It's the final countdown | Source:

The celebratory idea of approaching a “New Year” seems to me a neoliberal conception of time. Underneath is a Progress that comes at a cost, an on-coming storm, as we recall from Walter Benjamin, that propels the angel of history “into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward.” [1]

Newness captivates and the future is what many anticipate. Year after year, we are prone to “moving on” in consistent with this storm of Progress. What is there to do, after all, with the debris of the past? “Forget the past, the future is what matters,” or so they say. But what they are implying is: “forget all these agonies, forget all these pain, let’s start anew – it’s time to move on!”

But shall we move on? Shall these agonies be forgotten?

If we could inject (upon addressing or celebrating the “newness” of 2013) an imagination for what is “dated”, we could anticipate what isn’t necessarily new, and to reconsider what is readily familiar. Perhaps a shared agony. Then, we can come together to forge a more constructive, rather than a progressive, future.

We choose to forgive, but we choose not to forget. We could reconsider the imperfections of the past. What unites us hitherto, is not the vision for the future, but the pain of the past. The wound becomes the mark for our political agency as we enter 2013.

This is not pure nostalgia. It is the strategic use of nostalgia for a postulation of a future. It is what Svetlana Boym states as the “side shadows and back alleys, rather than the straight road of progress; it allows us to take a detour from the deterministic narratives of twentieth-century history.” [2] It is the moment where we politicise our memories, where bygones are never bygones.

In this sense, a “New Year” is nothing new, it is a transition, a moment of recuperation and redemption, a moment to learn new ways of changing things from the failures of our past.

Hunger strike in Dataran Merdeka. | Source: Himpunan Hijau 2.0: Langkah Lestari

This statement is made in solidarity with the activists now protesting in hunger in Dataran Merdeka. For a remembrance of the painful 2012 or for a bright 1Malaysia-countdown to 2013? I believe it’s the time to remember.


  1. Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”, in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 258.
  2. Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia (New York: Basic Books, 2001), xvii.

Tan Zi Hao keeps an eye on the discourse in Malaysia and looks for issues where the public and himself have overlooked. He writes about conflicts in the process of socialisation, identity formation and...

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