1948: 253) discussion of dream labyrinths in which "the being in the labyrinth is at once subject and object combined as a lost being". In an inversion of the traveling trope of discovery, the city of Singapore is represented paradoxically as inducing labyrinthine feelings of 'being lost' (see Crush, 1994: 281). To be sure, the condition of being "lost" exacerbates the anxiety of the postmodern flâneurs in their exploration and exposŽ of Singapore as 'real fake' (simulacrum), divorced of authenticity (reality) and archaeology (roots); without depth, inevitably representing Singapore as an 'uncomfortable moral text' of contemporary urbanisation. This is manifest in Gibson's rambunctious valedictory outburst which leaves little to the imagination:

"God what a fate. Fully enough to send one lunging up from one's armchair in the atrium lounge of the Meridien Singapore, calling for a taxi to the fractal-free corridors of the Airtropolis...'My ass,' I said to the mirror,'is out of here.'...I loosened my tie clearing Singapore airspace."

(Gibson, 1994: 122) (emphases mine)

It is perhaps pertinent to note here that Engels also resoundingly declares that he has had "enough" (Genug davon!), in his rejection of the apathy, alienation and abysmal poverty of the modern city in his class analysis of Manchester in The Condition of the Working Class in England (1971) (see Blanchard, 1985: 64-6). The allegorical connection I am suggesting between Engels and Gibson is admittedly a contextually disparate and analogical one insofar as they are responses to dissimilar historical and geographical conditions. However, there is a similar passion, of tone and texture, in the impulse of denial through escape and rejection that is evident in both cases. Consequently, Blanchard's incisive yet instructive riposte to Engels' indictment of the modern city is also illuminating of Gibson's vitriol:

But enough of what? Does he mean that he has now accumulated enough facts to draw a conclusion, or is he simply expressing his disgust?...his investigation is coloured with personal outrage, the reader is left with the impression that while objective reality is given, it seems also to be the unfinished product of a subjective consciousness which is based as much on emotional response as on clear analysis.

(Blanchard, 1985: 65/6)

The uncomfortable moral text of the postmodern flâneurs represents Singapore as the cultural Other of neo-Orientalism, made possible, as I have argued, by their single-minded and unproblematic adoption of a scopic regime of disappearance. Their representations are emblematic of the current appeal and modish appropriation of Baudrillard's concept of simulation amongst many theorists to critically account for the emergent contemporary American city in particular, and cities in general. This is increasingly evident in contemporary urban literature where much of Baudrillard's work on simulation and simulacra has had its rhetorical and metaphorical tour de force transposed onto the representation of the contemporary city as a postmodern themepark of simulations. Such a representation of the city has arisen from the very conjunction of the perception that contemporary urban designs tended to neglect and alienate human ecologies that produce and inhabit urban spaces, with the position that advances the idea of an urban political culture which resists the enswathing and enchanting postmodern culture of the simulacra.

Seduced by the Simulation Theme(park)?

In a collection of "cautionary essays" edited by Sorkin (1992), entitled Variations on a Theme Park, qualified with the provocative subtitle: The New American City and The End of Public Space (see also Kasinitz, 1994), the contributors warn of "an ill wind blowing through our cities" (ibid: xv), creating an "ageographical city" (ibid: xi) which threatens the "character of cities as the preeminent sites of democracy and pleasure" with the "happy regulated" tyranny or "hoodwinking" (ibid: xv) trompe-l'oeil of a psuedo-Disneyland themepark. This new ageographical city is technologically analogised as the "seamless", "analogous" and "departicularised" urban field of "erasure", of "boundless reach", "occupying a vast, unseen, conceptual space" of "sameness" and placelessness, much like the seamless continuity of the television media (ibid: xi-xiii). The compelling Baudrillardian 'Disneyland' and 'TV' metaphor of sinister simulation and to some extent, Virilio's (1991: 14) spatially transcending "cathode-ray tube" idiom of "overexposure", is invoked in the three salient characteristics which mark this "new recombinant city" (ibid: xiii) as the postmodern urban cultural dominant:

i.The dissipation of all stable relations to local physical and cultural geography, loosening of ties to any specific space.

ii.Obsession with security, with rising levels of manipulation and survelliance over its citizenry with a proliferation of new modes of segregation. The methods are both technological and physical.

iii.The paradigm for this new realm of urbanism, is the city of simulations, television city and the city as themepark. This is nowhere more visible than in its architecture, in buildings that rely for their authority on images drawn from history, from a spuriously appropriated past that substitutes for a more exigent and examined present.

(Sorkin, 1992: xiii-xiv)

Clearly, Berry, Dovey and Gibsons' separate accounts of Singapore's urban space as implicated in the themepark culture of the simulacra concur with the three salient characteristics outlined by the theorists on postmodern urban America. My point again is that the question of urban representation in their travel writing draws theoretical answers from this Baudrillardian inspired scopic regime of disappearance, which perceives of the contemporary developments of city forms in politically ominous and morally culpable hues, couched in the nostalgic travail for a fast disappearing past that somehow seems more 'authentic', more 'pure' and 'innocent', and therefore desirable. This representation permits them to powerfully and persuasively inscribe the Singapore landscape with a discourse of political criticism and moral coherence that following Sorkin et al. (1992: xv), "pleads for a return to a more authentic urbanity, a city based on physical proximity and free movement and a sense that the city is our [sic] best expression of a desire for collectivity" (Emphasis mine). However, the implication of this view is that 'a return to a more authentic urbanity' is somehow unproblematic. Furthermore, the unduly totalising and teleological postulation of a postmodern culture dominant of simulation, ironically makes such 'a return' well nigh illusory, if not impossible.

In his vindication of urban life, Calligaris (1994: 67) reminds us that urban life constantly faces two related charges for "being a fake" and for promoting "solitude and superficiality". He asks the important question: "Are they charges? And, if so, who is the judge?" He suggests - and I am inclined to agree with him - that the charges are "just another image of our difficulty in embracing the symbolic void of modernity. The reference of a fake presumes a true community behind our society of individuals which it assumes to be sheer simulation" (ibid: 68). Consequently, the romantic requiem for an illusory identity of past authenticity is a reprise that precludes the possibility or any positive significance of new identity formations in the contemporary city of 'the here and now'. Moreover, the city as an expression of a desire for collectivity that one often finds in urban planning representations and policy discourses is not given due consideration or expression in the postmodern flâneurs' travel writing; other than betraying their own cathartic desire to express their moralistic pathos and "intensely opinionated...freight of political commentary" (Nixon, 1992: 51) imbued with "the mission of political witness" (Porter, 1991: 306). And towards fulfilling that political mission, the best justification the postmodern flâneurs can have in representing Singapore as an uncomfortable moral text is that, qua Baudrillard, it is ironic commentary17 they are enamoured with, and not sustained critique they are engaged in. Even then, their deep antipathy and anxiety towards the Singapore cityscape, viewed as an artificial environment of inimical simulation, cannot but reveal the negative irony and reinforce the nostalgic imagining of the detached and distanced observers towards the othered object (physical landscape) of their partial gaze.

More importantly, the idea of nation-building, one would think, highly relevant in any discussion on the spatial development of Singapore - recognised not merely as a city per se but a city-state - needs to be looked at more critically and comprehensively rather than desultorily. What 'disappears' from the postmodern flâneurs' representations is the specificity of Singaporean spatial politics which "must strive to avoid a numbing uniformity and consciously make space for the richness of variety and difference" (Tay, 1994: 22). It is this disappearance that I will want to make visible in the final chapter's analysis of the scopic regime of appearance in the context of Singapore's urban planning discourses.


1. At the time of publication, Reginald Berry taught at the University of Canterbury, Kim Dovey taught in the Faculty of Architecture at the University Of Melbourne, and writer William Gibson is widely acclaimed as the "Father of Cyberpunk" and the author of Neuromancer and Virtual Light. The three travel writings analysed in this chapter are: 'The Road to Singapore: How to become Modern and Return to Sources' (1986), 'Simulation City: From Singapore to Southgate' (1993) & 'The Trouble with Squeaky Clean' (1994), respectively.

2. While Edward Said has theorized 19th century Orientalism as a discourse produced by the West in order to rationalize its colonial domination of the East, Ang and Stratton (1995: 69) define contemporary late 20th century neo-Orientalism as "equally governed by Eurocentric motives and biases".

3. Urry (1990: 8) tells us that "[a]ll tourists for MacCannell [1976] embody a quest for authenticity, and this quest is a modern version of the universal human concern with the sacred. The tourist is a kind of contemporary pilgrim, seeking authenticity in other 'times' and other 'places' away from the person's everyday life". Berry's quest for authenticity is therefore not exceptional but a symptomatic manifestation of that insatiable desire for a genuine touristic rite de passage. It is perhaps more than a little 'bizarre' that Berry's quest to "see the real East" brings him to Malacca, given the latter's lengthy historical colonial association.

4. Berry's quote is taken from Ricoeur (1965: 277) who categorically declares that "[e]very culture cannot sustain and absorb the shock of modern civilization. There is the paradox: how to become Modern and return to sources; how to revive an old, dormant civilization and take part in universal civilization." In this light, the current debate surrounding Singapore's promotion of Asian values and Asian democracy seems to be a step back in that genealogical direction (back to 'sources'), though for different political ends and masters. Nevertheless, it has been criticized by Liberal critics as a return to essentialist ideas of cultural chauvinism through the 'invention of nativity' for the perpetuation of authoritarian rule. The proverbial scylla of 'damned if you do' and charybdis of 'damned if you don't' dialectic/dialogue continues. See also Frost (1994) and Ang & Stratton (1994: 16/17).

5. In a succinct analysis of Nationalism as the ambivalent project of Modernity, Zgymunt Bauman (1991: 64) concludes that "National states promote nativism and construe its objects as natives. They laud and enforce the ethnic, religious, linguistic, cultural homogeneity. They are engaged in the incessant propaganda of shared attitudes...They preach the sense of common mission, common fate, common destiny...national states promote uniformity...The state-enforced homogeneity is the practice of nationalist ideology".

6. Dovey's 'seduced by consumption through simulation' account as with Berry's critique of an 'unself-reflexive consuming environment' argument, resembles the Frankfurt School's development of a neo-Marxist theory critiquing the highly manipulative role of the cultural industries in advanced Capitalist societies, "serving to contain and subvert forms of oppositional or critical consciousness on behalf of the dominant capitalist class." However, "most commentators have emphasized the pessimism that permeates their analysis, and the potentially contradictory marriage of 'mass' and 'class' perspectives that such work represents" (See O'Sullivan, T. et al, 1983: 92/3).

7. See Baudrillard (1988: 59/60) for his analysis of the Bonaventure Hotel as an unfathomable internal space which "cuts itself off from the city"..."And you cannot get out of the building". See also Gane (1991b: 150-156) for a comparative analysis of Jameson's and Baudrillard's 'Bonaventure' accounts.

8. A recent report in The West Australian (18 Mar 1994) mirrors Gibson's sentiments which have become camp and clichŽ. Singapore is described as "Clean, green and run[ning] like a machine"..."The people are hardworking and law-abiding, the news media are tame, the trains run on time and the streets are clean...Behind the scenes, it is an unhealthy sterile society". Kurosawa in The Australian Magazine (8-9 Oct 1994: 12) adopts Gibson's tack when she predictably described Singapore as "the mother of all Tidy Towns" in contrast to Los Angeles' Tinsel Town. Singapore is further described as "boringly predictable" and "squeaky clean", where even the taxi driver's dashboard air fresheners "smell like roses rinsed in antiseptic". Elsewhere, Michael Sorkin (1992: 220) tendentiously claims that: "Indeed, the world's most succinct and prospering nation, Singapore, embodies the shrunken vision to perfection. Almost no territory, an intense electronic and travel economy, a superb airline, and a bustling airport are linked by modern rapid transit to a compact skyscraped downtown, orderly to a fault, complete with hygienically retained ethnic and colonial quarters and regulated with scary draconian legality, it's a virtual Disney Nation, deftly substituting Uncle Harry for Uncle Walt". Sorkin's refers to this as the "disneyfication" (226) of Singapore.

9. The grounds for my comparision are based on analytical and allegorical contiguities between Baudrillard and Gibson's approach to travel writing, as I shall show. It is perhaps important to note that in a 1989 interview, Gibson was asked: "Your description of the future has found a lot of favour with the intellectual avant-garde as a metaphorical illustration of certain key ideas such as simulation and cultural implosion authored by people such as Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio, and Federic Jameson. Was any of this 'post-structuralist' theory an influence to your work?" "I haven't read them" was Gibson's reply. This terse disclaimer should by no means reduce the validity of my comparative argument made here, bearing in mind the five year lapse between that interview (1989) and the travel writing (1994) under consideration; not to mention, the overt Baudrillardian allusion to Disneyland. See Walker (1989: 38).

10. Baudrillard has been heavily criticised for his extravagant claims that simulation has replaced the real (eg. his 'fatal' prediction that the Gulf War would not occur because it had already been staged and saturated by the media) and that it is "in America and nowhere else, that modernity is original" (1988: 81), discounting the historical claims of Europe as the progenitors of modernity. His ironic inversion of Disneyland as the reality and the rest of America as fantasy is also controversial. His radical views have been contested by Umberto Eco's reading of the erosion/collapse of American hegemony in his Travels in Hyperreality (1987) See also (Smart, 1993). Curiously enough, Baudrillard's one saving grace may be that in his glowing tribute in America (1988), he unwittingly manifests and undermines the very condition and symptoms of his own critique in writing, by succumbing to the seductive effects of America's 'cultural imperialism' and capitalist sites of simulation. See Turner (1993: 85).

11. This definition is by no means exclusive to the three travel writers mentioned here. It may also be extended to cover the travelers of American hyperreality ˆ la Umberto Eco (1987) and Jean Baudrillard (1988).

12. The flâneur was an exclusively male historical figure who traversed the city streets at the beginning of the modern industrial era, hence my necessarily contingent retention of the male-pronoun. Of course, the three postmodern flâneurs discussed here are also exclusively male figures. For an account of the flâneur's gender problematic concerning masculinity and femininity in travel as well as the private and public spaces of modernity, see Wolff (1993 & 1990 respectively) & Wilson (1992). In fact, the feminising logics of the city as the public and phallic domain of the male flâneur in search of opportunities for the (s)exploitation of the sordid city, is manifest in Gibson's (1994: 119) "bad girl".

13. See Pike (1981: 10) and Blanchard (1985) for literary accounts of the modern flâneur.

14. According to Faris (1991: 34), the labyrinth "often serves to point up what a particular writer judges to be wrong with the metropolis. But what is wrong changes considerably through the years: earlier labyrinths bemoaned the chaos of the cities, later ones, their excessive - and no less bewildering - regularity". With regards to this analysis, the lament of bewilderment and banality is echoed in Gibson's (1994: 121/2) baleful description of Singapore as "a sea of unthinkable...weirdness" and "It's boring here". See also Joseph (1991) for a literary account of the urban labyrinth, and Botting (1993) for a discussion of heterotopia and labyrinths.

15. Jameson's (1991: 44) call for a "new cognitive mapping" to negotiate the emergent postmodern hyperspace reminds one of Carter's (1987) "imperial gaze" or what Pratt (1992) calls "the imperial eye" of a colonial discourse. This has been resoundingly criticised by some critics as being in danger of becoming an aestheticised form of imperial creation ˆ la neo-colonialism (see Crush,1994: 280; Young, 1990: 112-116), which I would argue ensues principally from a refusal to recognise the impossibility and illusory nature of a totalizing global cognitive mapping in an era of the culturally dominant global postmodern. See also Clifford (1992). Thacker (1993: 214) suggests that "Jameson's account of postmodern 'hyperspace' as a decisive break from modernist space needs to be treated cautiously. Jameson's call for a 'new sensorium' contains dangers of its own. Might not his plea for new perceptual organs be prompted by the sort of male anxiety over the turbulent urban space which we found in the texts of Imagism [city literature of modernity]?" Thacker's refrain is similar to mine in that I see the connection between the modern flâneur's alienation and the postmodern flâneur's anxiety in their uncomfortable approach to the urban city as the other's space; albeit in different historical epochs. See also Patton's (1993: 465) scathing critique of Jameson's postmodern hyperspace as an "imaginary space", a "made-up image of reality, the invention of an overheated theoretical imagination", and Shumway's chastising of Jameson for confusing high modernism with postmodernism in architecture, and his erroneous eclecticism (cited in Kellner, 1989b: 192).

16. Interestingly, Urry (1990: 141 & 63) observes that in contrast to the sex-tourism of Thailand and Manila which "construct very young Asian women as objects of a tourist/sexual gaze for male visitors from other societies", "Singapore is 'in the east' but not really anymore 'of the east'. It is almost the ultimate modern city and does not construct itself as 'exotic/erotic'[sexual sense] for visitors".

17. Rojek and Turner (1993: xvii) suggest the term 'commentary' to better describe Baudrillard's writing, for they claim that he is uneasy with the term sociologist though he taught sociology at the University of Nanterre between 1966 and 1987. However in a 1983 interview, Baudrillard readily admits his interest in investigating the vicissitudes of modernity - or postmodernity, and accepts to being called a sociologist: "Yes, I would like to be a sociologist in this sense" (Baudrillard, 1990b: 20).

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